LOS ANGELES — Senior captain and offensive lineman Dalton Spinas knows what it's going to take for the Occidental College football team to make a jump in the SCIAC standings.
"Last year we were really good at moving the ball, we just lacked the discipline to finish drives and get in the end zone," said Spinas.
The Tigers had the most prolific passing offense, but finished 2-7 and left two wins on the table at La Verne and Chapman. Oxy was inside the La Verne five-yard-line with less than 2 minutes left, but failed to convert on 4th and 1. Against Chapman, the Tigers would have had a 2-minute drill to win if their defense hadn't allowed a conversion on 3rd and 15 late in the fourth quarter.
"I think that discipline will come with the new coaching staff this year," said Spinas, who's moving from right guard to left tackle this year. "We're still going to be productive we're just going to get more points on the board."
First-year head coach Doug Semones' contagious enthusiasm is the catalyst.
"The morale of the team is higher than I've ever seen at Occidental," Spinas said. "Coach Semones is a real high-energy guy, which we haven't really had in the past. He's really a players coach so all the younger guys are buying into that."
Semones was an assistant at Yale from 2009-11 and has had successful stops as a high school head coach and assistant in the Arena Football League. He is new to the SCIAC, but he doesn't have to see much to recognize attitude and ability.
"We're practicing well, the effort is there, the guys have bought in and we have some guys that can do some things," Semones said.
His Tigers will be among the best in the SCIAC at a handful of skill positions. Oxy returns Second Team All-SCIAC quarterback Tommy Edwards, who led the SCIAC with 340.3 passing yards per game and became just the fourth SCIAC quarterback to throw for more than 2,900 yards in a season.
Edwards' primary target will be junior wide receiver Samuel Stekol, who caught 50 passes for 715 yards as Oxy's No. 2 target last season. This year, with First Team All-SCIAC wide receiver Matthew Tuckness graduated, he'll be the focal point.
On the other side of the ball, Oxy's defensive line will be its strength. The Tigers return Second Team All-SCIAC senior defensive endMichael Gilliam and standout junior defensive tackle Dallas Gosselin.
The difficulty for the Tigers on defense will be stopping the run, a challenge senior captain and inside linebacker Matt Matulaitis says Oxy's ready for.
"We expect to be a lot better than we were last year. Defensively our strength will be our speed," said Matulaitis, who led Oxy with 64 tackles in 2012. "We're going to stop the run. We're another year older and we're going to stay gap sound."
Oxy returns a total of 17 of 23 starters, including kicker and punter Marc Kuzbari.
Oxy opens the season at Pacific this Saturday at 7 p.m.
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