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OCC not so well-schooled

FOOTBALL: Pirates, who have seven projected starters academically ineligible, face battle in new conference format.

September 02, 2008|By Barry Faulkner

Coaches like to philosophize about the off-season, stating frequently that games are won in the weight room and on the recruiting trail.

The Orange Coast College football team, however, may have lost its best chance at a successful 2008 season in the classroom this past off-season, as no fewer than seven projected starters have come up academically ineligible.

Among those who failed to make the grade(s) are five returning starters, including second-team All-Mission Conference American Division tight end Billy Brown.

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“I think this is as bad as it’s ever been,” Pirates Coach Mike Taylor said of the academic woes that created the biggest void on the offensive line, where, including Brown, the six-man front wall is missing four would-be starters. “I think our team grade-point average went down from around 2.8 to 2.2 (on a 4.0 scale). It’s a wake-up call.”

Taylor, entering his ninth season at the helm, has instituted a three-hour-a-week study hall requirement for all players and he and his staff have made monitoring academics a higher priority.

In addition to the scholastic casualties, returning starters Alipate Tokomaata, a second-team all-division defensive tackle, and Saul Cantoran, a strong safety, have left the program, creating opportunities on the depth chart, from which five all-division sophomores are now at four-year programs.

Leading the returners from a team that went 5-5, 3-2 in the American Division, which has now morphed into the Southern California Football Assn. Southern Conference, are first-team all-division performers Dean DeLeone and Shad Baichtal. In addition, sophomore strong safety Benjamin Soza, who redshirted last season after sustaining a broken collarbone in preseason drills, is back after earning second-team all-division honors in 2006.

Sophomore tailback Kevin Ah-Hi, also returns after collecting 802 rushing yards and earning second-team all-division honors last season.

The Pirates have been picked to finish sixth in the seven-team conference, in which Saddleback, Palomar, Fullerton, Santa Ana, Grossmont and Long Beach also reside.

OCC opens the regular season Saturday at home against Santa Monica at 6 p.m.

Here’s a position-by-position look at the Pirates:

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