Young SRJC football squad aims for improvement

What better way to adjust to college football than opening a career against a two-time national champion and the third-ranked team in the state?

Santa Rosa Junior College has a slew of freshmen and just 16 sophomores, and they were fed reality quickly in opening 2017 with one-sided losses to No. 3 Butte (Oroville) and?No. 10 Fresno City.

Butte - a two-time state champion and 18-time conference champion with 30 bowl games under its belt - walloped the Bear Cubs 51-0 on Sept. 2.

Santa Rosa coach Lenny Wagner, a former Sonoma State player who’s in his fifth year guiding the Bear Cubs, knows he has talent that will develop. But that development isn’t easy to focus on for those freshmen, who are used to not only winning, but crushing their opponents.

“You have guys who are All-Sonoma County League, and they’re pretty excited about that, and they go play Butte and Fresno,” Wagner, who arrived at Santa Rosa in 2000, said with a chuckle. “I told our guys, ‘This might be the best thing that ever happened to you.’”

Santa Rosa travels to No. 25 Delta (1-1) for a 1 p.m. game on Saturday at DeRicco Field in Stockton.

The Bear Cubs and Mustangs have met several times over the years, and Wagner and Mustangs running backs coach Todd Herrington attended and played for Fullerton College together in the 1980s.

“I’m really familiar with Delta, and they’re familiar with us,” Wagner said. “We’ve had some crazy battles over the years.”

The Bear Cubs are still using what Wagner refers to as two No. 1 quarterbacks. They’re both freshmen and products of the Redwood Empire, in Fort Bragg’s Kaylor Sullivan and Cardinal Newman’s Jordon Brookshire. Sullivan and Brookshire have both shined at different times, Wagner said, and neither one has yet cemented himself as QB No. 1.

Brookshire played against the handful of Delta players from St. Mary’s High in Stockton, through a nonleague series that Cardinal Newman and St. Mary’s take part in annually.

“The first thing we tell our players is this is going to be one of the best-coached teams you’ll play all year,” said Wagner, who commended Delta head coach Gary Barlow. “We’ve got our work cut out.”

Through its two opening losses, Santa Rosa hasn’t generated much offense. The lone touchdown of the season came on a pass from Sullivan to fellow freshman Jacoby Ceasor (Houston, Texas). Sophomore running back Zach Hugh (Fortuna) is the team’s leading rusher (44 yards) and receiver (36 yards) thus far.

And besides the Bear Cubs’ inexperience, their numbers have depleted as the season progresses. Santa Rosa has lost eight of its offensive linemen in the past two weeks, Wagner said. Most of those have been to injury.

Delta, which beat De Anza 28-7 on Saturday, is fueled by freshman quarterback Wayne Brooks. Brooks played his high school ball at Stagg High in Stockton, but had a four-year break between his final prep season (2013) and his varsity debut (2017).

He has yet to post big numbers passing, but is second in the state in averaging 167 rushing yards per game.

Barlow told the Stockton Record that for Brooks, “It’s such a big step playing high school quarterback to playing college quarterback. And we run everything through that position.”

Delta and Santa Rosa both feature a striking majority of freshmen in starting roles. So Brookshire, Sullivan and their new teammates can relate to the Mustangs.

“We are a young team that I know is going to be good at some point. They’re still making freshman mistakes,” Wagner said, before putting a good portion of the responsibility on himself and his assistants.

“Quite honestly, our coaching staff is coaching like freshmen right now.”

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