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Opportunity, If Not Attention, Beckons in Community College Football

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Opportunity, If Not Attention, Beckons in Community College Football

Saddleback College's freshman safety Michael D'Amato (31). (JP Westerbeck/Saddleback College)

Dan Wood

Dan Wood

10/10/2023

Updated: 10/10/2023

While more than 99.9 percent of California’s estimated 39 million residents are probably blissfully unaware, there is some high-level community-college football being played in the state.
That is certainly true in Orange County, where three schools appear in the JC Athletic Bureau’s latest statewide rankings. Undefeated Fullerton College leads the way at No. 4, Golden West of Huntington Beach is No. 8, and Saddleback of Mission Viejo is No. 18.
Of course, with Southern California featuring two NFL franchises in the Los Angeles Rams and Chargers, major universities in USC and UCLA, and a seemingly endless collection of high-quality high school programs, there isn’t even a sliver of the spotlight left over for community-college football.
“It’s sad,” Fullerton sports information director Phil Thurman told The Epoch Times. “It gets no publicity, and you have these guys that are playing with us and then they’re going to be playing Division 1.”
That is exactly the goal for virtually every community-college football player, including Saddleback freshman safety Michael D’Amato. A former standout at Mission Viejo High School, D’Amato went to Montana State University during the summer, without a scholarship, before deciding he’d be better off taking a less glamorous route.
“I was like, ‘I’m going to go back Juco because I feel like I can go somewhere better, or I deserve a scholarship,’” D’Amato told The Epoch Times. “I came back to really show what my worth is. Juco, that’s what it gives you. Maybe it doesn’t have as much publicity, but it gives you the opportunity to show who you are.”
Saddleback College's freshman safety Michael D'Amato (31). (JP Westerbeck/Saddleback College)

Saddleback College's freshman safety Michael D'Amato (31). (JP Westerbeck/Saddleback College)

D’Amato has done exactly that, recording a team-high 37 tackles, including four for losses, and intercepting two passes as Saddleback has won three of its first five games.
The Bobcats, who handed then 13th-ranked San Diego Mesa a 42–31 defeat in their most recent outing, host their homecoming game against Palomar on Oct. 14.
Montana State, which competes in the Big Sky Conference in the NCAA’s Division I Football Championship Subdivision, has reconsidered and offered D’Amato a scholarship, he said.
“I have no hate for Montana State,” D’Amato said. “I love the school. I love everything. I just didn’t want my parents paying for my school.”
Wide receiver Marques Carrillo Edgar is another Saddleback player drawing interest.
A freshman from Norco, Carrillo Edgar has been the Bobcats’ top playmaker, with a team-high 13 receptions for 283 yards and four touchdowns.
Where Carrillo Edgar, D’Amato and so many other community-college players go from here remains to be determined. That creates an interesting dynamic for coaches trying to build teams, as well as student-athletes who are understandably thinking in terms of their own best interests.
At Fullerton, Coach Garrett Campbell does his best to merge the two objectives. The fact the Hornets have won each of their five games by at least 12 points has made it easier to divide playing time. Third-year quarterback Brandon Nunez, for example, is the main man, but Villa Park High product Nathan Kornely, a freshman, is also getting repetitions.
“We’re going to have some backups and third-string guys get scholarships because of that,” Mr. Campbell told The Epoch Times. “At the end of the day, they have their goals, but at the same time their individual goals are still tied to the team goals, and vice-versa.”
Fullerton College's football coach Garrett Campbell at Fullerton College vs. Santa Barbara City College on Sept. 2, 2023. (Jim McCormack/Fullerton College)

Fullerton College's football coach Garrett Campbell at Fullerton College vs. Santa Barbara City College on Sept. 2, 2023. (Jim McCormack/Fullerton College)

Fullerton’s receiving corps is another case in point. Christian Steward, a Brea Olinda High product, and fellow wide receivers Jeremy Gonzales and Leland Smith have all distinguished themselves, as has tight end Cameron Woods.
The same is true on defense, where linebacker Chris Harm of El Modena High, former Newport Harbor High lineman Erik Hehl, and defensive back Khadari Kearns have excelled.
Fullerton, which visits San Diego Mesa on Oct. 12, is one of four unbeaten teams in California. If things stay that way, the Hornets could very well be in line for a regular season-ending showdown with top-ranked Riverside.
Golden West, meanwhile, is 4–1 entering an Oct. 12 game at Orange Coast, with its only loss at Riverside.
Featuring a more pronounced ground attack under Coach Nick Mitchell than in years past, the Rustlers have relied heavily on sophomore running backs Jae’Sean Pete and Ralph Ekechi. Speedy wide receiver Dasani McIntosh has also made a strong impression.
Golden West College's sophomore running back Jae'Sean Pete (34). (Sean Sydnor/Golden West College)

Golden West College's sophomore running back Jae'Sean Pete (34). (Sean Sydnor/Golden West College)

Perhaps Golden West’s top Division I prospect, however, is 6-foot-4, 200-pound sophomore Marquis Brown. The team leader with 32 tackles, Brown is “probably one of the best defensive backs in the league,” Acting Athletic Director Tim Bremen told The Epoch Times.
Brown received a scholarship offer from Utah State last week, Mr. Bremen said.
D’Amato, the Saddleback safety, pointed to “a lot of good players in college and the NFL” who arrived there via a community college.
“You know what they say,” D’Amato said. “Not everybody’s path is all smooth. There are a lot of bumpy roads in the path, but I think the bumpy road in Juco kind of makes you what you are.”
Dan Wood

Dan Wood

Author

Dan Wood is a community sports reporter based in Orange County, California. He has covered sports professionally for some 43 years, spending nearly three decades in the newspaper industry and 14 years in radio. He is an avid music fan, with a strong lean toward country and classic rock.

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