After tying the SBCC football single-season wins record, Craig Moropoulos has been named the SCFA American Pacific Coach of the Year and Alex Johnson was named Offensive Player of the Year, it was announced this week.
The Vaqueros – who host College of the Desert in the 2022 SCFA Beach Bowl Game this Saturday at 2:30 p.m. at La Playa Stadium – earned a total of 18 All-APL selections, including the two major awards and 10 other First Team honors.
Coach of the Year: Craig Moropoulos – Under Craig Moropoulos’ guidance, the Vaqueros improved on an already impressive 2021 campaign with one of the program’s best years ever in 2022. Moropoulos became Santa Barbara’s third head coach since 1955 to reach the nine-win mark, with the Vaqueros entering Saturday’s bowl game with Desert seeking to become the first 10-win team in SBCC’s long history. The Vaqueros won their 300th game on Sept. 10 in a 45-7 blowout over Orange Coast, the first of five games they handled by at least five touchdowns. They also set team records for single-game points and largest win (86 vs. LA Southwest on Sept. 24), consecutive victories (9) and rushing touchdowns (37) and as of now are shattering the single-season scoring record averaging 45.5 points per game with 455 total.
“I’m just super proud of the team, the coaches and just the program itself for where it’s gotten to, winning the conference and earning our way into hosting a bowl game. That’s the ultimate thing,” Moropoulos said. “We’re honored to be a part of that group that’s won nine games, and definitely have a positive, upbeat thing right now and we’ll see what happens Saturday.”
Offensive Player of the Year: Alex Johnson – The APL’s Offensive Player of the Year got out to a slow start, but would bounce back to have an incredibly efficient final seven games. Quarterback Alex Johnson started hitting stride in week five of the season, when he completed 10-of-16 (.625) passes for 94 yards and ran in two scores with a season-high 46 rushing yards in a big 30-14 win at Glendale. The signal-caller would finish the year as a dual threat with six rushing touchdowns, while posting a 9-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio over the second half of the season. Johnson also completed 70 percent of his passes in three of his last five, including going a masterful 8-for-10 for three scores and a season-high 143 yards in a 63-0 win over LA Pierce.
All-APL First Team Offense: Damien Roberts, Donovan Davis, Elian Sunquist, Brandon Smith, Joe Bowman – The Vaquero offensive line made up a good chunk of the All-APL Offensive First Team, with center Damien Roberts being joined by a unanimous 2021 First Team selection in blocker Donovan Davis. Tight end Elian Sundquist joined the run-blocking attack that went over 200 yards six times while reeling in six passes for 82 yards and two touchdowns.
Tough and elusive runningback Brandon Smith was the star of the pounding Vaquero run game, as he posted SBCC’s third-highest single-season rushing total ever with 1031 yards (6.6 Y/R). He led the team with 13 run scores and pulled in an additional one through the air. Over a torrid stretch from Sept. 17-Oct. 15, he became the first Vaquero under Moropoulos to go over 100 yards on the ground in four straight games, setting the Vaquero single-game rushing record with 260 on 33 carries in the win at Glendale.
Oregon State transfer Joe Bowman was extremely reliable at place kicker, connecting on a perfect 47-of-47 extra points and going 4-of-5 on 40-yard field goals.
All-APL First Team Defense: Grant Hessler, Amir Brown, Kai Singleton, Terrence Coleman, Kayden Chan – Defensive tackle Grant Hessler and linebackers Amir Brown and Kai Singleton represented SBCC’s starting defensive 11 on the All-APL First Team. Hessler led the Vaqueros with six sacks and 9.5 tackles for a loss of 36 yards. Brown’s presence was felt all over the field, as he led the team with 44 tackles. Singleton was credited with 15 tackles, including two for a loss.
All-APL Second Team Offense: Joe Becerra, Anthony Hastings, Chase Wells, Mekhi Norfleet, Cameron Woolsey – Skill players Mekhi Norfleet, Chase Wells and Cameron Woolsey contributed in a number of ways en route to earning All-Conference recognition. As SBCC’s change-up back, Norfleet ran for 441 yards (5.3 Y/R) and was second on the team with six scores on the ground. A 53-yard touchdown in SBCC’s regular season finale highlighted his season-high 73-yard rushing day on just four carries.
Wide receiver Chase Wells got out to a fast start with 11 catches for 175 yards and two touchdowns over the first two games of the season. A consistent contributor throughout the year, he finished as the only SBCC player with more than two receiving touchdowns, totaling five. He paced the team in receiving yards as well with 402.
Woolsey ran in four scores of his own and was a playmaker on special teams as well. He averaged a team-high 11.5 yards per rush thanks to the blocking of fellow Second Team selections offensive linemen Joe Becerra and Anthony Hastings.
All-APL Second Team Defense: Brandon Bowers – Punter Brandon Bowers was named to the Defensive Second Team after playing another crucial part in SBCC’s stellar special team unit. He constantly aided in giving the Vaqueros the field position advantage, averaging 40.5 yards per punt. Bowers placed nearly two-thirds of his punts (20 of 33) inside the opposing 20-yard line and had just six touchbacks with a long of 71 yards.
“We have a lot of guys with talent,” said Moropoulos. “The two most important parts of a successful team are the people up front and a really good special teams. It’s also been the guys who’ve stepped up when people have gotten hurt, and that’s really big. Successful teams do that and that’s what’s really rewarding about this team and why it’s been able to accomplish what it has.”
2022 SCFA BEACH BOWL
The last two meetings between the Vaqueros and College of the Desert happened in back-to-back years, with SBCC first defeating the Roadrunners 47-18 at home in 2016 and falling on the road 25-20 in 2017.
“They’re always athletic, they’ve got good skill people, just always talented and always good,” Moropoulos said of his upcoming opponent. “What I’m looking forward to is hopefully seeing us do what we’ve done since our first game. The whole season’s been a combination of all three phases, playing good defense and being really good on offense and on the special teams. It’s a sign of a successful team when you can do those three. It’ll be a great challenge, we’re excited about it and hopefully we can match it and have a great game.”
Michael Jorgenson works in communications/media relations at Santa Barbara City College.