UC Davis football returns to the field for spring football
The UC Davis football team has kicked off spring training and is preparing for the 2015-16 season. UC Davis will be entering the third year of the Ron Gould era, who assumed the head coaching duties in 2012. Gould has a 7-16 record as the UC Davis head coach, including last season’s horrendous 2-9 campaign that was marred by injuries, but was highlighted by the rise of junior quarterback Ben Scott and senior wide receiver Ramon Vargas. Fourteen new recruits were welcomed in the off-season, along with three new coaches. However, the Aggies also lose 15 graduating seniors and have several voids to fill, especially in the backfield. As Gould enters his third year, he hopes to compete at a consistent, high level after inconsistent play cost them many games in 2014.
UC Davis will return five starters on offense, including Scott, who threw for 1,734 yards and 19 touchdowns in six games and Vargas who recorded 665 receiving yards along with eight touchdowns in seven games. Scott and Vargas gave the team a much needed mid-season spark in an overall disconcerting season.
“We are doing well,” commented Scott. “The offense is looking pretty good, and the defense looks good, too.”
Things should be going well for Scott, especially after the season he just had. After being named the starting quarterback, Scott threw for at least two touchdowns in every game while averaging 289 yards per game. In his first game as a starter, Scott earned 379 yards and threw for four touchdowns against No. 11 Montana State in a Homecoming loss. With Scott at the helm, the Aggies’ total offense yards increased from 300 to almost 500 yards per game. UC Davis’ scoring increased from 19.2 points per game to just under 30.
Vargas was the main beneficiary of the quarterback change. In the homecoming loss, Vargas gained 141 yards in eight receptions and brought one in for a touchdown. Vargas ended the season as the Aggies’ leader in receiving.
“Those guys had a little magic going on….” Gould said after closing the last practice of the week for the Aggies.
The Scott-Vargas connection is exciting and something to look out for this coming season for the Aggies. Vargas’ rise as the star wideout has also stirred the competitive spirits of his teammates.
“We have other receivers that are playing really well,” continued Gould. “That’s exciting for us, because those other guys are starting to step up, so Ben will have other weapons that he can throw the ball to.”
UC Davis, however, lost two key players on the offensive side of the ball in left tackle Ian Joseph and running back Gabe Manzanarez. Joseph was the Aggies starting left tackle for the last four years and was a consistent anchor for the Aggies offensive line. But UC Davis has deep offensive line, and only lost two graduating seniors.
“We have a lot of guys that can step up. We played with six offensive linemen all year last year. Parker [junior center Parker Smith] is going to play left tackle,” Scott said. “He’s played a lot of games for us, he does really well. I don’t think we are going to skip a beat in the o-line. We are going to be very strong.
Smith’s transition to the left tackle position will be important for the Aggies. The young, but experienced, offensive line will look to bring consistency to the Aggies’ offensive attack.
The bigger question mark lies in the backfield and who will replace Manzanares as the principal ball carrier. Manzanares was a dual-threat running back for the Aggies during his two year career at UC Davis. Last season he led the Aggies with 833 rushing yards and 227 receiving yards, second on the team behind Vargas. The running back led UC Davis in all-purpose yards with 1,102 yards, despite missing the first four games of the season due to injury. The second leading rusher, Colton Silveria, 280 total yards, also graduated.
“We have to find someone to replace Gabe that we can give the ball to,” said Gould. “I feel really good with the running back situation.”
Sophomore wide receiver Jermale Jefferson was the third leading rusher for the Aggies with 219 yards in 17 attempts, averaging 11.9 yards per carry, and rushing for two touchdowns. Junior running back Manusamoa Luuga also rushed for 137 yards for the Aggies. Manzanares will be tough to replace, but Gould has experience working with young running backs. During his tenure as the running backs coach at Cal from 1997-2012, he coached the likes of Super Bowl champions Marshawn Lynch and Shane Vereen, as well as Justin Forsett and CJ Anderson. Gould’s experience and the addition of running back coach Jim Chapin will help the Aggies find their ball carrier.
Chapin was named the running back coach in January 2015, after previously coaching for the Indiana University (Pa.) Crimson in the same capacity.
“Coach Chapin understands the defensive line, the linebackers and the secondary,” Gould said. “Having him in a defensive room has been phenomenal because he looks at it from a coordinator’s perspective.
Along with Chapin, UC Davis also welcomed David Braun in February 2015 to serve as the offensive linemen coach, Braun previously served as the co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach at his alma mater, Winona State. Braun’s background as a coordinator will bring lots of knowledge to the Aggie defense. UC Davis will present a strong and experience defensive group, returning nine starters and their top three tacklers.
The third addition the coaching staff was Wes Nurse who returns to UC Davis after coaching at the University of North Dakota for the past two seasons. Nurse will coach the defensive backs.
Gould is hopeful that the addition of these coaches will help him turn the UC Davis football program around. “Discipline and leadership is what I’ve seen from all theses coaches,” Gould said.
The Aggies will also benefit from an easier schedule after playing the most difficult schedule in school history that included matches against Stanford, and two FCS ranked teams. UC Davis will open the 2015 campaign on the road in the Silver State as they take on the Nevada Wolf Pack in Reno, Nev on Sept. 3, 2015. The Aggies will host the South Dakota Coyotes for the home season opener on Sept. 12, 2015 at Aggie Stadium.
UC Davis will conclude spring camp on Sat., April 25 in a scrimmage that will be open to the public.
Graphic by Jennifer Wu.