FOREST GROVE, Ore. - For the first year of the reinstated Pacific football program, the team's goals had nothing to do with wins or losses. It had everything to do with improving from practice to practice and game to game.
The Boxers lived up to that mission. Pacific went from young and inexperienced to a competitive team late in the season. Pacific was within striking distance in late season games with Northwest Conference rivals Whitworth and Pacific Lutheran and came within two safeties of beating Menlo in the season finale.
"I think that anyone who watched us play game one and then watched us play game nine could see that we were a much, much improved football team," said Head Coach Keith Buckley. "We saw some flashes of brilliance of where we can go as a program and what we are building for."
The limiting factors for Pacific that first season were evident: A lack of experience with a roster of over 100 freshmen, a lack of size and a steep learning curve when it came to learning the offense and defense. The return of over 60 players from the first season of the program adds a level of experience and will level the curve of bringing new players up on the playbook.
While the experience will make a significant difference, the Pacific coaching staff recruited with size in mind. The Boxers were well undersized on both the offensive and defensive lines and ranked near the bottom among NCAA Division III teams in turnovers.
Buckley is excited not only by the size of the players his staff brought in, but the development of his returners. "It was fun watching the guys check in for the first day of camp," Buckley said. "There were the sophomores who were coming back and starting to grow up and put on that weight you expect after a freshman season. Freshman wise, we did go out and try to get some size up front. We think we have significantly upgraded our size on the lines."
That added size has also translated into much more depth at a number of positions, allowing the Boxers more flexibility in their schemes. Pacific will enjoy depth at defensive line and running back while the offensive line will have a more formidable presence.
The added depth and the addition of some talented recruits has made for much more competition for starting spots leading up to the opener against Simon Fraser on Sept. 3. In most cases, there are at least four people seriously competing for every position on the field.
While the overarching goal for 2011 is to continue to improve and grow as a team, Pacific now has a chance to focus on specifics that will show tangible progress. That includes improvements in field position throughout the game, cutting down penalties (the Boxers took 545 penalty yards) and improving turnover margin.
Those are problems caused by youth and inexperience. And Buckley cautions that while he is certain those areas will improve, the roster is still a team dominated by freshmen and sophomores. With that said, the Boxers won't start thinking about wins and losses until they can reduce mistakes to the point that they win one.
"I don't think there is anyone that doesn't have that expectation that we are going to start winning games," Buckley said, "but that doesn't mean that we're changing our philosophical approach and our long-term plan to build this into a championship caliber football program. We are young, but there is a bright future for Pacific football. We have to grow in the right direction."
After playing as many as six at the position during the inaugural season, the battle at quarterback is between two returners with distinctly different styles.
T.C. Campbell (So., Kaimuki, Hawaii) started eight of the Boxers' nine games in 2010, finishing seventh in the NWC in passing yards and eighth in both total offense and pass efficiency. He capped the season by doing no less than setting a Pacific single game record with 405 yards passing and tied another record with five touchdown passes in the Boxers' 44-42 season-ending loss to Menlo.
P.J. Minaya (So., Wahiawa, Hawaii) pushed Campbell for playing time throughout the first half of the season and earned his lone start of the season at Linfield. He opened the game with a 79-yard touchdown pass to All-NWC receiver Jordan Fukumoto (So., Mililani, Hawaii) before suffering a season-ending injury on the next series.
Both quarterbacks have come into camp in great shape and either player could start in the opener. Buckley said he is not opposed to having both Campbell and Minaya see significant playing time, giving the Boxers a chance to have two different looks in offense.
"T.C. is a good manager," Buckley said. "He does a fantastic job running the offense and controlling the game. He's a great leader. P.J. has an electric arm. He can throw balls that the upper echelon quarterbacks in the conference can throw. He is more confident and is more knowledgeable of the system than he was last year."
Freshman Torin Huff (Fr., Scappoose, Ore.) and transfer Scott Malinoff (So., Davis, Calif.) will figure into the depth chart. Huff was a first team all-league selection as a senior, throwing for 27 touchdowns and over 2,500 yards. Malinoff comes to Pacific after playing one season of junior college baseball. As a prep quarterback, Malinoff passed for 1,615 yards and 16 touchdowns and was a first team all-league selection.
