LOS ANGELES — A new coach, a new quarterback and the same system that's led the Occidental College football program to five SCIAC championships in the last 10 years highlights the excitement in Eagle Rock with the first game of the 2012 season less than two weeks away.
Bill Redell '64, one of the greatest Oxy football players in school history, took over as his alma mater's head coach last May, adding a charismatic spark with a proven veteran track record to a Tigers squad that went 5-4 overall and 3-3 in SCIAC play during 2011.
Redell, a College Football Hall of Famer, spent the bulk of his coaching career at Oaks Christian HS where he won seven of his eight CIF-SS championships.
But once he retired from Oaks Christian last spring, after building the program from scratch into a national powerhouse in his 12 years with the school, Redell couldn't resist the allure of returning to the place where it all started.
"I'm very fortunate to be coming back to Occidental after 50 years, ending my football career at Oxy," Redell said. "Not right away, but this will be my last stop."
The circumstances were less than ideal. Former head coach Dale Widolff was dismissed last Spring after a second NCAA violation in two years.
Still Redell saw it as the picture-perfect last stop to his coaching career and an exciting new beginning for him and a group of Tigers that will take on a familiar feel.
The first thing Redell did was ensure that the Oxy staff would stay mostly intact, insisting at his first coaches meeting that he wouldn't take the job if his assistants weren't on board.
Shortly after, offensive coordinator Eric Bergstrom was promoted to associate head coach and defensive wizard Erik Johnson returned as the Tigers defensive signal caller, meaning the spread offense that led the league in passing yards last season and Johnson's "bend, but don't break defense" will still be the strategies on both sides of the ball again this fall.
"We have a lot of really good young players mixed in with some seasoned veterans," Redell said. "We'll be well-coached and that's a tribute to Erik Johnson and Eric Bergstrom and the rest of the staff."
Oxy is chasing three-time defending SCIAC champion Cal Lutheran and perennial power Redlands, while trying to fend off a very athletic Whittier, a consistently improving Claremont-Mudd-Scripps, a well-coached La Verne, ancient-rival Pomona-Pitzer and Chapman, a school of 5,300 in Orange County that's new to the SCIAC in 2012.
It won't be easy, but with talent at the skill positions, some finagling strategically, and a healthy team, the Tigers should be towards the top of the SCIAC standings.
Taking the snaps, is quarterback Tommy Edwards (Sherman Oaks), a NCAA Division I transfer from Sacramento State that has the arm and legs to fit well in Oxy's up-tempo offensive attack. Edwards, who prepped at Ulysses S. Grant HS, threw for 365 yards and two touchdowns in three games last season with the Hornets and six touchdowns in 2010 with The Citadel, also a Division I school.
The quarterbacks have plenty of targets. Oxy returns Pre-Season All-American WR Matthew Tuckness (Alamo) and Ryan Rodriguez (Oakley), last season's SCIAC receptions leader. Samuel Stekol (Manhattan Beach), a sophomore who broke out with six receptions for 68 yards at the homecoming game in a 27-17 win over Chapman last year, and William Stanton (Hanford) will also be major factors in the passing game.
Protecting Edwards, is a group of lineman led by three-year starting left guard Dalton Spinas (Atascadero). Cody Long (Nevada City) returns as Oxy's left tackle and Jon Sarris (Stockton) as the Tigers' center.
On the ground, Oxy has three running backs that should get the bulk of the carries. Some combination of Austin Cheadle (Portland), Shay Mueller (El Dorado Hills) and Kwame Do (San Marino) will make up Oxy's running game.
Cheadle missed last season with an injury, but was a standout on the Oxy track and field team in the 100 meter and 100 relay.
Mueller, the son of Oxy great Vance Mueller '86, is a shifty and explosive freshman that's shown flashes of his father's speed in camp and the ability to make defenders miss in the open field.
Do, also a freshman, give the Tigers flexibility, depth and a promising future in the backfield.
Tight end could end up being Oxy's most improved position. In 2011, the Tigers went without a true tight end, spelling the spot with All-SCIAC linebacker Greg Holsworth. This year, they'll have junior Josh Gorlick (Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y.), who missed 2011 with an injury, and freshman Devin Bullock (Dallas) at one and two on the depth chart, both dynamic players that can help Oxy move the sticks with the run or the pass.
Jordan Lance (San Diego), Oxy's leader in tackles in 2011, looks to make his name as Oxy's playmaking defender and a top defensive back in the SCIAC. His 64 tackles ranked 10th in the conference last season.
Converted running back Teran Mawhinney (Fort Collins, Colo.) is another player to watch in the Tigers' secondary.
Casey Shibuya (Kahal, Hawaii) is the biggest name and most experienced lineman on the defensive side of the ball. Shibuya, recorded two sacks last season.
Sophomore Dallas Gosselin (Bothel, Wash.) showed his potential as a freshman and his improvement will be key to Oxy's pass rush and run stopping.
Senior Justin Garza (Newbury Park) is the one returning staple and the leader of Oxy's linebacker core. Freshmen Nathan Miranda (Maryville, Ten.) and Chance Nester (Modesto) are leading a group of younger players competing for the other spots in Oxy's 3-4 defensive front.
The Tigers lost kicker Josh Mun, but return punter Marc Kuzbari (Clayton) and add freshman kicker Angus McDonald (Napa). Samuel Crizer (Los Osos), a quarterback turned wide receiver, could also take on occasional kicking duties.
Rodriguez, Tuckness, Stanton, Lance and Mueller could find themselves returning punts and kickoffs for Oxy. Lance returned 12 kicks for 268 yards in 2011.
The Tigers open the season against Pacific (Ore.) on Sept. 8 at 7 p.m. in Jack Kemp Stadium.