After a two-year absence, the Southwestern College football team returned home to a refurbished DeVore Stadium, capping the 2014 community college season with a 9-1 regular season record and a school-record third consecutive bowl game berth.
Home is where the heart is, in fact, for a number of the Jaguars’ proud players who hail from east side Chula Vista high schools.
The upgrade in the college’s playing facilities has obviously attracted interest from incoming high school talent, especially players who might have previously snubbed their noses at JC football.
“When you have the very best facility in the state, it’s going to bring more players into Southwestern College,” Carberry explained.
While recruiting rules have become more relaxed and community colleges are now allowed to recruit from not only other parts of San Diego County but the state as a whole, Carberry said the program’s main focus will remain on the South Bay area.
And there’s plenty of top-rung talent down here.
In fact, the Jags appear to have developed a pipeline to Eastlake High School in particular.
Donning Southwestern uniforms this season were former Titans Blake Wilson (linebacker), Darran Hall (receiver), Arturo Hurtado (lineman), Gabe Casillas (lineman), Travis Gardner (receiver), Ty Stevens (free safety) and David Eguiza (receiver).
Wilson (6-2, 220) was signed, sealed and delivered to attend UC Davis last season before a coaching change at the school disrupted those plans. Because of the lateness of the development, the former Titan standout’s options were limited.
“It was late, it was already springtime and I really didn’t have anywhere but to come out here,” he said.
Wilson made an immediate impact his first game with the Jags by returning an intercepted pass 62 yards for a touchdown.
“I took it to the house,” he said, smiling. “It felt good. Football at the JC level is a lot different than people think. It’s faster. You play against grown men. Last year, I was 18 years old, right out of high school playing against 23-year-olds. It was a big jump.
“People have this idea about what JC football is, but it’s not. It’s big-time football.”
Southwestern has demonstrated that with a combined 28-4 record the past three seasons.
Wilson has nothing but admiration and praise for Carberry and his coaching staff.
“The goal is to get many players out of here to four-year universities as transfers,” Wilson said. “Coach Carberry and his staff are making it happen. I think we put out 29 athletes last year.”
Wilson said his future playing options have gotten a bit brighter while playing at SWC.
“There have been a couple of schools that have shown interest since last year,” he said. “But nothing is official yet.”
Wilson said this year’s team had “all the potential” to be highly successful.
“We’re big, we’re fast, we’re strong and we had a chance to do something special here,” the former Titan standout said.
Stevens is among the growing legion of Jaguars who have made the leap to the next level. The sophomore defender will play next season at Azusa Pacific University.
“Playing at Southwestern has allowed me to get a start,” said Stevens, a 2013 Eastlake grad who returned an intercepted pass for a 70-yard touchdown in Southwestern’s 55-7 victory at San Diego Mesa College on Oct. 4. “It’s also allowed me to keep playing with my friends from Eastlake. It’s a great opportunity to play football.”
Stevens said he’s learned valuable intangibles that will help him at the next level.
“Leadership skills, being able to be coached and learning to grow together as a team have been the biggest things,” he said.
He also praised the level of play at the JC level.
“There’s a lot of competition out there on the field,” he said. “All the teams have good players. No matter where you’re at in football, you get good players together and you want to compete.”
This is Gardner’s third year away from Eastlake but first year actually playing at Southwestern. He red-shirted the 2012 season at the University of Nevada-Reno, and then elected not to re-enroll there.
“I’m happy with my decision,” he said. “It’s awesome being back home and playing at Southwestern with my hometown guys. It feels like a San Diego all-star team pretty much.”
Gardner, who also played basketball four years at EHS and was a member of the school’s history-making 2009 San Diego Section Division I championship football team, said the drop from the NCAA Division I level to the JC level is not as severe as many might surmise.
“It’s good football,” he said. “Everyone is bigger, faster, stronger than in high school and the players on all the teams want to compete, and that’s a good thing.”
Casillas, a former wrestling state qualifier at EHS, played one year in Mexico before red-shirting last season at Southwestern.
The 2012 Titan grad called his experience at SWC “phenomenal.”
“The coaches are very supportive,” he said. “They’ve led the team to three consecutive bowl games, and that’s not for nothing.”
Carberry said the injection of players from area high schools that have competed at a high level, such as Eastlake, have helped turn the Jaguars into a regional powerhouse.
“Most of the players on our team have come from winning high school programs and they’re brought that winning attitude here,” Carberry explained. “They’re winners.”
Former Eastlake High School standouts Blake Wilson, left, and Gabe Casillas now at Southwestern College. Photo by Jon Bigornia