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Moorpark College, Ventura College resume football rivalry after COVID-19 layoff

Ventura County Star logo Ventura County Star 9/3/2021 Joe Curley, Ventura County Star
All the big plays from Week 1 of the 2021 football season
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Twenty-one months is a long time to wait for anything.

Yet these sophomores never considered spiking their football dreams when a worldwide pandemic forced a gap year into the middle of their collegiate football careers.

a person wearing a helmet posing for the camera: Running back Bruce Mathis, a Buena High graduate, stays low during drills at the Moorpark College football team's practice on Thursday, Aug. 26, 2021. © JUAN CARLO/THE STAR Running back Bruce Mathis, a Buena High graduate, stays low during drills at the Moorpark College football team's practice on Thursday, Aug. 26, 2021.

“I never had that doubt,” Moorpark College cornerback Cashton Hafferty said. “I knew I could never give up on football.”

Ventura College safety Cail Jackson was 18 when starred for the Pirates’ 2018 team, which played for the CCCAA state championship in Sacramento.

After a redshirt season and a COVID-19 year, he’s now a fourth-year sophomore.

“I always kept faith in football,” said Jackson.

That faith will be rewarded Saturday night, when community college football makes its long-awaited return to the field locally. Moorpark College hosts Ventura College in the 53rd Citrus Cup game at Griffin Stadium.

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“I knew I would play,” said Moorpark College quarterback Trae Johnson. “I didn’t think it would be delayed this long. … But we’ve all managed to get through it somehow.”

More: VC football handles rival MC in the 52nd Citrus Cup game

Not all their classmates have lasted. VC lists 23 sophomores on its 2021 roster. MC is down to 11.  

“I’ve seen so much change,” Jackson said. “Changes to the (roster). Changes to the coaching staff. Changes to the weight room.”

Although coaches can point to returning sophomores in nearly every position group.  

“They give us good accountability,” Moorpark coach Mike Stuart said. “It’s not a lot of players, but they give us a good centerpiece for the program.”

Their experience and leadership will be even more important during a reboot of a season that will test players’ preparation and programs’ momentum.

VC safety Travis Calloway put a positive spin on the lost season.

“Being off the field for two years is pretty tough,” Calloway said. “If it’s a long offseason, then you have a lot of time to get right. You can get all the work in, all the plays in and get the team ready.”

Staying elite

VC is expected to pick up where it left off as one of the top football programs in the state.

The Pirates debuted at No. 3 in the preseason JC Athletic Bureau state poll.

More: Community college sports following strict protocols in return to competition

It will help to have returning sophomores like former Westlake and Oxnard High receiver Terrell Vaughn, who had 91 catches for 979 yards and 12 touchdowns as a freshman, lineman Reese Silofau (Oaks Christian High), running back Chuck Wick (Ventura) and linebacker Ralph Navarro (Channel Islands).

Sophomores like Jackson, Calloway and cornerback Donyal Dixon also make the secondary a strength.

a person holding a baseball bat: Jordan Pachot throws a pass during the Ventura College football team's practice on Thursday, Aug. 26, 2021. © ANTHONY PLASCENCIA/THE STAR Jordan Pachot throws a pass during the Ventura College football team's practice on Thursday, Aug. 26, 2021.

Freshman Jordan Pachot is the starting quarterback. He’s joined by his cousin, former Wake Forest wide receiver Isaiah Issac, who opted to transfer in to play with family.

Former Oxnard High quarterback Vince Walea could also get some snaps.

Some of the familiar freshmen on the roster include a pair of former Camarillo High stars (running back Jesse Valenzuela and linebacker Drew Carter), a pair of Pacifica High state champions (lineman Julio Rey and linebacker Pup Aina) and former Oxnard High defensive back Kekano Tinajero.

