After stumbling through his first winless season in six years, Coach Phil Passno had nothing to lose by completely revamping his Ventura College football team.
Actually, a resurrection might be a more apt description for what the Pirates will try to perform this season.
In an attempt to make the Pirates respectable again in the newly aligned Western State Conference, Passno has hired six new coaches and redesigned the offense. He is modeling the Pirate passing game after that of Stanford--which makes sense considering that Dick James, a former assistant coach at Stanford, is the new offensive coordinator.
Passno plans to continue using the single-back formation with sophomores Greg Benjamin, who led the Pirates in rushing last season with 481 yards in 111 carries, and Terrell Smith (194 yards in 37 carries) alternating.
In addition, the Pirates have a group of strong freshman running backs, including Ryan Rapoza, who placed second nationally in a junior decathlon competition this summer for youths aged 17-18. Rapoza, who attended high school in Hawaii, joins prospects Ramon Medina of Fillmore, Dennis Carney of Santa Paula, Curtis Landreth of Apple Valley and Wayne Jones, a redshirt-freshman transfer from the University of Pacific.
Juan Moreno is the only sophomore among five quarterbacks competing for the position. His toughest competition should come from former Ventura High quarterback Jason Matheny, the co-offensive player of the year in the Channel League last season.
Dave Davis of Oxnard High is Ventura's top defensive prospect. The 6-foot, 3-inch, 203-pound linebacker has been clocked at 4.8 seconds in the 40-yard dash. Erin Powers, a 6-5, 275-pound tackle from Nordhoff High, is also expected to bolster a porous Ventura defense that allowed 3,691 yards in nine games last year.
Whether the new blood will help Ventura improve its record remains to be seen, however.
"We just had a group of kids last year who did not know how to win," Passno said. "We have a lot of new players and an opportunity to be good. We have talented athletes at every position."
About 50% of the players on Coach Jim Bittner's roster at Moorpark are freshmen. The Raiders are coming off a much better season than Ventura, however. While Moorpark did not earn a playoff berth, it posted a 7-2 record, 4-2 in the WSC.
The Raiders' biggest losses were at linebacker and in the defensive secondary. Moorpark lost linebacker Miller Aupiu and cornerback Jeff White, both All-WSC selections. Aupiu and White bolstered the Raider defense and helped the team set a school record of 11 consecutive scoreless quarters at the start of last season.
"Players like White and Aupiu are going to be hard to replace," defensive coordinator Steve Breda said.
Linebacker John Goslin, an All-WSC first-team pick as a freshman, is the top returning defensive starter. Johnny Ruiz returns at nose guard.
On offense, lineman Greg Mattes, an All-WSC second-team selection last season, and tailback Larry Roberts, who rushed for 184 yards in 55 carries and had 3 touchdowns, have returned. The Raiders also picked up Cal Lutheran transfer Kevin Ochs and freshmen John Brown and Noel Baker at running back.
At quarterback, sophomore David Sommer is vying with freshmen Steve Pinkston, Jayson Merrill and Mike Henry.
Both Bittner and Passno expect Glendale--co-champion with Bakersfield in the WSC last season--to be the team to beat. Ventura and Moorpark will compete in one division of the 12-team WSC along with Glendale, Harbor, Santa Barbara and Southwest.