The Boxers are perhaps deepest on the offensive side of the ball at wide receiver. Four talented returners will vie for playing time and will be pushed by no less than five freshmen that have shown promise during camp.
There is little doubt that Fukumoto will own one of the starting spots. A Second Team All-NWC selection in 2010 (Pacific's first since 1984), Fukumoto caught 30 passes for 603 yards and team-high six touchdowns. He finished ranked sixth in the NWC in passing yards with an average of 67 yards per game and his 79-yard touchdown strike from Minaya against Linfield ranks as one of the longest in school history.
Kelson Kawai (So., North Kohala, Hawaii) will play more of an enhanced role at receiver after doing most his damage in 2010 on special teams. Kawai ranked fourth in the NWC in kick return average at 20.4 yards per return. He averaged seven yards per catch in his receiver duties.
"Jordan is just a flat out great ball catcher and route runner," Buckley said. "Kelson is probably one of the fastest guys on the team and a tough kid. He doesn't mind doing all of the dirty work and sticking his nose in there."
Taylor Hickson (So., Red Bluff, Calif.), Cameron Yip (So., Waihe'e, Hawaii) and Brandon Selvey (So., Ventura, Calif.) are also among the returners who will compete for field time. Hickson played in seven games in 2010 and scored the Boxers' first touchdown of the season. Yip appeared in all nine games and ranked fourth among returning players in receiving with a 10.4 yards per catch average. Selvey saw significant action in seven games, performing as a good run blocker.
Pushing those five returners will be a talented group of freshmen. Caleb Roher (Fr., Gresham, Ore.) brings a dynamic presence to the field after succeeding as a two-way prep player, scoring 12 touchdowns. Teammates Matt Nyberg (Fr., Valencia, Calif.) and Blake Anthony (Fr., Valencia, Calif.) were both all-league and all-region selections in high school, while Jake Lawrence (Fr., Sherwood, Ore.) averaged 18 yards per catch while earning all-conference honors at receiver and linebacker for Oregon 5A state champion Sherwood High School. Jordan Graves (Fr., Phoenix, Ariz.) will convert from defensive back to receiver.
As well as Davis Jacobs (So., Tigard, Ore.) played last year, he figures to be even better as a sophomore. Jacobs started all nine games and led the Boxers with 385 yards on the ground, scoring a pair of touchdowns.
Jacobs is one of the returners who took the challenge of competing for his position to heart over the summer. "This year he has added some elements to his game that I think have a chance to make him a real dangerous back," Buckley said. "He has improved his ability to make guys miss in the open field."
Jacobs is not the only back that has returned to the program improved. Sean Valente (So., Ewa Beach, Hawaii), Gunther Schultze (So., Bellflower, Calif.) and Austin Alvarez (So., Stockton, Calif.) all come back stronger. Schultze was the Boxers' second leading rusher at 3.3 yards per carry while Valente and Alvarez rank third and fourth among returners, respectively.
Trey Hairabedian (Fr., Folsom, Calif.) and Jarrin Inagaki (Fr., Waimanalo, Hawaii) will push the returners for playing time in the tailback slot. Hairabedian was three-time all-league selection during his prep career, logging over 3,000 yards in his four years. Inagaki was a two-time preseason all-state selection in Hawaii, seeing time at both running back and linebacker.
Bryce Kershner (So., Jordan Valley, Ore.) and Conor Clark (Jr., Tigard, Ore.) top the list of returning fullbacks. Kershner played in all nine games and bulked up in the offseason, adding 25 pounds to his frame. Clark also played in all nine games and brings good speed to the position. Spencer Chandler (Fr., Weiser, Idaho) brings size to the position and was a four-time all-conference performer in high school.
Topping the list at tight end are two returners and two others making the transition to the spot from other positions. Brian Taylor (So., Lewiston, Idaho) stated all nine games in 2010, making eight catches for 117 yards and two touchdowns. His off-season work will make him a much bigger presence in the Pacific offense.
"Brian was a fantastic ball-catching tight end last year," Buckley said. "We're excited at the growth he has made and it will help him immensely in the blocking side of things."
