Coping with so-called “adversity” and other unexpected issues is one of the measuring sticks for every football team at every level.
The Modesto Junior College Pirates, struck by such difficulty, must deal with what coaches often call “sudden change.”
The Pirates were shocked this week when Joseph LeGerrette-Luke, the quarterback who has taken most of the snaps during the first three games, left the team.
Coach Sam Young said LeGerrette-Luke, the son of veteran MJC defensive line coach Joe Luke Jr., was forced to walk away because of an “emergency family medical matter.” The quarterback, who called the signals during the Pirates’ first win last week at Diablo Valley, has withdrawn from school and will move to San Diego, according to Young.
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“Joe wants to be with us,” Young said. “It’s just out of his control.”
This leaves MJC with a serious shortage at quarterback as the Pirates prepare for Saturday night’s home game against Sacramento City. Freshman Spencer Thomas, the logical replacement, is still bothered by a rib injury incurred during the opener at American River. He did not play during last week’s 28-27 win over DVC.
“Spencer has practiced this week with no contact,” Young said. “He seems to be fine.”
No other quarterback is listed on the MJC roster. The Pirates are working with sophomore wide receiver Embry Allen Jr., a former quarterback at Weston Ranch High School who saw limited playing time at quarterback for Modesto in 2012.
Allen’s 58-yard reception from LeGerrette-Luke set up MJC’s first touchdown of the second half last week. He also rushed three times for 14 yards.
“Embry is a great athlete who we moved from quarterback to receiver. He does have some experience,” Young said.
The instability at quarterback no doubt will result in more reliance on tailback Anthony Cota, who’s off to a fast start. The product of Sierra High of Manteca has rushed for 405 yards, second best in California, and he’s tied for fourth in the state with five touchdowns.
Cota has put up big numbers despite a hip pointer suffered during the first series at American River. He was sidelined the rest of that game.
Since then, he has played through the pain, often impressively. His 26 carries for 189 yards and three touchdowns were instrumental in last week’s win. Touchdown sprints of 88 yards against San Mateo and 66 yards last week demonstrated his speed.
Cota’s injury has forced the Pirates to carefully ration practice time. The pain has subsided, however, and the running back believes he’s ready to carry a heavier load.
“I like the responsibility on my shoulders,” Cota said. “I’m not worried about it. That’s how I want it.”
Others also must stand up and show their talent as the Valley Conference opener approaches in two weeks. Fotias Jordanoglu, a freshman wide receiver, did just that at Diablo Valley. Against a furious DVC blitz, LeGerrette-Luke threw quickly to Jordanoglu, who finished off the 38-yard strike late in the third quarter that put Modesto ahead to stay.
That said, the MJC defense saved the game. The Vikings twice marched inside the 20 but managed only three points from those second-half drives. On Diablo Valley’s final possession, defensive end Jordan Faatiga sacked quarterback Adam Wood and forced the fumble that Justin Van Fleet recovered to seal the win.
Young believes his front seven – featuring lineman Nester Garcia, ends Anthony Salazar and Faatiga, and linebackers Brian Perez and Jeremiah Walters – have performed at a high level. Walters, 6-foot-2 and 235 pounds, played one season for the Idaho Vandals.
“You can safely say the defense is the strength of the team,” Young said.
Sacramento, like Modesto, is 1-2. The Panthers lost to Laney 48-33 and defeated Foothill 20-17 with a late touchdown. Last week, they led Santa Rosa most of the night before the Bear Cubs scored with four minutes left to win 32-31. Running back Henry Enyenhi, an Illinois commit, has rushed for 175 yards and a touchdown.
Modesto finally gained some traction last week but, with powerful City College of San Francisco looming next week, must sustain its momentum against Sacramento. The Pirates can take comfort in the combined records of their first three opponents – 8-1.
“Everyone is in the same boat now with these rugged schedules. There is a lot of parity,” Young said. “It bodes well for us if we can string some wins together.”