Character counts

Football team aims for national title with high talent, high integrity

Kevin Ramay, a senior quarterback on the California Lutheran University football team, makes the handoff during practice.

Photo: Karen Quincy Loberg, Ventura County Star

The skill level can be judged on the field during drills and scrimmages. The athletic ability can be determined with 40-yard dash times and weight room numbers.

But Cal Lutheran head football coach Ben McEnroe cares equally as much about a more mundane measurement.

McEnroe wants to know how his players act in the Health Services office on campus and how they treat the cafeteria workers each day.

McEnroe has received nothing but compliments so far this year.

"Generally that speaks well of what type of team you are going to have," McEnroe said. "That tells you they care about the little details on and off the field, and that is what makes a good team. The skill level is as good as anything we've ever had, but what's even more impressive is the type of kids they are."

CLU is hoping the blend of high character and great talent can lead to another successful season.

The three-time defending Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference champion kick off its season Saturday with a nonconference game against Pacific Lutheran at 12:30 p.m. in Tacoma, Wash.

CLU's explosive offense lost a few key players from last season, but the 12th-ranked Kingsmen have reloaded with a mix of veterans and newcomers.

Senior Kevin Ramay won the starting quarterback job with a strong performance early in training camp.

The Grace Brethren High graduate will be looking to complete his first pass since his sophomore season at Willamette University. Ramay appeared in six games as a backup for CLU last season, but attempted only two passes.

"I feel honored and blessed to be able to contribute to this team and be able to be part of the group," Ramay said. "Getting the ball to everybody else is my No. 1 job. I have to make sure I distribute it to them so they can make plays."

Ramay has plenty of options at his disposal.

As one of the top Division III wide receivers in the nation, senior Eric Rogers has been drawing NFL scouts to practice on a regular basis.

The first-team preseason All-American enters the season with 23 career touchdown receptions, only three away from breaking the school record.

Senior Frankie Jones provides another big-play complement to Rogers, having averaged 18.2 yards per catch last season.

CLU has restocked its backfield with freshman Romello Goodman and junior transfer Ryan Zirbel.

Goodman rushed for 2,758 yards and 44 touchdowns, including eight in one game, as a senior last season at Corona-Centennial High.

"You don't replace a guy like Dan Mosier, but these two guys might be a little more explosive at times," McEnroe said of Goodman and Zirbel. "It's something you can see at practice just watching these guys move and run and our offensive line is bigger than it's ever been. They don't get pushed around like they have in the past."

CLU's defense is projected to be stronger up the middle with some key transfers at linebacker and a deeper secondary.

Seniors Rian Younker and James Emma anchor CLU's defensive line while seniors Broc Galbreth and Tim Cozine provide experienced stability at defensive back.

"There is really a talented pool of defensive backs," McEnroe said. "There are a dozen-plus guys who are legitimate playmakers, so we really have to make some hard decisions early on. The great thing about that is it really enhances our special teams."

CLU has finished the last three seasons with an identical record (8-2 overall, 6-0 in SCIAC).

The Kingsmen have won 20 straight SCIAC games, with its last loss coming in 2008.

But the mirror image also extends to the postseason.

The Kingsmen have lost in the first round of the NCAA Division III playoffs three straight times at Linfield (Ore.).

It's a trend CLU hopes to change.

"Our expectation is a national championship no question," Galbreth said. "I am not trying to sound cocky or anything like that, but you shoot for the highest always. That is what we want, and we want to get a SCIAC championship for sure. That guarantees we are in playoff contention. We will start with that and eventually want it to lead to a national championship."

The journey begins this season against Pacific Lutheran, and McEnroe doesn't want his players to stray from the program's ideals.

"The key to our success the last few years has really been our ability to focus on what is in front of us," McEnroe said. "Whether you are playing a nationally ranked opponent, a rivalry game or a last-place team in conference, we have been able to keep things in perspective and not overlook anybody. It's sounds cliché, but it's honestly the essence of our program."

--- Published in the Ventura County Star on Sept. 6, 2012