Will Marchbanks (So., Brownsville, Ore.) saw action in eight games as a freshman and will see significant time when the team runs two tight end sets. Ronnie Minolli (So., Novato, Calif.) and J.T. May (So., Sierra Vista, Calif.) make the move to tight end after seeing limited action in other positions in 2010.
What may have been one of the Boxers' thinnest spots in 2010 stands to be much stronger in 2011. The Boxers have seen a number of returners bulk up during the off-season, which will complement the infusion of a number of bigger, talented newcomers.
"We're definitely deeper this year," Buckley said. "A major push of our recruiting this year was to increase our depth on the line. That depth will allow us to find our best five. We're excited about that."
Sean Dalton (So., San Jose, Calif.) will anchor the line after earning Honorable Mention All-NWC honors as a freshman. "He had a fantastic summer and is playing really well through fall camp," Buckley said. "He will be someone who will continue to develop and make us far more stout up front."
Aaron Victorino (So., Lihue, Hawaii) started all nine games at tackle in 2010, but will move over to his natural position of center. Eric Gietzen (So., Fargo, N.D.) also started all nine games at guard and will benefit from a very productive off-season. Nikk Novero (So., Antioch, Calif.) also returns to the mix after starting nine games.
Kevin Peterson (Fr., Lake Oswego, Ore.), Brandon Sattelmeier (Fr., Temecula, Calif.) and Andy Fujimoto (Fr., Pasadena, Calif.) lead the group of newcomers vying for time on the line. Peterson was a First Team Oregon All-State selection as a senior and brings a 245-pound frame in as a freshman. Sattelmeier comes in with 285 pounds on the line while Fujimoto weighs in at 265 pounds to add size.
Much like their offensive counterparts, the defensive line will be deep with a number of returners and newcomers in serious competition for starting spots and playing time.
Landon Aano (So., Ewa Beach, Hawaii) will once again be the anchor of the line. Despite a small 5-foot-9, 240-pound frame, Aano was responsible for two sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss along with a blocked kick. Buckley believes he will be even better in 2011.
"I think this is the year that you're going to see some very exciting things from Landon," Buckley said. "In many ways he has made it difficult for our offensive line to block some certain schemes because he is so fast off the ball and because of how powerful he is as a shorter guy."
Mike Smith (So., Tumwater, Wash.) returns after starting all nine games at tackle, but will be pushed by a much-improved Devin Lagorio (So., Stockton, Calif.). Smith made 13 tackles in his freshman season and got stronger during the summer. Lagorio added significant weight to his frame after playing six games last season and will move from defensive end to tackle.
Sean Bangs (So., Portland, Ore.) has also shown significant improvement, gaining 30 pounds in his attempt to regain his starting role. Bangs started the first five games of the season and finished with 14.5 tackles. Chrystian Johnson (So., Rogue River, Ore.) comes back improved as a defensive end after starting the last seven games of 2010. Caleb Wistock (So., Stayton, Ore.) also figures into the mix after seeing significant time in eight games.
A trio of freshmen stand to earn playing time. Kalen Dennis (Fr., Eugene, Ore.) was a two-time all-conference linebacker who Buckley believes will make significant contributions on the line. Dennis finished with 100 tackles during his senior season. "Kalen is very fast and athletic," Buckley said. "He will play a significant role for us."
Ruben Iosefa (Fr., Los Angeles, Calif.) has a lot of skills that will make him an exciting player over the next four years. He was a first team all-league selection on both sides of the ball in a very competitive high school league in Los Angeles. Kyle Treadway (Fr., Medford, Ore.) also brings a bigger presence on the ends, which should help shore up the line.
The make-up of Pacific's look in the linebackers will depend on the return of Marc Moody (Sr., Ewa Beach, Hawaii). Arguably the most talented player on the defensive side of the ball last year, Moody was lost for the season to injury in the conference opener at Lewis & Clark. In the three games that he played in, Moody finished with 13 tackles and a sack.
Moody's absence not only hurt physically, but in terms of leadership. Both are items that will help the Boxers this season once he returns. "He is still in a rehabilitation phase, but we think he should be back within the first two weeks," Buckley said. "When he gets on the field, he will make everyone else better."
