BEAVER BALL - American River College football capitalizes on local talent
Pos. - Name - High School
LB - Jordan Kunaszyk - Roseville
WR - Jonathan Lopez - Roseville
DB - Bryce Crouch - Roseville
DB - Bryce Kasch - Roseville
DB - Leonard Nelson - Woodcreek
DL - Anthony Luke - Woodcreek
WR - Namani Parker - Oakmont
OL - Steven Ponzo - Granite Bay
WR - Marc Ellis - Granite Bay
Sept. 5 ARC at Modesto, 6 p.m.
Sept. 12 ARC vs. De Anza, 6 p.m.
Sept. 19 ARC vs. San Joaquin Delta, 6 p.m.
Sept. 26 ARC at San Francisco, 1 p.m.
Oct. 3 ARC at San Mateo, 1 p.m.
Oct. 17 ARC vs. Siskiyous,* 6 p.m.
Oct. 24 ARC at Feather River,* 1 p.m.
Oct. 31 ARC vs. Sierra,* 6 p.m.
Nov. 7 ARC at Butte,* 1 p.m.
Nov. 14 ARC vs. Sacramento City,* 6 p.m.
* denotes conference game
Last year’s storybook season for the American River College football team didn’t end in confetti and glory. Rather, the team suffered a crushing loss in the second round of playoffs on a last-second field goal from San Francisco City College with a state championship bid on the line.
“We were number one in the state for six or seven weeks and knocked off the number one team in weeks four and five,” head coach Jon Osterhout recalled. “We slipped up in week nine and lost to Butte College, 27-24, after turning the ball over seven times. But we were able to respond and make the playoffs with a 9-1 record.”
The Beavers earned an at-large bid in the conference’s first-ever four-team playoff, but only survived one more round. ARC subsequently beat Butte College at home in a redemption game before the last-second field goal knocked them out of the running for a state championship.
“We lost two games by six points, so you could say we have high expectations this season, but we don’t throw out win-loss predictions,” Osterhout continued. “I know it’s very cliche, but we just try to take care of our business… You could say we’re reloading, but we feel very good about our football team in terms of our depth and our future moving forward.”
A Roseville native, Osterhout was a two sport athlete in football and baseball at Oakmont High School in the mid-90’s. Post-graduation, he joined Sacramento State’s football team where he earned first-team All-America honors in 1999. He later signed a free agent contract with the Washington Redskins before retiring and joining the Hornets coaching staff in 2002.
“I had the luxury of having Bob Vukajlovich who is a legendary coach in the Sac Joaquin Section and coached 25-plus years at Grant High School before coming to Oakmont in 1991,” Osterhout said. “I spent four years in his program and he was a tremendous mentor.”
Following a two-year stint at the University of Nebraska as a graduate assistant coach, Osterhout rejoined Sacramento State’s coaching staff in 2008 — the same year he was inducted to the the Hornets’ football hall of fame.
Osterhout, who was American River’s interim coach last season and takes over as the team’s sole head coach in 2015, spent a total of 11 years at the Division I level before joining the Beavers staff in 2011.
“I had a pretty good idea at a young age that I wanted to teach and coach,” Osterhout admitted. “I have a lot of passion and love for the game. It’s provided a lot for me, not only as a player, but it teaches you a lot about life. At the end of the day, being able to provide leadership and mentoring to these young men on my team is a great way for me to give back.”
When the Beavers hit the road this Saturday for their season-opener at Modesto College, Osterhout will be proud to see nine Roseville-area players suit up and take the field.
“We’re a Sac Joaquin Section-based team,” he pointed out. “If you look at our roster, we don’t have 20 or 30 kids from out of state. We’re doing it with kids from our own backyard. We have kids from Oakmont, Roseville, Granite Bay and Woodcreek, which makes it exciting for our fan base as well.”
Four Roseville High grads will suit up this Saturday night including second-year wideout Jonathan Lopez — one of the team’s starting wide receivers.
