By Dakari Thomas
The City College Rams are looking to add to their ring collection after winning the National Junior College Football Championship for the 10th time last fall.
It was their first title under new head coach Jimmy Collins, who took over the program after the 2014 season from George Rush, the winningest head coach in junior college history.
The Rams will need some new stars to step up their game if they don’t want to succumb to a championship hangover. With 10 starters from last year transferring after receiving scholarships, competition will be fierce in fall camp between the incoming freshmen and motivated returners.
The departure of their entire starting linebacker core that included Khalil Hodge (Buffalo State), Nick Pierotti (Northwestern State) and Anthony Giusti (Colorado State) has left the Rams without their top three tacklers from last season.
Gone as well is star quarterback Anthony Gordon, who—after throwing for 37 touchdowns and 3864 yards—will be suiting up for Washington State this year, along with fellow former Ram cornerback Rob Taylor.
There will also be new linemen on the interior as Austin Larkin (Purdue), Odge Udegu (Iowa State) and AJ McCollum (Arizona State) round out the Rams’ impressive list of university transfers, cementing City College’s status as one of the premier junior college programs in California for pushing players to the next level.
There are some key bright spots that City can turn to going into this season. Most notable is starting sophomore running back Namane Modise, who filled in for starter Elijah Dale in last year’s championship game.
Modise will look to build on his MVP performance in which he racked up 251 yards and 2 touchdowns. The shifty speedster looks to be the feature back in Coach Collins’ high-powered spread offense.
In addition to the new quarterback, the Rams’ offense has another tone-setter in sophomore receiver Easop Winston. The route-running specialist was the second option to Antoine Porter last season and still hauled in 986 yards with 12 touchdowns.
Though a starting quarterback has yet to be been named, he will have a reliable target capable of separating from defenders in Winston.
On the defensive side of the ball, cornerback Deante Fortenberry returns after leading the team with seven interceptions and an impressive 20 pass breakups. Defensive coordinators Anthony Feliciano and Bret Jones should feel comfortable knowing they can isolate Fortenberry week by week with the opposition’s best matchup.
The 2016 schedule looks to be in City College’s favor as they face several teams incapable of posing a threat that can unseat the Rams from their throne.
They will, however, take every team’s best shot and will have to play through tough games against American River, Chabot, San Mateo, and Contra Costa. The rematch with American River is the game to circle on the schedule, as they foiled the Rams’ perfect season in 2015 with a last-second, game-winning field goal.
The Rams will host an exhibition game with San Joaquin Delta on Wednesday, Aug. 24 at 4 p.m. and will open the regular season on the road at Laney College on Friday, Sept. 2 at 7 p.m.