And then there is perhaps the most recognizable name on the roster.

a group of men playing a game of football: Running back James “Boobie” Miles III follows the play during the Ventura College football team's practice on Thursday, Aug. 26, 2021. © ANTHONY PLASCENCIA/THE STAR Running back James “Boobie” Miles III follows the play during the Ventura College football team's practice on Thursday, Aug. 26, 2021.

Running back James “Boobie” Miles III, the son of Boobie Miles, who gained fame as a main figure in the popular “Friday Night Lights” book, is in the mix in a deep backfield after transferring in from Hutchinson (Kansas) Community College.

“He’s battling for a starting position,” Ventura College coach Steve Mooshagian said.

One standout on the practice field who was impossible to miss has been 6-foot-8 receiver Kam Harvey. The son of former Lakers power forward Antonio Harvey drew comparisons to former NFL receiver Harold Carmichael from Mooshagian.

The Southern California Football Association’s Northern Conference has shifted slightly since the Pirates last took the field.

VC will face Bakersfield, Canyons, East Los Angeles, Long Beach and Hancock, which has replaced Moorpark, later this year.

Despite all the talent on the roster, one sophomore with playoff experience pumped the breaks.

“I would say we have a lot of potential,” Jackson said. “But I have to remind the guys a lot that we have to do it. My team and the teams before me built the program. The onus is on us to keep working hard and keep the legacy going.

“I know a lot of teams want our spot.”

Fresh faces

Although on-field experience is short, MC carried more than 70 players through its spring practice. Most of the Raiders roster learned the playbook and systems during last year’s online meetings.

“We’ve had so much time with them,” Stuart said. “That’s the benefit.”

More: Leaders implement COVID-19 vaccine mandate for VCCCD

MC returns Johnson at quarterback. The Simi Valley native, who graduated from Oaks Christian, threw nine touchdown passes and three interceptions as a freshman in 2019.

“He’s matured a lot through this process,” Hafferty said of Johnson.

Returning starters Hafferty and Mike Lopez will anchor the secondary.

“We’re a unit right now,” Hafferty said.

Other returning sophomores include running back Tyree Morrison, offensive lineman Juvon Eze, safety Ryan Banko and linebackers Andrew Roland, Noah Dilley and Chase Spotanski.

“Not having a season has carried with us,” Stuart said. “It’s kept us pretty hungry the last 18 months to get to this point now.”

Since it last took the field in November 2019, MC has been shifted into the SCFA’s lower American Division.

It is joined by old Western State Conference foes Santa Barbara City, Los Angeles Pierce, Los Angeles Valley, Santa Monica and Antelope Valley in the Pacific Conference.

a man holding a baseball bat: Wide receiver Alex Jones, an Oak Park High graduate, catches the ball during the Moorpark College football team's practice on Thursday, Aug. 26, 2021. Moorpark College opens its season at home Saturday night against Ventura College. © JUAN CARLO/THE STAR Wide receiver Alex Jones, an Oak Park High graduate, catches the ball during the Moorpark College football team's practice on Thursday, Aug. 26, 2021. Moorpark College opens its season at home Saturday night against Ventura College.

Promising newcomers include 6-foot-5 receivers Arecelles Johnson and Alex Jones, the former Oak Park High star; running back Bruce Mathis (Buena High); tight end Will Mazzuca (Westlake High); offensive linemen Spencer Davis (Camarillo High) and Ricky Munoz (Westlake High); and defensive end Payton Casillas (Thousand Oaks High).

Seven former Pacifica High stars fill out the roster, including safeties Daniel Pierce and Isaiah Moon, and kicker Scooter Carranza.

“It’s going to be exciting,” Johnson said. “We’ve got a lot of fresh faces. A lot of guys who haven’t played football in two years.

“We might have to shake a little rust off, but as a team I think we’re all excited to actually play some football finally.”

Joe Curley covers high school, collegiate and professional for The Star. He can be reached at  joe.curley@vcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @vcsjoecurley.

This article originally appeared on Ventura County Star: Moorpark College, Ventura College resume football rivalry after COVID-19 layoff

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