El Camino had to go through a gauntlet of top notch teams to earn its berth, eking out wins against Moorpark College, former #1 rated team and conference rival Saddleback, and a very tough Bakersfield team whose home field advantage of fan support is unparalleled in California JC football. The Warriors could not be any better prepared for the big game. This year's edition of the Rams also played against some tough competition including San Mateo, Santa Rosa, Foothill, as well as a very tough Fresno team pining to play for it all in their own city. This promises to be an entertaining game for all those fortunate to attend.
San Francisco put a dent in the old cliche about how hard it is to beat a team twice in one season. After barely surviving their regular season contest by a field goal, they dominated Fresno in the rematch at home in the NorCal final, to win yet another berth in Coach George Rush' illustrious career. City has now been in 8 out of the last 9 finals. That's a phenomenal success rate that has few peers in college athletics.
Rush has not only been successful on the field, he's had around 100 players go on to play D-1 football since 2001 alone, and many have gone on to professional football. Rush has been a Ram since the sixties, when he was a player and teammate of the infamous O.J. Simpson. I believe this is now his 30th year at the helm, and he has a remarkable record of 248 – 77 with a fistful of State and National Titles. He is so comfortable at City, he has turned down offers to coach at D-1 schools, including an invitation by Pete Carroll to help rebuild the Trojan program. That shows a lot of dedication to the school and the city.
Rush has an excellent staff including Dan Hayes, one of the nation's premiere offensive coordinators and John Balano, an assistant coach on the field, and a highly regarded strength and conditioning coach. His speed camps and strength programs are reasons the Rams have had so much success against their foes.
The Rams will feature Tyreece Jacks, at RB, who had 12 TDs and averaged 123 yards per game behind standout offensive linemen Ako Poti and Alesana Alesana. If Elco tries to crowd the box, QB Zac Lee can spread the ball around. He threw for 27 TDs at a 64% rate in the regular season. On defense the Rams are always very quick and like to attack the other team's offense. The Rams have taken up the North's mantle again, and this year's edition is just another in a long line of talented City teams.
While San Francisco is the most decorated team of the last decade, the Elco Warrior program is no stranger to success. Coach John Featherstone has been at the helm of the Torrance California powerhouse for 21 years having led them to 15 Bowl games during that time. In 1987, the Warriors were undefeated National Champions, and Coach Featherstone was named the National Coach of the Year. His overall record of 153-70-1 is very remarkable considering that the Mission Conference is generally regarded as the toughest in the Nation.
One look at Coach Featherstone and you don't think of a football player. He is not the biggest guy in the world, but he was an outstanding and versatile athlete in his youth, playing many positions. His accolades include being named an All CIF receiver at Mira Costa High, and he was an All Conference player at El Camino. He led the San Diego State Aztecs to an undefeated season and was the M.V.P. in the 1969 Pasadena bowl. Coach knows how to get the most "bang for the buck" and this year's edition of the Warriors is a testament to that. They have played with a lot of determination, and have been able to pull out very tight contests. They are this years ‘Cardiac Kids.' His biggest influence was from the renowned offensive genius Don Coryell, who changed N.F.L. schemes with his high octane offenses. Featherstone has had over 300 players earn scholarships to the next level, and over 3 dozen of them have gone on to play in the N.F.L.
Featherstone also has a veteran staff helping to lead his team, including offensive coordinator Eugene Engle, and all-conference tackle for the Warriors in the mid-seventies, who played for Stanford and had a short stint in the N.F.L. Calling the defensive plays is Tom Nelson who utilizes a ‘Flex" style defense that has led to school records for interceptions and sacks.
Featherstone is one of the most likeable coaches in the JC ranks. He is a players coach and has the respect of all around him. That was never more evident than in last weeks Socal final when his QB Boo Jackson took it upon himself to change the play sent in on a 3rd and 11 in overtime. Instead of trying to get the Warriors closer for a game tying field goal attempt, Jackson changed the play and threw the game winner into the end zone. That shows a tremendous amount of confidence when a freshman QB has the latitude to do that in the biggest game he has ever played in
El Camino has a huge frontline and a solid runner in J.J. Bass (Oregon St. commit), who had over 100 yards against a very tough Bakersfield defensive line last week. Bass has averaged over 6 yards per carry this season. Although Jackson had an uncharacteristic game against BC, he has completed about 2 out of every 3 passes this year and is over the 2,000 yard mark. WR Kayne Farquharson (Miami commit) can beat you on returns, or as a receiver. The secondary is led by two of the top pass defenders in the Mission, Damilyn Tanner (Iowa St. commit) and Lamar Chapman. Vuna Tuihalamaka is a highly regarded All-American linebacker, headed to either Arizona or Oregon State, who will be all over the field. The kicking game is also a plus for the Warriors with Joe Houston and punter Oscar DeAlba. They will need these guys to come up big Saturday.
This should be a great battle led by two of junior college's most prolific and successful coaches. I would make the Rams a 9 point favorite based on championship experience. Half of these Rams lost to Grossmont last year on the very same field, and are looking to wrest the title back from the South. But El Camino has beaten the odds all year, and has found a way to win games even when they are not performing at their best. Anyway you look at it, the winner of this game will deserve to be called….. California State Champions.