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San Diego hopes to build on last year’s strong finish
The USD football team’s first play from scrimmage last season went for a 61-yard touchdown.
It appeared that might be the only play on the highlight reel as the Toreros lost five of their first six games. With the season hanging in the balance, however, the Toreros pulled together to close out the year with four victories to salvage a 5-6 season (5-3 in the Pioneer Football League).
“That’s a big thing,” USD head coach Ron Caragher said of the lesson learned. “Never quit. Never give up. As much of a hole as we dug, we finished on a high note.
“We were a young team. We grew up fast. We had to get back in the thing and finish with a decent conference record.”
The bright side to 2010’s struggles is that many of those who stepped forward for USD a year ago return this season.
Here’s a quick look at the Toreros with 10 days remaining before the 2011 season opener:
The Toreros were untested virtually everywhere offensively coming into the 2010 season. This season they return several veterans at the skill positions, including QB Mason Mills (Coronado High); RBs Phil Morelli and Matt Jelmini; WRs John McGough, Sam Hoekstra (Santa Fe Christian) and Reggie Bell; and TE Mike Arnold. There are also three starters back on the offensive line, with Mike Arnold, Matt Peleti and Christian Fetters, a first-team all-PFL selection.
“It’s the first time in really three years that we have a guy with playing experience returning as the starter,” Caragher said of Mills, who completed 195-of-290 passes (67.2 percent) for 2,160 yards and 18 TDs. “I like that we have some good depth at running back, and at the receiver position we have some guys capable of playing well.”
Sam Scudellari, who started at quarterback in last year’s opener, has been moved to wide receiver, where he is vying for a starting spot.
“Sam has got a great attitude and that’s where it all starts,” said Caragher. “He just wants to help this team. If we asked him to play nose guard, he would jump in and play it.”
Mills is eager to get started.
“We’re very confident from an individual standpoint as well as a team standpoint in what we’re trying to do,” he said. “The last five games last year we figured out what it takes to win. Now we know how to win. We just have to get it done.”
Seven starters return, led by first-team all-PFL selections in DE Mario Kurn and CB Al-Rilwan Adeyami and second-team S Loka Kanongataa.
“They’re our three staples on defense,” said Caragher. “Guys who have had good success.”
The coach said the team is deepest on the defensive line, where Kurn is joined by three other seniors — DE Kellan Barker and DTs Dustin Geyer and Levor Ross.
Two other returning starters being counted on are senior DB Fred Obi and junior LB Zach Dunaj.
The defense was credited for much of the team’s late success last season, limiting opponents to just 35 total points in the Toreros’ last four wins.
It remains to be seen how much USD will be impacted by the departure of kicker Stanley Shurson, who handled the punting and place-kicking for the Toreros. Shurson averaged 36 yards a punt and was 11-for-21 in field goal attempts.
It appears junior Ernie Collins will replace Shurson in both roles, though senior Mike Levine is back after missing all last season with an injury. Levine hit 7-of-8 field goal attempts in 2009.
The Toreros open the season on the road Sept. 3 at Azusa Pacific, hoping to avenge a 42-14 home loss to Azusa in last year’s opener.
USD’s home opener is Sept. 10 against Western New Mexico at 6 p.m.
The team’s eight-game PFL schedule kicks off Sept. 24 at Morehead State.
By Kirk Kenney, Union Tribune