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.
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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.
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.
Chapman said Prince’s development has been remarkable.
As for Prince’s size, Chapman said: “He’s really athletic and his quickness and athleticism makes for a lot of things.
Said Prince: “All these guys keep me going. They help me out on every play.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”