Youthful Vaqueros open with stiff test

Youth will certainly be served today when SBCC’s football team opens its 2008 season against county rival Hancock. Kickoff is set for 6 p.m. at La Playa Stadium.

There are 73 freshmen on the 97-man roster for Santa Barbara City College, which is coming off a 4-6 campaign.

“We’re very inexperienced,” said second-year coach Craig Moropoulos. “You don’t know what to expect. We have some experience at quarterback and some on defense, but we are an untested product. We have to utilize our athletic ability, which we didn’t have a lot of last year.”

Santa Barbara, which only returns six of 22 starters, will be tested immediately with its first three games against teams ranked in the top 20 in Southern California. After today’s contest against No. 18 Hancock, the Vaqueros will travel to No. 3 Canyons and No. 9 Ventura.

“That’s as tough as they get,” said Moropoulos, a former QB at Santa Barbara High and SBCC who’s entering his 24th season as a coach. “We have to go to Canyons for the third year in a row. It’s gonna be tough but it’s a great way to get better.”

The Vaqueros will play in the new Southern California Football Association this year. They’ll play a seven-game schedule in the American Pacific Conference, starting with a home game against Antelope Valley on Sept. 27.

Conner Rehage, a sophomore from Dos Pueblos High, sprained his ankle in the first scrimmage but is expected to start at quarterback. His backup is Austin Civita, a transfer from Canyons. Rehage passed for 745 yards last year with six touchdowns and 10 interceptions.

Sophomore Bryant Hilliard, of Chesapeake, Va., will start at tailback with Tristan Carter at fullback. Carter prepped at Tucker High, one of the best high schools in Georgia, according to Moropoulos. “He’s been a great surprise,” said the Vaqueros’ coach. ” He’s one of the best fullbacks we’ve had since I’ve been here.”

The receiving corps has lots of potential but only one player, tight end Sean Hutchinson, has caught a pass in college and his total is two. Wide receiver Ravonte Wilkerson, a 6-3 freshman who played QB at Washington High in L.A., has shined in training camp. In the intersquad scrimmage, he returned a punt 70 yards for a touchdown and a caught a 58-yard TD pass. Oscar Loza is also expected to start at wideout in the Vaqueros’ spread offense.

SBCC boosted its numbers in the offensive line, from a meager five last year to 15. “But that’s where all our inexperience is,” noted Moropoulos. “We don’t have any returning starters.”

Juan Gutierrez (6-3, 280) and Matt Kristie (6-3, 265) are expected to start at tackle with David Fuentes (6-3, 320) and Mark Morelos (6-0, 270) of Santa Barbara High at guard. The center spot will be filled by either Jonathan Nissing (6-0, 235) or Mako Malepeai (5-10, 210).

The Vaqueros need to improve their turnover ratio — they were a minus-8 last season and they fumbled 24 times, losing 13.

The defense did an about-face in 2007, going from the bottom of the WSC to No. 7 in the 16-team conference.

Nathan Goldie, the second-leading tackler last year with 81, returns at linebacker, along with Ken Dorset and Logan Hurn. Clint Nix (6-2, 250) is the lone returner in the defensive line. He’ll be joined by freshmen Osvaldo Donato (5-10, 265), Pati Alama-Amisone (6-0, 300) and Ayikwei Kimathi (6-3, 250).

Nate Bailey, who missed most of last year with a knee injury, and freshman Aeryus Holloway will start at cornerback. Matt Racowski is the strong safety with Nick Vought at free safety.

Jeremy Ybarra, a sophomore from Santa Barbara High, is back at kicker after converting 23-24 PAT kicks and 12-17 field goals to earn first-team all-conference honors. The punting duties will be handled by ex-Bishop Diego High star Eli Orosco or Riley St. Clair.

Hancock is coming off a 6-4 season and has dominated the Vaqueros in recent years.

“Offensively, they’re the same — big and physical,” said Moropoulos. “On defense, they’ve changed their front to a 3-5-3. They’re a good football team and they’re going to be a heck of a challenge, especially in the first game of the season.”

All of SBCC’s games can be heard on AM 1290 radio (KZSB) and on the internet ( with John Martony calling the action. For scores, stories and stats, visit SBCC’s web site ( or the SCFA web site (