APTOS — At Cabrillo College, first-year head coach Darren Arbet is taking a page out of “Remember the Titans” coach Herman Boone while adding a little tweak.
You jump offsides? You do up-downs.
You drop a ball? You do up-downs.
You wear a different shirt than your teammates? You do up-downs.
You don’t sprint over? You do up-downs.
“You’re either going to get in shape,” Arbet said, “or you’re going to become a pretty good football player.”
The former head coach and general manager of the four-time Arena Football League-champion San Jose SaberCats, Arbet didn’t promise to break his foot off in his players' “John Brown hind parts,” as Denzel Washington so eloquently said while playing Boone in the 2000 football flick. But the Seahawks’ heavyweight offseason hire does expect his players to be as close to perfect as possible.
“It’s tough to play for me. I’m a demanding guy,” said Arbet, who preaches discipline and team-first attitude. “It takes a special player.”
So the coach shook up the program after being hired in January to replace retired head coach Bill Garrison, who led Cabrillo for the past 10 years. Arbet, who last year served as an assistant coach at NCAA Division II Humboldt State University, has a gigantic 86-man roster with 38 promising out-of-state players and a reworked coaching staff led by offensive guru Frank Espy.
But will the new standard and the dozens of incoming players translate into success?
The Seahawks, who have not had a winning season 2007 and notched just three wins over the last two years, believe so.
“We’re definitely going to have a winning record — we want to play in a bowl (game),” said Cabrillo freshman running back Terrence Smith. “We want to show everyone in California that this is not the same old Cabrillo.”
Smith, a 6-foot-1, 220-pound bulldozer out of Jireh Prep in Camden, N.J., is one of a handful of young offensive weapons tasked with bringing the Seahawks’ previously inept offense up to speed. Last season, Cabrillo ranked second-to-last in the state in points and yards per game, while also finishing near the bottom in total turnovers.
Enter Espy. The former head coach for the now-defunct Mendocino College football team for the past three years, Espy’s high-tempo spread offense averaged 463.4 yards and 31.3 points per game last season. His addition, said Arbet, is a game changer.
“He’s going to be the spearhead of everything,” said Arbet, who also boasted of the additions of running backs coach Vince Gonzales, receivers coach Mike Logan and offensive line coach Tim Duran. “I feel our offensive staff is really good and understands what I want and what Frank wants.”
Arbet said freshman quarterback Evan Nelson of Crescenta Valley High beat out six other signal callers for the start tonight against Yuba College, which edged Monterey Peninsula College, 28-26, to start the season last week. Nelson is 6-foot-2 and 175 pounds with an accurate arm. He is expected to develop nicely as the season progresses with the rest of the Seahawks’ young crop of players, which includes massive offensive linemen Devon Mayo (6-foot-6, 310 pounds) of Raleigh, N.C. and Fatumaleeleele Taula (6-2, 375) of Tracy and speedy receivers Joe Oard of Watsonville and Entebbe Bates of Lakeland, Florida.
Receiver Chris Easter and offensive lineman Noah Wheeler are part of a small sophomore class which expects things to be different under Arbet’s lead.
“I saw a new culture kind of move in and I’m big on that type of stuff,” said Wheeler, who is 6-foot-5 and 265 pounds and decided to throw on the pads again to play for Arbet after leaving the game a handful of years ago to dip his feet into coaching. “There was a lot of the guys that I saw over the last couple of years and they work hard. I wanted to be a part of something like that.”
While it will be fairly easy for the offense to drastically improve from last season’s marks, the defense will have a much tougher time putting up better numbers than last campaign.
Despite spending the vast majority of the game on the field because of the offensive woes, Cabrillo’s defense finished in the upper half of the state in yards allowed per game and was the top scoring defense in California while also finishing third in fumble recoveries.
Sophomore linebackers Travis Schuhe (6-2, 210) of Santa Cruz and Trevor Rico (5-10, 205) of Modesto lead Arbet’s 4-2 defense, coached by defensive coordinator Jim Winkler, defensive line coach Eric Gerlach, defensive backs coach Reggie Stephens and linebackers coach Ismansjah “Smo” Soekardi.
The defensive line is loaded with talent and size. Aptos High alumnus Caleb Martin is one of few local stars flanked by Karlos Witherspoon of Hartsville, S.C., Cameron Moore of Las Vegas, Eliel Ehimare of Katy, Texas, Virgil Powell of Albany, Texas and Charles Taylor of Detroit. All six are at least 6-foot-1 and 275 pounds and athletic. At 6-foot-2 and 330 pounds, Taylor is an immovable object at nose guard.
“He’s our run stopper,” Arbet said.
The Seahawks also received a big boost from the addition of 6-foot-3, 190-pound defensive back Shaq Floyd, who is a kickback from NCAA Division I Ball State University. Floyd originally left the Cardinals for Cabrillo to play basketball but found his way back to football field after working out with Stephens, a Santa Cruz High star and NFL alumnus.
“After working out with Reggie Stephens that was pretty much the end of it,” Floyd said. “It’s a whole new energy and it was something I needed to be a part of.”
Floyd is one of several playmakers in the Seahawks’ defensive backfield, which also features Robert “Bam” Moore of Miami and Tyree Stricklen of Stockton.
While Arbet said he’s excited to see how his kids respond to live action tonight, he also said that there will not be many nerves on his part. After coaching in several big games on national television with the SaberCats, Saturday’s game will be fun.
“It is what it is,” Arbet said. “I’m anxious to see how these young men are going to do. They’ve worked hard and they deserve to play a game and see where they’re at right now.”