Under head coach John O’Mera, the Eastern Arizona College football team has served notice it is one of the powers in the Western States Football League.
Last year’s historic run was capped by a 35-9 win over the Mexico All-Stars in the Chihuahua Bowl in Chihuahua, Mexico on Dec. 5. It was the first-ever bowl appearance and victory for the Gila Monsters.
EAC football has gone from league doormat to national prominence in just three years under O’Mera.
In his first season (2005) in Thatcher, the Monsters posted six wins. The next season they notched seven victories, and they had a team-record 10 wins in 2007 to raise O’Mera’s record at Eastern to 23-10 entering his fourth season.
Last year was a memorable one, but O’Mera knows the team has to prove itself all over again in 2008.
One thing that will help the Monsters tremendously is the talent and experience they have coming back from last year’s squad. EAC returns six starters on offense and six on defense.
The Monsters, who finished first in the nation in rushing offense last season, figure to have an extremely potent rushing attack once again.
The ground game should be excellent for several reasons. First, top running back Mike Smith returns after coming very close to signing with the University of California.
O’Mera is high on Smith as a player and a person. He said Smith, from Tucson, is a great worker, great student, is always on time, and he’s the strongest player on the team in the weight room.
The offensive line is another reason the running game should flourish.
“We think the offensive line will be better than last year,” O’Mera said.
The running back position is also very deep. Tony Reid and T.J. White return from last year’s team, and EAC signed two explosive backs from Westview High School in Avondale — Reggie Nicholson and Brian Conley.
“Nicholson is the most prestigious kid in Arizona we’ve signed this year,” O’Mera said. Nicholson ran for 1,888 yards and 27 touchdowns in 2007, and teammate Conley rushed for 1,788 yards and 20 scores.
Also joining the backfield this year is Darryl Scroggins, who starred for Safford last season.
Brothers Donald and Ronald Robinson, who anchored the defensive line last season, both are back in the fold from one of the nation’s top defensive units.
O’Mera likes where the team stands at almost every position, but one that is currently unsettled is quarterback. Starter Pat Riley and backup Stanford Leti are both gone.
Some players who will get an opportunity to compete for the position are Ron Ward, Jesse Wheeler (played at UNLV last year), Javonte Jefferson, and Tony Reid.
Other players from Safford joining the team include Jason Barquin, Christopher Jinks and Freddy Walker.
Looking at the rest of the WSFL, O’Mera said Snow College (Utah) is still the team to beat, but he thinks Eastern and Glendale Community College aren’t far behind.
O’Mera’s first goal for the team this year is to win the WSFL, but his ultimate goal is to win the national championship.
EAC opens its season on the road against New Mexico Prep on Sept. 6 and plays its first home game Sept. 13 against Arizona Western.