Mad Dash (David Bro)
Weighing in with a national preseason ranking and a powerful offense, the Saddleback College football team expects to be nothing short of excellent.
So says coach Mark McElroy.
“We expect to finish first,” McElroy said. “Every year we expect to go in and compete for a national championship, state championship, and Southern California championship.”
McElroy has every reason to be optimistic. The Gauchos boast a proud winning tradition with three state and national championships since 1968. Under McElroy, who was hired in 1999, Saddleback has averaged seven wins per season.
Last year the team finished second in the SCFA National Division Southern Conference. It looked strong going into its American Bowl encounter at rival El Camino College. But Saddleback (7-4 overall) blew a 21-0 first-quarter lead and lost, 31-28.
This season Saddleback is ranked No. 15 nationally according to JCGridiron.com and returns running back Jai Morris, the 2008 co-offensive player of the year in the National Division Southern Conference. Morris rushed for 889 yards and nine touchdowns a year ago.
Morris is joined by Charles Neil and Keigan Gogerdy.
“We have three solid backs in those guys,” McElroy said.
Although the running game may be solid this year, McElroy wants fans to be on the look out for a big passing game.
He spent the offseason at Texas Tech University, observing its NCAA Division I football program to better learn its style of offense.
“We averaged almost 500 yards of offense last year and it was balanced, and this year we’ll maintain about that at 230-240 on the ground, and we’ll throw for about 300. We averaged about 40 points per game last year,” McElroy said.
The Gauchos will be severely tested with one of the most difficult schedules on the planet. The home opener is Sept. 5 against Golden West College. Six games are against teams ranked in the JCGridiron.com preseason Top 25, including a Sept. 26 encounter at No. 2 Mt. San Antonio College.
McElroy urges students to support the football team.
“Students should really come out to some games. If anybody likes the game of football, they’re really missing out if they don’t come out to a Saddleback game,” McElroy said.
Several Gaucho’s have gone on to play at four-year institutions. Ryan Meehan is continuing his football career at Delta State University in Cleveland, Mississippi.
Meehan is the eighth member of the 2008 team to move on to the next level, joining wide receiver Nick Hutter (Portland State), tight end Nick Groeniger (Northern Illinois), wide receiver Jay Wisner (Auburn), safety Aaron Brown (Hawaii), offensive tackle Brett Leonard (Hawaii), corner Daivon Dumas (Northern Arizona) and linebacker Mark Berry (Azusa Pacific).