Mike Shaughnessy, interim football coach at Golden West College, is thrilled his Rustlers finally are preparing for a game this week.
Shaughnessy makes his debut as head coach at 1:30 p.m. Saturday against El Camino at Orange Coast College.
El Camino is expected to be one of the top teams in the state.
But the idea of having to worry about a single opponent and little else is calming to Shaughnessy, who has seen a couple of tumultuous events make Golden West's football program a wild ride in recent times.
The first bump came when Ray Shackleford was forced by administrators to resign three days before the start of the 1994 season. His resignation didn't take effect until the end of the season, but the situation cast a pall over the program and Golden West finished 2-6-2.
Last year, longtime assistant Dennis Dixon replaced Shackleford and tried to jump-start the program with a more aggressive passing attack. The Rustlers finished 5-5 and seemed headed in a positive direction.
But Dixon's health started to fail and he was forced to take a leave of absence, again causing uncertainty in the program.
Enter Shaughnessy, who had played at Golden West in 1970-71, then went on to play two seasons for California. He returned to Golden West as an assistant in 1978 and has remained.
Shaughnessy and Pug Pierce, who is the defensive coordinator, took over in April and have tried to catch up since. The spring and summer were spent trying to recruit players and keep those already in the program eligible.
"I'm emotionally ready to get going," Shaughnessy said. "We're just trying to recover from the last two years and pull everything together."
Golden West's depth could be its major weakness, but the Rustlers do return a multiskilled running back and an experienced quarterback.
Charles Chatman (Costa Mesa High) is back at tailback after gaining 794 yards and scoring nine touchdowns as a freshman. He also caught 15 passes for 166 yards. Shaughnessy said he was apprehensive that Chatman could play on the college level before last season but no longer has such doubts.
Chatman was limited to about 15 plays in Friday's scrimmage with Citrus to help protect him from injury.
"The worst thing that could have happened to us," Shaughnessy said, "was that for some stupid reason he got hurt."
Brian Baughman (Bolsa Grande) threw only 15 passes last season but is in his third year with the team.
"He threw the ball fairly well [in the scrimmage]," Shaughnessy said. "He hung in the pocket and we protected him well. He's eager and I've got a lot of confidence in him."