Thursday, Dec 06 2012 10:19 PM

Big boys have paved way for BC

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Bakersfield College offensive linemen Bert Flores, left, team captain Brandon Sarabia, Sebastian Prince, Christian Soto, and Ricardo Figueroa, right.

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Bakersfield College football coach Jeff Chudy prepares his team for Wednesday evening practice before Saturday's big game.

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BY JEFF EVANS Californian staff writer

The offensive line was an early season question mark at Bakersfield College. No one is questioning it now.

The Renegades' march to the California Community College Athletic Association football title game has been keyed by across-the-board improvement in all areas of the team. But the offensive line's improvement might be the biggest factor in BC's success.

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Who: BC (10-2) vs. City College of San Francisco (10-1)

When: 2 p.m. Saturday

Where: Memorial Stadium

Tickets: $15 adults, $10 students, seniors and children under 12. BC Athletic Director Ryan Beckwith said approximately 11,000 tickets had been sold as of Thursday afternoon. Tickets are available at Kern Schools Credit Union locations, Luigi's Restaurant, The Padre Hotel, Frugatti's Restaurant, Covenant Coffee and Action Sports through this afternoon. Tickets are also available at the BC ticket office, which opens at 8 a.m. today and 11 a.m. Saturday. Memorial Stadium's capacity approximately is 19,000.

BC (10-2) faces City College of San Francisco (10-1) at 2 p.m. Saturday in Memorial Stadium.

The best illustration of the O-line's development came in BC's last game, a 30-21 win over five-time defending Southern California champion Mount San Antonio College on Nov. 24.

The Renegades used ball control in the second half to keep the potent Mounties' offense off the field. Running backs Jalen Sykes (105 yards, 21 carries) and Curtis McGregor (94 yards, 16 carries) moved the chains and led the way as BC came back from a 21-17 halftime deficit.

"That was against a Mount SAC team that gives up only 77 (rushing) yards a game," BC coach Jeff Chudy said. "If you told me beforehand that we'd have two guys with around 100 I'd say 'no way.'

"It's a testament to how hard that line has worked."

Through seven games this season, Sykes had 526 yards and three touchdowns and McGregor had 430 yards and two touchdowns.

In the five games since then, Sykes has 748 yards and six TDs and McGregor has 433 yards and four TDs.

Quarterback Brian Burrell, sacked 19 times in BC's first seven games, has been sacked five times since.

"We're pretty close to having two 1,000-yard running backs," Burrell said. "They are great running backs, but the real reason is the O-line. They make big holes. The O-line has turned it around."

Ken Chapman, BC's offensive line coach, said one aspect of their game has set the linemen apart.

"They continue to get better every week," he said. "From Week 1 to Week 10, there's a huge difference. You can see it on film. Our opponents can see it. We’ve established the run game. We’ve gotten back to where we like to be in the run game.”

The starting linemen are center Sebastian Prince, right guard Brandon Sarabia, left guard Christian Soto, right tackle Bert Flores and left tackle Ricardo Figueroa. Prince and Soto are freshmen. The others are sophomores.

“We just started to become more like family. We started watching each other’s backs,” said Flores, a 6-foot-2, 335-pound East High grad. “Once we made a really good connection, that’s when everything started clicking.”

Sarabia, a 6-4, 300-pound Garces High grad and a first-team all-conference pick this season, said the group knew it was under close watch early on.

“We faced a lot of scrutiny at the beginning of the year,” Sarabia said. “We were the big question mark. We talked it over as a group, then we started playing hard and came together. We’re like a band of brothers.”

The linemen pointed to the Week 4 game against Ventura as the season’s turning point. BC lost 30-24 in four overtimes. The Renegades haven’t lost since.

“After we lost to Ventura, we knew we could be something special if we tried,” said Figueroa, a 6-foot-3, 275-pound Golden Valley High graduate.

“Ever since that week, the O-line has been playing as good as any O-line,” Burrell said. “I don’t think I’ve been sacked the last two games.
“If you asked us after Week 4 what do you think our weakness is, a lot of people might have said O-line. If you asked us right now what our strength is, I guarantee you everyone is going to say running the ball with the O-line.”

Prince replaced injured sophomore Julio Regla after the Ventura game. At 6-foot and 230 pounds, Prince is the smallest offensive lineman. He was a center the previous year at Stockdale High and had to quickly learn a new offensive scheme.

“If you look at us, we’re pretty unconventional,” Sarabia said. “No offense to Prince, but he’s not the biggest guy. But he sure plays like one. Whatever we lack in size we make up in chemistry and working hard.”

Chapman said Prince’s development has been remarkable.

“He’s probably improved more than any of them,” Chapman said. “Coming from a wing-T program like Stockdale to what we do is a huge change. Most kids can’t do it in a few months, but he has. That’s a credit to him.”

As for Prince’s size, Chapman said: “He’s really athletic and his quickness and athleticism makes for a lot of things.

“We see a lot of uneven fronts, so our center winds up working against a linebacker, so sometimes a quicker, smaller kid does a lot better. He can match up better there.”

Said Prince: “All these guys keep me going. They help me out on every play.”

Soto is the only member  not from Kern County. The 6-4, 285-pounder graduated last year from Rancho Verde High in Riverside County.

“I recognize how big this game is to our school, and it’s big for us, too,” Soto said. “Especially for guys who didn’t win too much in high school. It feels good to be part of a real winning program.”

Chapman said the improvement stems from hours of practice.

“The chemistry of them as a group has come along as the season has moved along,” Chapman said. “You develop a little bit of confidence as you get better. That confidence gives you a little swagger as things go our way and all of a sudden things start happening.”

Chapman says San Francisco’s defense is quick. 

“They remind me a lot of the Mount SAC defense, very quick and very fast,” he said. ““I think we’re definitely up to the challenge.”

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