Kevin Emerson's chair in the Orange Coast College football office is barely broken in. About the same can be said of the first-year coach's team in 2014.
Hired in April to replace Mike Taylor, who was 62-91 in 15 seasons, Emerson and his staff missed the recruiting season, during which all but 15 Pirates players vanished, forcing the Pirates coaches to bring in virtual leftovers and/or castoffs bent on seizing the suddenly ample opportunity to play.
Among the departed were receiver D.J. McFadden (a team-best 774 yards and eight touchdowns on 36 receptions) and tailback Lorenzo Williams (whose 729 rushing yards accounted for nearly three-quarters of the team's total). Both of them were second-team All-Southern Conference honorees, as was then-freshman kick returner and receiver Treydonte Hill, who also took his talents elsewhere.
McFadden landed at Bloomsburg College, a Division II school in Pennsylvania, while Hill is at Los Angeles Harbor Community College.
Left tackle Zach Bateman, a highly coveted Division I recruit who starred at Estancia High, and left guard Reuben Brien-Arnold are the lone returning starters on offense, though receivers AJ Holman (25 catches for 238 yards and two touchdowns) and Spencer Ludin (10 catches for 170 yards and two TDs) are also back.
Holman, who carried once for two yards, is the only returner that contributed to a running game that ranked No. 33 among 37 schools in the Southern California Football Assn. last season, when OCC finished 3-7 for the second straight year, 1-5 in the Southern Division.
Outside linebacker Paul Swanson, who made 29 tackles as a part-time starter in 2013, tackle Re'Shon Howard (19 tackles as a reserve), and outside linebacker Hugh Tomkins (two tackles in his only game last season) are returners projected to start on defense.
That defense was plundered last fall, when it allowed an SCFA-worst 44.2 points per game, a school record. That woeful total included an SCFA-worst 511 yards per contest, including an SCFA-worst 299 passing yards a game.
Linebackers Paco Potter (62 tackles, third-most on the team) and Francisco Alvarado (31) are also back, as is defensive end Austin Brewer (34) and safety Aronne Santos (13). Potter and Brewer started as freshmen, but are set to contribute off the bench this season for first-year coordinator Wayne Schmida, who performed the same duties previously at Los Alamitos and Lakewood high schools.
"There is a lot of building we have to do," said Emerson, 44, who spent the last five seasons compiling a 29-23 record at San Bernardino Valley Community College, after a seven-year stint at Citrus (46-27). "We have to change the culture."
Improving results could be a challenge, at least Emerson's first season, which begins Saturday at home against Chaffey at 6 p.m. Chaffey (at No. 11) is one of five OCC opponents ranked in the Southern California preseason top 11, including top-ranked Fullerton.
Reigning Southern Conference champion Fullerton (No. 2), Golden West (No. 8), Cerritos (No. 11) and Saddleback (No. 22), are OCC foes in the state preseason top 25.
Freshman quarterback Alec Dombkowski, who last played high school football in Virginia in 2011, completed 17 of 18 passes for 238 yards and three touchdowns in Saturday's intrasquad scrimmage. But that was against scout-team defenders.
"[Dombkowski] has a rocket of an arm," said Emerson, who also listed freshman Aaron Crone as a contender for the job, before Crone went down in practice with a pinched nerve in his neck/shoulder.
Daniel Rodriguez, a freshman from Elsinore, opens as the featured ballcarrier, while Emerson said Kyle White, a freshman from Alabama, could round out a one-two rushing punch in the diversified no-huddle shotgun that is very similar to a traditional spread offense.
Sophomore Mark Munson (six catches for 47 yards and two TDs in the scrimmage) and freshman Long Beach Poly product Darrel Watts (three receptions for 52 yards and one touchdown Saturday), are speedy and promising newcomers to the receiving corps.
Defensively, freshman Mike Hayden, whose 88 tackles as an outside linebacker/end at Los Alamitos High last season included 10 sacks, is set to open at middle linebacker in the four-three scheme, in which freshman cornerback Esdras Simervil stood out in the scrimmage.
"It's a work in progress," Emerson said of the lineup on both sides of the ball. "I like where our offense is and our defense, too. They are both getting better. Are they where we need them to be? No. We need to strive to get better offensively, defensively and on special teams.
"The players are trying to do everything they can to succeed, but what we are asking them to do and the level of play we are asking from them, is a little bit of a shock to them. They are still getting accustomed to that and acclimating to us as coaches."
Emerson said his 10-man staff, only two of whom were at OCC last fall, is one of the best he has ever assembled.