“We operate in a spread offense and I think that side of the ball is going to carry us this year,” Lopez admitted. “I know for a fact with Jihad (Vercher) coming in as our quarterback that we’re going to put up a lot of points.”
Last season as a freshman, Lopez started nine of the 12 games for the Beavers and caught 20 passes for 221 yards and five scores.
“Coming in last year, I was a bit nervous because I was straight out of high school,” Lopez admitted. “So (the quarterback) and I weren’t able to develop chemistry right away, but with Jihad this year we’ve been working together outside of practice and I feel good about where we’re at.”
Lopez joins fellow 2013 grad Jordan Kunaszyk, who hopes a medical redshirt season in 2014 will help him transition easily into the starting lineup.
“I feel confident in my ability and I feel like I’m going to do big things this year,” Kunaszyk said.
The sophomore linebacker hopes a strong second season will translate to a scholarship in 2016.
“I want to play at the highest level possible, which is playing Power 5 football at the Division I level, so I’m just focusing on getting better every day and trying to reach my dream,” Kunaszyk explained. “What better place to be noticed than at the best junior college in the area — we’re looking to be number one in the state.
“I knew from the beginning that if I was going to take the junior college route, this was the school I wanted to be at. I now know 100-percent in my mind that I made the right decision.”
Lopez and Kunaszyk join 2014 Roseville graduates Bryce Crouch (DB) and Bryce Kasch (DB) on the Beavers roster.
“This is my first year playing defense,” Crouch explained. “I made the switch from running back (at Roseville) to nickel back, and to be honest, it was a difficult transition. It’s a different style and you have to have a different mentality.”
"We’re deep at every position here at ARC, but especially in the secondary,” Kasch added. "I've had to battle an ankle injury for the last month and a half, but I’m just starting to get back. So I’m just looking to help our team in whatever way I can because our ultimate goal is a state championship.”
Crouch and Kasch will both look to earn playing time in a competitive ARC secondary along with former Woodcreek standout Leonard Nelson IV, who also made a full-time swap to the defensive side of the ball.
“I just want to get on the field and help out the team as much as I can,” Nelson said. “I’ve already learned a lot, especially playing defensive back, and I’ve made some improvements. Every school has their own technique that they employ in the secondary, so I’m just picking up on that.”
Nelson connects with fellow Woodcreek graduate Anthony Luke, who hopes to clinch a starting spot on the defensive line.
“We’re excited about both sides of our line,” Osterhout admitted. “We have a lot of talented big men up front.”
Meanwhile, former Granite Bay High standout Marc Ellis — one of the speediest players on the field — will be starting at slot receiver for the blue and white.
“This offense has really set me up to do big things this year and they’ve expanded my role in this system,” Ellis acknowledged. “We have a lot of good players on offense, especially our quarterback.”
Last season, Ellis saw limited action, but still managed 13 catches for 137 yards and two touchdowns.
“I saw a decent number of plays, but not as much as I wanted,” Ellis said. “But I competed and helped my teammates get W’s.”
After getting taste of a state championship with the Grizzlies in 2012, Ellis hopes to share that feeling with his teammates at the next level.
“Honestly, I just want to lead my team to a state championship,” he confessed.
Saturday’s season opener for the Beavers could be a shootout.
Last year, Modesto earned a 4-6 record, but notched the 16th ranking in Northern California. They also employed the sixth-ranked offense in the state with 458.3 yards per game, which included 225.5 yards rushing per game.
“It’s exciting times for junior college football in Northern California,” Osterhout said. “With Sierra College having a good program and Sac City having a strong year last year, on top of San Francisco, San Mateo, Butte and how they reconfigured the leagues, it’s good for Northern California football.”
Last season’s realignment gives local cheering sections new rivals and cuts down on travel time for teams.
“It’s exciting for the fan base to have Sac City, Sierra and ARC all in the same conference,” Osterhout added. “It hasn’t been that way in I don’t know how long.”
One thing is certain; the new conference will give fans plenty to cheer about.