Sean Hampton neither flinched, delayed, nor thought twice.
The Glendale College football team had just defeated Ventura, 28-14, in its season finale last weekend and the cathartic impact of the victory was immediate and surprisingly immense.
"We finally came together as a team," Hampton, a sophomore running back, said when asked why the Vaqueros needed a whole season to put together a solid game. "It felt like last year."
Ah, yes. Last year. Or the year before. Or all the years before that going all the way back to 1980--the last time a Vaquero team finished below .500.
Glendale College football players are driven by the tradition of a program that has won or shared four consecutive Western State Conference championships and made four appearances in bowl games from 1985-1988.
But this year's team, which finished 5-4-1 overall and 5-3-1 in WSC play, also might have been haunted by that legacy and the somewhat unrealistic expectations it inspires.
Nonetheless, first-year Coach John Cicuto considered the season a success.
"There were some goals we accomplished and others we fell short of achieving," said Cicuto, an assistant under former Vaquero Coach Jim Sartoris. Sartoris retired after last season with a 111-64-1 record in 17 seasons.
"I made a lot of mistakes," Cicuto said. "It was a learning thing for me in a lot of ways.
"Before the season, I thought we'd go 7-3, even though I knew we had an inexperienced defense.
"That obviously didn't happen, but finishing the season the way we did against Ventura is a positive sign that shows me--and the players coming back--that we're going in the right direction."
Most of the season's highlights were provided by an offense that averaged 32.5 points and 397.5 yards a game.
Sophomore quarterbacks Ronnie Lopez and Darren Fitzgerald alternated in the first three games of the season, but Lopez became the starter when Fitzgerald injured his shoulder against Compton in the fourth game.
Lopez, a former City Section 3-A Player of the Year at Franklin High who transferred to Glendale after playing last season at Pierce, completed 79 of 155 passes for 1,296 yards with 13 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
"This season was a total change and I was a lot happier," Lopez said. "I came back home and they played the rough football, so I kind of enjoyed playing in front of everybody."
Fitzgerald completed 45 of 94 passes for 683 yards with four touchdowns and one interception.
Hampton, a returning all-conference player who gained 1,150 yards in 1988, gained 760 yards this season and scored seven touchdowns. Sophomore Doug Dragomer gained 542 yards and scored three times.
Another positive note for Glendale was the emergence of fullback Wes Bender, a redshirt freshman from Burroughs High who gained 471 yards and tied a school record with 14 touchdowns.
Glendale's defense allowed 26.9 points and 324 yards a game, though at the beginning of the season it looked as if defense might be Glendale's strength.
Sophomore linebacker Mark Reeve led the Vaqueros with 48 tackles, 12 assists and 10 sacks.
The Vaqueros lost to Pasadena, 24-16, in their opener, then played defending national-champion Bakersfield to an 18-18 tie in Bakersfield.
Glendale's performance left the Vaqueros with confidence that they could play with the best--but it also left them winless at 0-1-1.
Pierce provided a remedy the following week as Glendale finally got its offense untracked. The Vaqueros rolled to a 43-15 victory, and followed it a week later with a 44-41 win over Santa Monica.
Glendale, however, then ran into Los Angeles Southwest, the most improved team in the conference, and lost, 26-10.
The Vaqueros rebounded with a 62-26 win over hapless Harbor before being whipped by Moorpark 47-27 and losing to Santa Barbara, 49-34.
Glendale then needed a season-ending victory over Ventura gave to notch its 13th winning season in the last 14 years.
Next season, redshirt freshman Marco Arcipreste will be the leading candidate to replace Lopez and Fitzgerald at quarterback. Bender will also return, as will wide receivers Cody McMahon, Orlando Cade and David Nottoli.
"We have to go out and get some offensive lineman," Cicuto said. "And we have a nucleus of good guys on defense to build on.
"The key to our success is our off-season program. If we get a commitment from the players to get stronger in the weight room, then I think Glendale will be back to what it was the last several years.
"If our kids don't work very hard, we're going to struggle again because we'll rely on freshmen again."