The Dons have been placed in the very rough Southern Conference of the National division, but coming from the Mission, they have always had tough opponents. "As far as the teams we play goes, our new conference is mostly ex-Mission teams, as well as Grossmont. So, the caliber of competition doesn’t change that much for us. The competition level and coaching experience is outstanding, and each week is a great test."
Michael Coutler, a Syracuse bounce back, will take over the reigns at QB, and had a solid performance against the Owls. He threw for what seemed to be a pedestrian 13-30 for 184 yards at first glance, but that performance was enhanced by the fact that he threw 4 TD passes and a two point conversion. He got a lot of mileage out of those 13 connections. Matt Cardenas returns as an elite All Conference WR who amassed over 1,000 yards last season and averaged over 18 yards per reception while scoring 12 TDs. He will be complemented by Auburn bounce back Luster Lewis. Bryson Kelly is also a returning All Conference runner who managed 55 yards against an always physical Citrus defense. Last season he had almost 500 yards and scored 8 TDs. Leading the Offensive Line is fellow all conference player and behemoth Robert Monroe (6-6 , 365). Eric Sproal (6-5, 305) is a bounce back from Fresno State and will start at Center.
The Santa Ana defense returns some pretty good talent. Defensive Lineman B.J. Bell (6-3, 250) is the returning team Defensive Player of the Year, and his brother's recent signing with the Cleveland Browns has fired him up for the new season. Bell lives in opponent's backfields, as he had 14 tackles for a loss and 7 sacks last year. Mark Luna also returns on the DL, and is tough to handle one on one. He too had 6 tackles for a loss last season. Derek Hines has shaken off the injury bug and returns at Safety. Despite the injuries, last season he had 30 tackles and has gotten himself into better shape this year. Jason McCalope returns at Corner where Jones says that he sometimes is the best player on the field. He had 40 tackles and a pick in 2007. Ryan Hanford, a Wyoming bounce back, had a solid camp at DB also. The Linebackers will feature a couple of local freshmen in Blake Poole and Sean Kurtz. Aaron Martinez had a solid camp after sitting out the 2007 season.
The Dons have always had a tough schedule, so the new conference setup won’t affect them as much as some other teams. "I expect to be competitive every week” says Jones. "We have the ability to get some wins and earn some scholarships for the players. Like everyone, staying healthy is of high importance, but overall I feel very positive about the 2008 version of SAC football." When asked about his staff, he doesn’t hesitate to say they are the best in the business, while modestly excluding himself. "It's a good mix of youth and experience. I've either played with or for 8 or 9 of my staff, and I trust them completely. They always have the player’s best interest at heart, and they work their tails off for them."
The Dons next hook up against San Diego Mesa on Friday. They will try to keep the momentum going as they gear up for an extremely tough conference schedule. Even before they enter conference play, they will have to play a pesky Harbor and an always talented Moorpark team. Every week will be a new adventure, but the Dons seemed prime to turn some heads, led by an experienced defense.