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Padecky: SRJC slowly returning to winning ways


The expectations for a college football team are like the expectations for Instagram. People don't want to wait around to see what happens. People want results now, not later. Used to be there were five-year plans in college football. Now there are 5-minute plans.

Lenny Wagner, Santa Rosa JC's coach, resists the temptation to grab the moment like a life preserver. Wagner either has red-shirted or gray-shirted 40 kids this season. It could be for a medical reason. Or a maturity reason. Or getting-used-to-college reason.

"The first year of college for an athlete is always tough," Wagner said. "There is so much change, so much adjustment necessary. They need time to grow."

Of those 40 kids, Wagner said 20 of them could either start or be immediate, significant contributors. That's a lot of quality beef, a lot of instant upgrades, a lot of worry solved. There would be depth at every position. Games, unlike now, would not feel like patchwork quilts for the Bear Cubs coaching staff, as they move kids to fill holes suddenly vacated by an injured starter.

So why doesn't Wagner move all his chips to the center of the table and exclaim, "I'm all in"?

"Because I want long-term stability," Wagner said, "not success for just one season."

The pressure certainly is there for Wagner to push the button now. SRJC football has fallen on some lean times lately, but the program has a solid history. Adam Froman, the 2008 California Offensive Player of the Year, and Scott Ware, the 2003 California Defensive Player of the Year, are among more than 250 ex-SRJC guys who went on to play at Division I schools.

There's a pedigree at SRJC and the school's 4-1 record right now would indicate that Wagner wouldn't have to push the panic button.

But SRJC lost its starting quarterback for the season in Game 2. Up to this point of the season, additionally, it lost its starting right tackle, left tackle, right guard, strong safety and two defensive ends for the year.

There have been concussions, fractured neck vertebrae, separated shoulders and torn ACLs. Injuries are like a virus. They come unannounced, out of nowhere, with literally and figuratively crippling results. As many as four players go both ways, a testament to their talent but also a statement about lack of backups.

That SRJC is 4-1 is a compliment to be paid to the players and the coaching staff for making adjustments without grumble.

Rather, the coaches have had some fun with the situation, if the word "fun" can be applied.

Last Thursday, Wagner and his staff held the Red-Shirt Bowl Game at Bailey Field.

It was a full-contact, nine-man game for players who weren't physically restricted. Wagner worked the public address announcer's microphone.

Said Wagner off the mic: "There's Kyle Lewis (Analy graduate) going off tackle and if he stayed outside he could have picked up some yards but instead he cut inside for zero gain."

The prodding was good-natured and the relief for the players who haven't played in a game was calculable.

"We'd call personal fouls from the press box," Wagner said.

"Personal foul, No. 56, sticking out his tongue at the press box ..." OK, that didn't happen.

Injuries can be very inconvenient for a football team. They can take expectations and reduce them to rubble. Wagner has no answers to why they have occurred.

"Injuries have kind of plagued us," said Wagner, a first-year head coach.

All of which might torment the guy who replaced Keith Simons, who led SRJC to 10 bowl games, with seven of them turning into victories.

But Wagner came into the situation with his eyes wide open and his mind clear about what to do about it.

"We have to do four things to be a powerhouse year in and year out," Wagner said. "You gotta win, that's one. It all starts there. Then you got to get guys in those big, four-year schools. You have to recruit very well. And you try to get as many three-year guys as possible."

That meant convincing as many 18-year-olds as possible that it is in their best interest and the team's to wait a year before playing. A solid, well-run and long-standing program will make such a buy-in attractive to a player because winning gathers attention. Top NCAA schools will assume correctly that conference champions or California state champions have talent.

Recruiters put California on their radar as a matter of form, for this state is where the best junior college football in the nation is being played.

So it is of no small consequence that sophomore Blake Richmond has accepted Texas Christian's offer for a scholarship. Richmond is a cartographer of sorts. He is helping to put SRJC on the map.

And TCU, don't forget, there's more of that coming. That's at the core of Wagner's job. It's the easy-to-understand distillation of every decision he makes.

That SRJC is not a place to get lost but, rather, a place to be found.

You can reach Staff Columnist Bob Padecky at 521-5223 or bob.padecky@pressdemocrat.com.