The drudgery of summer conditioning is in the past as the Bakersfield College Renegades don helmets and hit the field Thursday for the official first practice of the 2017 football season.
But don’t expect any tackles or hard hits. Community College rules require three “helmet-only” practices before players can don the rest of the pads and get down to making real football plays.
No matter, head coach Jeff Chudy is more than ready to see what more than 100 players are bringing to the field.
That, and hopefully cooler weather.
“We’ve been working out early in the morning, and even at that hour it’s been brutal,” Chudy said of the summer conditioning program. “It’s just been hot.”
Despite the heat, Chudy praised the work ethic of the athletes, who he said have bought in “100 percent” to the workouts imposed by strength and conditioning coach Zack Peters. “I think we’re a couple of weeks ahead of the game from what it’s normally been like.”
“The effort level throughout the summer has been outstanding; not a lot of guys have missed more than a couple of days,” Chudy said. “I can tell you, our guys will be physically fit, they’ll be mentally prepared and they’re going to play with a lot of passion.”
Not only are the Renegades in better condition, but Chudy also said they are deeper than in the past couple of seasons.
“Depth is always the issue,” Chudy said. “The question is always how many players do you have competing for starting jobs, and our depth across the board looks better than the last couple of years.”
Some of that depth is at quarterback, where Chudy said at least three players are battling for the starting job — Cesar De Leon, who started the second half of last year, plus Brandon Jones and Andrew Hansen.
Hansen, who last played quarterback in 2014 for Centennial, has been a starting pitcher at Cal State Bakersfield the past two seasons. Jones, who was stellar at Bakersfield Christian in 2013 and 2014, played for Ventura College in 2015 and sat out last year.
“We’ll see what happens,” Chudy said. “We haven’t put pads on. It’s a day-to-day competition right now. We’re putting everything in a spreadsheet. The dust will settle and whoever that guy’s going to be, it will hopefully be an easy decision and a clear decision for us, but right now it’s open competition.”
Chudy said the Renegades will not have an athlete of the caliber of Derrick Vickers, who led the state in all-purpose yards with 2,443, was second with 13 touchdowns and signed a scholarship offer to play at Utah.
But BC will have other weapons.
“Vickers had a skill set that was obviously high, and the ability to do things most people can’t,” Chudy said. “I think collectively as a group we are far more advanced talent-wise. Where (last year) we relied a lot on Vickers, this year we will be able to balance it out and spread it around more.”
Chudy listed several areas of strength, including wide receiver and defensive back, where many players are returning.
Jakell Tomlin (44 receptions and five TDs) and Carlton Bowman saw a lot of time at wide receiver as freshmen, and Bobby Robinson, Cristion Brown, Jamil Iakopo and Elijah Russell logged lots of time last year on the defensive side.
Chudy also said the depth at running back will be much better this season.
“The one thing any coach at any level says that if you’ve got competition you’re in a good situation,” Chudy said. “When you don’t have competition in a certain spot it becomes a problem.”
Chudy said the Renegades will hold their third helmets-only practice early Saturday morning and follow that up later in the day with the first practice in full pads.
BC will host Antelope Valley in a controlled scrimmage Aug. 24 and opens the season Sept. 2 at home against Allan Hancock of Santa Maria.