With Moody out, Tim Hastie (So., Auberry, Calif.) stepped up as the physical leader on the field. Playing at middle linebacker, Hastie finished second for the Boxers with 31.5 tackles. He will be expected to be more of a leader as a sophomore. "Tim did a nice job this summer understanding that to be a middle linebacker, you have to play at a certain level," Buckley said.
Among the other returners vying for playing time include Gabe Flory (So., Davis, Calif.), Shane Feuerbach (So., Rocklin, Calif.), Alen Suklje (So., Portland, Ore.), Hunter Dassonville (So., Gladstone, Ore.) and Nick Reynolds (So., Chimacum, Wash.). Flory and Feuerbach played in all nine games, with Feuerbach making a pair of starts.
Among the newcomers, Austin Schmidt (Fr., Wahiawa, Hawaii) stands a good chance to back-up Hastie thanks to his size and strength. Schmidt was an all-star in Hawaii as a senior. Branden Abiva (Fr., Aiea, Hawaii) was a two-time all-state selection in Hawaii while Tate Eakin (Fr., Grass Valley, Ore.) is adjusting well after playing eight-man football in high school.
Buckley feels good about the depth and quality of players that will perform for the Boxers at cornerback. "The corners are like good running backs, you can never have enough of them," he said. "We feel like we have five or six corners who can step onto the field immediately and play."
Three returners will step onto the field after seeing significant time last year. Ku Aiona (Sr., Kapolei, Hawaii) started seven games at the position after converting from wide receiver. He finished fifth for the team with 23.5 tackles. "Ku provides a leadership and mentorship that lends some stability to the whole defense," Buckley said. "He's a savvy player who makes things happen."
Kasey Dukes (So., Wahiawa, Hawaii) started the first six games on the season on the corner and brings a physical presence despite his small 5-foot-9 stature. Craig Bailey (So., Fairfield, Calif.) worked into a starting role late in the season and made 14 tackles. Chaz Bajet (Fr., Waipahu, Hawaii) will also vie for a starting role after missing the 2010 campaign with injuries.
Brandon Harms (Fr., Woodburn, Ore.) and Andy Harris (Fr., Midvale, Utah) will be among the competitors for time of the newcomers. Harms has impressed the coaching staff with his technical abilities, while Harris' 6-foot-3 height could help cut down taller receivers.
Pacific's most exciting defensive player last year came out of the safety position. Bryan Mills (So., Imbler, Ore.) led the Boxers with 37 tackles and had all three of the team's interceptions. He returned the last one 69 yards for a touchdown in the Boxers' close season-ending loss to Menlo.
"For a guy who played eight-man football in high school, Bryan has turned out to be very instinctive and always seems to end up around the ball," Buckley said. "We expect he will continue to be a playmaker."
Chris Santiago (Fr., Waipahu, Hawaii) showed great signs of promise before his season was ended by injury against Lewis & Clark. He returns not only healed, but also stronger. "He's a big, physical safety who loves to come down and disrupt the run," Buckley said, "but he is athletic enough to play well in the coverage component."
Kamu Morita (So., Honolulu, Hawaii) played in all nine games and started the final seven. He will also be a major contributor on special teams. Josh Brinkworth (Fr., Elk Grove, Calif.) has been a pleasant surprise to the coaching staff with his physical, fast style of play and will likely earn time on the field. Sam Bettencourt (Fr., Downey, Calif.) used his size and speed to earn all-state honors in California on the defensive side of the ball.
Where the Boxers have returners at just about every other position, the team will be starting over at the kicking positions with the departure of All-NWC placekicker Jon Lee and punter Spencer Bell.
Moses Villareal-Gomez (Fr., Stockton, Calif.) and Brandon Carow (Fr., Forest Grove, Ore.) will battle it out for place kicking duties in 2011. Villareal-Gomez was an all-area selection two years straight in high school and brings a steady presence to the position. Carow brings a strong leg after performing kick duties locally at Forest Grove High School.
Aaron Koford (So., Wilsonville, Ore.) saw limited punting action in 2010 but will handle most of the duties in 2011 along with work at receiver. With that focus, Koford has put additional work in during the summer on the kick game. Austin Shulund (Fr., Banks, Ore.), also with local ties, averaged 41 yards per punt as a senior.