There is a new determination on the Occidental football team.
After four consecutive conference championships from 1982 to 1985 and a 24-game winning streak in conference games during that span, winning last season was "expected," said Head Coach Dale Widolff. "Our players got spoiled."
Oxy finished 5-3-1 and in second-place in the Southern California Interscholastic Athletic Conference in 1986. "Some of our players had never tasted defeat in four years," Widolff. "They forgot how it tasted."
Widolff says Occidental will retrieve the SCIAC title it lost last year.
"We have a lot of potential, it's just a matter of getting it done," Widolff said. "I may sound cocky, but that's how confident I am."
Fourteen seniors, nine of them starters, return from the 1986 squad and should give Oxy quality leadership.
Included are five all-conference selections: cornerback Todd Stoney, wide receiver Jon Billingsley, linebacker Richard Sprague and offensive tackles Morrison Warren and Dave Henderson.
Stoney, an all-conference pick for three years, runs the 40-yard dash in 4.5 seconds and possesses a 38-inch vertical leap, making him a potential pro draft pick.
"He's our leader, though not very vocal," Widolff said. "He's the kind of guy who'll slap a teammate across the helmet if he's not helping the team."
Besides six interceptions on defense, Stoney can put the offense in good field position with his kickoff returns. He ran two back for touchdowns last season.
Great things are also expected from Billingsley, who "knows how to get open, even though he doesn't have great speed," Widolff said. "I don't know how he does it; he was a quarterback in high school."
The 6-foot, 175-pound senior only played in six games last season because of a shoulder injury but averaged six catches a game, seventh-best in the nation.
Finding Billingsley will be the job of Mark Krajnik, a sturdy 6-3, 192-pound quarterback, who rarely throws interceptions (9 in 284 attempts), scrambles well (7 rushing touchdowns) and has an adequate arm (1,504 passing yards and 17 touchdowns). Consistency is his best asset. Last season, six of his touchdown passes went to Billingsley.
Although Billingsley will draw double coverage because the other wide receivers and tight ends are inexperienced, the offensive line should provide ample protection for Krajnik.
"It's the biggest line we've had here," Widolff said of his 250-, 245-, 237- and 235-pound players who include tackles Warren and Henderson and guards John Lesley and James Gallegos, all returning starters.
Widolff believes the line is the reason why the running game should prove effective, even though none of the tailbacks played much last season. Senior Tim Carlson or sophomore Kevin Vegas will start, while junior Mike Sandlin has been shifted from safety to the backfield.
Fullback George Conahey, who rushed for 382 yards and a 4.8-yard-per-carry average, might be seen as a single back in the I-formation if the unproven tailbacks don't come through, Widolff said.
"Overall, the offense looks in good shape with eight starters back and good depth. Except, I'm worried about depth at fullback and tight end."
Also a kicker must emerge with the graduation of Tim Dewberry, the Division III leader in field goals per game in 1986. Freshmen Mark Collingsworth and Ty Wingard are contending.
The defense returns six starters, but also has depth problems, especially at linebacker. There are three starters back, but only six overall for four spots. Sprague and Tim Swanson return on the inside, as does David Hodges to the outside, where he'll be joined by Fresno State transfer Peter Tucker.
The secondary, albeit strong with cornerbacks Stoney and Ronnie Cunningham--a starter as a freshman--is thin in numbers and may start a pair of freshmen.
Fifth-year senior Scott Pogorelc anchors the defensive line. The tackle sat out last season with a injured back. Line coach Scott Grosse said Pogorelc has come back extremely hungry and should transfer some of that hunger to Matt Pound, Mike Smotherman and Jim Tetly, reserves last season now dueling for the final two line spots.
The Tigers will open against the University of San Diego next Saturday at Patterson field, then face SCIAC traditional contenders La Verne and Claremont.