One look at Marcus Brady spoke volumes about the Cal State Northridge football team--past, present and future.
Brady limped into a postgame news conference Saturday after the Matadors' season-ending 30-10 loss to Northern Arizona at North Campus Stadium. During much of his second full season as the team's starting quarterback, Brady played with a badly sprained ankle that swelled repeatedly and slowed his performance down the stretch.
Brady, Big Sky Conference newcomer of the year as a freshman, passed for a career-best 3,326 yards this season while repeatedly drawing praise and pregame attention from opposing coaches.
But he spent another season scrambling from heavy pass rushes, a situation that didn't help his ankle. Against Northern Arizona, Brady was sacked four times and he had three passes intercepted.
Although battered, Brady said he learned from the experience.
With a healthy Brady, Northridge can continue to hone an already potent run-and-shoot offense over the next two seasons.
But protection must improve.
"I saw a lot of improvement in our line this year, but we had some injuries," Brady said. "Physically, we need to be hitting the weights."
Interim Coach Jeff Kearin said bolstering the Matadors' offensive line will be a priority in recruiting.
"We need to get a lot stronger," Kearin said. "You look at the offensive line of Northern Arizona and then you look at our offensive line."
Kearin, who took the helm in July only days before practice began, guided the Matadors to a 5-6 record, a respectable showing considering the obstacles and distractions he faced after being hired on an emergency basis.
Northridge was 4-4 in conference play and in contention for a title until two games remained.
Kearin is expected to apply for the permanent job next month, and it appears he has an excellent chance of being hired.
Although there is plenty of room for improvement, Kearin has made progress. Four months ago, the future of the Northridge program appeared uncertain after former coach Ron Ponciano was fired for allegedly violating multiple NCAA rules.
But Kearin has restored order while earning the respect of players and colleagues.
So, which Matador players are leaving and who will be back next season?
Key losses to graduation: fullback Jaumal Bradley, receiver Aaron Arnold, linebackers Brennen Swanson and Jack Heaslet, defensive backs Chazz Moore and Steve Forte, tackle Julio Alcala.
Top players expected to return: Brady, receivers Drew Amerson, Gil Rodriguez and Joe Gilliam, linebacker Cos Abercrombie, running back Alan Taylor, guard Tim Shoffeitt.
The Northridge men's and women's basketball teams resume play this weekend.
The men play their first home game of the season on Saturday night against Cal State Dominguez Hills. The Matador women play Villanova on Friday in the opening round of the Nevada tournament.