Chabot head coach Eric Fanene sounds like he's ready for some football.
His players are too. After a productive offseason, the multitalented Gladiators are hungry to kick off the season against Shasta College in Redding at 6 p.m. on Saturday.
The Gladiators' young guys competed well against formidable Fresno City in a scrimmage this past week, and some Chabot starters got the day off. Shasta will get a chance to meet them too.
"It's going a little better than we thought," Fanene said of the team's early progress. "We scrimmaged a really good, big, fast team in Fresno City College. … We've got a lot of young guys. Even though we have a lot of sophomores coming back, not a whole lot of them have a lot of playing time. We graduated a good group of guys last year."
Along with a noteworthy cast of homegrown products, Chabot has an unmistakable Aloha spirit with a bevy of Hawaiian players. Sophomore dual threat quarterback Chayce Akaka, with quick feet and a rocket for an arm, and returning wideout Tanner Wright hail from Maui.
The Gladiators were 5-5 last year with Akaka throwing for 1,891 yards while completing 141 of 260 passes with 19 touchdowns against nine interceptions. He also rushed for 549 yards on 109 carries (5.0 average) and seven touchdowns.
"He's one of the best quarterbacks and just overall athletes that I've ever coached, and besides that he's just a great kid. He just lights up a room when he comes into the room with that big smile, but he's a huge competitor too," Fanene says of Akaka. "He hates losing and he hates making mistakes, and that's a good thing."
Since Shasta looks much improved over the squad Chabot handled 27-7 last season, Saturday's meeting figures to be a tough first exam for both teams. Shasta handled College of the Redwoods handily in a scrimmage.
DEFENSE WINS CHAMPIONSHIPS
The Gladiators take great pride in their defensive tenacity and productivity. An important leader this season is standout sophomore defensive end Nainoa Keahi, of Maui, who is being recruited by Division I schools, as is Akaka.
"He's one of our best D-linemen and he was in the rotation last year, and that says a lot because we had a really good D-line," Fanene said of Keahi. "He was a true freshman and he played a lot for us on the edge. He's a great player."
Versatile inside linebacker Neami Politoni (Oakland High), who started two years ago, is back after suffering a season-ending knee injury in a scrimmage against Fresno in 2018. He looks ready to roll.
"He's playing lights out right now, playing multiple inside linebacker positions," Fanene said. "It's great to have him back."
Defensive back Darriell Wells of Louisiana, who started every game last season as a true freshman, is one of the team's very best players.
"He has all the intangibles," Fanene said of Wells. "He's like 6-1. Blazer. He's got that elite speed. He's gonna have a lot of great schools looking at him. Great man coverage. Great leader, just a great kid. He's an ambassador to our football program."
Safety Tai Nguyen of Milpitas is another key sophomore returner.
FIREPOWER ON OFFENSE
On offense, the Gladiators boast two standouts in the backfield in running backs Ponove Veimau (Sequoia-Redwood City) and Isaiah-Nehemiah McGlown (Mt. Eden), both of whom started a bunch of games last season. Both are hard downhill runners who did not play against Fresno, and so they'll be ready to go against Shasta. Veimau burst onto the scene last season after starting out on special teams. He ran for 534 yards and six touchdowns, with a long gain of 50 yards.
The team must make do without electric wideout Traveon Auzenne, who had 525 yards receiving and eight touchdowns last season but will sit out with pins in his wrist after dislocating it. With Wright having locked up a wideout spot, there is lots of competition for the other spot. After redshirting last season, Janiero Crankfield of Florida, a slot guy, is making a big impression. "He's a "special, special kid, so we look forward to playing him against Shasta," Fanene says of Crankfield, who will fill role DJ Johnson held last year.
Kicker Alejandro Cervantes, a soccer player with a powerful leg and could be sitting on big season. Crankfield and Wells will handle kick returns. The team still boasts returning running back Chris Washington, who's been out with a wrist injury.
The Chabot coaching staff gets a boost with the addition of former Logan head coach George Zuber as offensive line coach. Another former Logan coach Neal Fromson is back and coaching fullbacks and tight ends. Jeff Prothro, a former Logan coach who was at California High last year, is coaching wide receivers. Danny Calcagno is back as the offensive coordinator and Jerome Manos returns as defensive coordinator.