WOODLAND HILLS — An ounce of pass protection might have diminished the pounding Pierce College received last season on the football field.
Or, at least, the one quarterback Dave McMullen absorbed in the pocket.
McMullen wears a goatee, earrings in both lobes and seven tattoos over his torso. But perhaps more distinguishing were the black-and-blue trademarks he collected during an 0-10 season.
"Painful," McMullen said, summing up the season in a word. "I don't like to lose. And getting sacked 11 times in one game isn't fun."
That's what happened against West Los Angeles, while Craig Garner and Eddie Rodriguez--two enormous, apologetic, academically ineligible offensive linemen--watched from the stands.
"I apologize to him for that game all the time," Garner said. "But I know that won't be a problem again. I've fixed all my problems and I have no excuses now."
The feeling is mutual for Rodriguez (6 feet 6, 300 pounds), who, along with Garner (6-2, 330), insists academic problems are a thing of the past. Both will rejoin the Brahmas this season to bolster a sagging offensive front that has been the Achilles' heel of the team.
Pierce lost two games in overtime last season and another when a potential game-winning extra-point attempt was blocked and returned for two points in the final seconds against Santa Monica. With a little luck--and, perhaps, some better blocking--the Brahmas might have made a more respectable showing.
"Our problem for McMullen last year was the offensive line," Pierce Coach Bill Norton said. "We weren't able to protect him. A big reason for that was [the loss of] Eddie Rodriguez and Craig Garner. If those guys stay in school and get a degree, they're Division I prospects, easy."
Garner, a left tackle, and Rodriguez, a center, both played in high school locally and started for Pierce in 1995 before circumstances led to their leaving the team.
Garner, 23, a 1992 Kennedy graduate, spent a few years working and starting a family before returning to school and football in 1995.
"As for grades, I had some family setbacks that kept me from going to school," Garner said. "The big thing was [arranging for] baby-sitting. My wife is working full-time and helping to support me while I get through school.
"Now, I've talked to the dean and the athletic director and I've made sure I'm doing everything right. I've hired a baby sitter. I've had all this stuff taken care of, so I won't have to worry about it come season time."
Rodriguez, 20, a 1995 Reseda graduate, attributed his academic problems to immaturity.
"I took advantage of my situation," Rodriguez said. "I didn't put all that I could into my studies. But I've had a lot of family support and my dad and mom made me see things more clearly about going to school. I got a lot of letters from big universities. I want to make my family proud of me.
"I feel I let the team down. I feel I let the coach down."
Both players participated in practices last season and watched games from the sidelines.
"All along, I kept thinking, 'How could I screw up?' " Garner said.
Both are more than a few pounds over ideal playing weight, a circumstance both attribute to their heavy appetites.
"I like to eat and eat and eat," Rodriguez said.
Their physical condition is expected to improve, Norton said. A more important improvement, the coach said, already is perceptible.
"I think I've seen some maturity develop," Norton said. "They're both more willing to accept responsibility and I want guys to accept responsibility for what happens. Then they can cure it."
Throughout last season, McMullen was roughed up repeatedly. He suffered a concussion in the second quarter of an 80-20 loss to Valley, the result of a blitzing linebacker he never saw. Despite the losses and lack of protection, McMullen passed for more than 2,000 yards and turned in several standout performances.
McMullen, who admits struggling at times with his own studies last season, said the experience was rewarding, despite the losses and hard licks. And there are no hard feelings.
"Nobody was really mad or pointing any fingers," McMullen said. "We didn't have many good guys, but we played hard all the way through.
"These two guys coming back, that's going to help our offense tremendously. They're working their butts off."