By Joe Torosian
(Azusa)— After three weeks of building sweat, brushing the rust, oiling the joints, and getting a feel for the upcoming 2012 season the Azusa Pacific Cougars football team took it’s first Division II exam with a scrimmage on Saturday.
“It was a great laboratory today,” said APU HC Victor Santa Cruz. “This is going to be a great film.”
The full scrimmage between offense and defense was broken up by several individual sessions for the selected positions.
“I’ve seen every practice this spring,” said Santa Cruz. “What stands out is the progression of the team moving forward. At this time in spring ball (three weeks) any coach is trying to fight the doldrums and figure a way to keep it fresh and keep growth happening. To come out today and see everyone continue to compete at the level they did, to keep the whole thing going forward, it’s great to see.”
While Santa Cruz saw the positive in the macro, offensive coordinator Rudy Carlton saw it a little different in the micro.
“I felt like we made a lot of progress, especially in the first two weeks of spring ball,” said Carlton. “And then this week I feel like we kind of tailed off as an offense. We are really thin up front, really thin at running back and I think that contributed to it but I’m really disappointed with some of the guys that didn’t step up.”
Driving Carlton beyond the expected desire to see his players and offense improve is the knowledge that he is replacing nearly all of his skill players in the same year the Cougars are stepping into D-2.
“We have a lot of holes to fill, graduated a lot of players; our quarterback, two top receivers, tight end and our H-back. All very good football players that are now gone, so I was kind of displeased.”
With Moorpark College transfer Nick Owens and Charter Oak’s Travis Santiago coming aboard later in the year the past few weeks were an opportunity for roster returners at quarterback to show what they could do.
Carlton praised the growth of Justin McPherson and Tyler Tuiasosopo as well as redshirt freshman quarterback Erin Barber.
“Erin probably made some of the biggest bounds and growth out of the whole offense and by the way he has developed in the weight room,” said Carlton.
With five quarterbacks in the mix heading towards September and only seven passes thrown (all by McPherson) returning to the APU roster the scrimmage was critical all the way around.
“Our goal during spring ball is to create that violent physical between the whistles attitude,” said Santa Cruz. “To clean up vital techniques that go with our system.”
“It’s hard to simulate,” said Carlton. “We do a great job here and Coach Santa Cruz does a great job creating the good on good match ups. We do a lot to get the closest look so it’s not a surprising speed at game time, especially for a quarterback. To see a defense moving full speed, to see a defensive line and a pass rush it is still really difficult to simulate a game rep.”
“We are always trying to find out new ways to see where we are at,” said Santa Cruz. “We’re developing a good foundation of mental toughness. They’re beginning to pick up the schemes and the fundamentals that go with it so they can begin to move as a real cohesive group…I’m really excited about them.”
Cougar Notes: Former San Dimas wide receiver Kevin Kolbeck who most thought was finished playing football after the 2010 prep season had his fire for football rekindle, thanks in large part to SD assistant Dane Johnson, is battling for a roster spot…Johnson serves as APU’s part-time “Get Back Coach”…While in search of a running back Carlton was pleased with play of freshman Ronald Douglas, out of Sylmar, this spring. “He can flat out run,” says Carlton. “He’s got a gear, a top end, we don’t have anywhere else. In terms of being an all facet running back he needed to grow a lot. I felt like he did that in understanding what we need out of a running back and being more of a complete back. He did that this spring.” …Carlton also loves the speed and ability of freshman wide out Bryan Keller…Keep an eye on tight end Eric Meniefield (6-3, 245)…For those wondering how a D-2 team travels, know that the trips to UC Davis, outside of Sacramento (six hours) and Humboldt State (12 hours) will be by bus.
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