By Dan Gudino
The football team’s bye-week came at the perfect time to heal injuries and prepare itself for this Saturday’s clash against West Los Angeles College for the American Metro Conference title.
Since the scrimmage game in late August, it’s been eight straight weeks of ups and downs. East Los Angeles College finds itself in unfamiliar territory with a winning record (5-2) and its destiny in its own hands.
Huskies football is not known for winning. It has two winning seasons since football returned to ELAC in 1998, after a six-year disbandment.
If ELAC can win out the rest of the season, it will capture a postseason bowl appearance.
“This was the expectation we have here at ELAC. The coaching staff and I, at the beginning of the season, had these hopes of having a championship caliber team,” ELAC head coach Bobby Godinez said.
ELAC is currently ranked No. 3 in the Southern California American Division rankings and is slowly climbing in the state rankings. Listed at No. 29 by the Junior College Athletic Bureau of Community College Football Coaches, this team can have a historical season when it’s all over.
“There’s no doubt that this is already a historical team. When you talk about tradition here at East L.A., any winning team here has to be considered historical. Most importantly, it is the foundation and the start of something real special,” Godinez said.
During practice, the decision making of the players has greatly improved. It has been constantly stressed in practice that no one can beat ELAC other than themselves with mental mistakes, like late hits for penalties.
A major improvement for ELAC is the recruitment of players for a school that is shunned by prominent high school players around Southern California. This year’s roster consists of 18 out-of-state players, notably the brothers from Honolulu, Hawaii, freshman lineman Paula and Sione Vea.
Godinez said Sione is going to be a top-five defensive lineman in the state and will attract a crowd of offers from major universities in the following year.
Sione’s play this year has been all about the disruption of opposing offenses. His 6-foot-10-inch wingspan allows him to make first contact on players, creating great control in the trenches.
Then there’s sophomore cornerback Cinwon Whitehead from Atlanta, Georgia, whose electrifying play makes him an anchor on defense.
Whitehead can be left alone on an island to fend for himself against the best opposing receivers with success each time. This season no one has been able to beat Whitehead on a long pass into the endzone, shutting down every receiver.
A memorable moment came prior to the start of the season, when Godinez was hired as head coach.
All the way from London, England, sophomore offensive lineman Francis Bongwalanga, who was part of last year’s two-win season, said this season does not compare to last.
“It’s a dramatic difference. From 2-8 to possibly 8-2, it’s incredible. At this point in the season last year, it was all about getting good highlights on tape to help yourself get recruited by another school, and it wasn’t a team effort,” Bongwalanga said.
Instead, this year’s team has come together through losses. Players and coaches rallied together after the first loss of the season against Orange Coast College in the season opener.
“This year we actually have a drive, something to play for. We are way more intense as a team this year. The training is different, it’s fast pace and we feel good about this season,” Bongwalanga said.
The first loss was considered the best thing that happened to the team this season, a gut and reality check to gauge itself with.
A few ELAC players feel that the season record should be 6-1, but a stumble on the road at Antelope Valley College gave the Huskies its second loss back in September.
Since then, ELAC is on a four-game win streak and boasts a Top-20 offensive team that is averaging nearly 400 yards per game.
ELAC’s defense will face its toughest test on Saturday. It will face the best quarterback in the state and the No. 1 offense in California.
West L.A.’s quarterback Jorge Reya displays an ability to run and pass.
“If we do what we practiced there’s no way we fail. We need to execute the gameplan to perfection and we’ll be alright. I feel like our defense is one of the best out there when we come to play hard. The goal is a bowl game and that’s what is going to fuel us,” ELAC sophomore defensive lineman Imani Mitchell said.
The major hole in the football team is the running back position. ELAC is down to its 5th and 6th RB. Sophomores Shaq Shelton and Josh Flores are out for the season. The Huskies have used eight different players at running back.