March 31, 2014
DAVIS, Calif. - Building off the momentum gained from finishing fourth in the Big Sky Conference, and with a year's worth of experience under head coach Ron Gould attained, the UC Davis football team will open a month-long spring football practice schedule on Tuesday morning.
The Aggies, 5-7 overall during Gould's inaugural season last fall after starting 0-4, are scheduled to practice 15 times between Tuesday and the annual Spring Game on Apr. 26.
UC Davis will train at Aggie Stadium on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday mornings, as well as on Saturdays. Practices during the week will be closed. Saturday practices will be open to fans. Those will begin at 10:30 a.m. this Saturday and 10 a.m. on Apr. 12, 19 and 26.
The Aggies return 19 starters overall, including eight on offense, seven on defense and four on special teams. Among the returners are eight players who earned All-Big Sky recognition. UC Davis graduated a class of 13 seniors and welcomed 15 newcomers - 13 freshman and two transfers - during its February recruiting class.
Running back Gabe Manzanares helps headline the returnees. The transfer from San Francisco City College enjoyed an impressive junior season in 2013, picking up 1,285 rushing yards which included seven 100-yard rushing games and a season-high 208 against Idaho State in September.
Manzanares, whose yards rank third on UC Davis' single-season rushing list, was named the Big Sky Newcomer of the Year. He finished the regular season ranked 12th in rushing yards (116.8) and 15th in all-purpose yardage.
He'll be running behind an offensive line that welcomes back four starters, including All-Big Sky honorable mention center Jay Luchetti (6-4, 285, Sr.). Tackles Ian Joseph (6-6, 300, Sr.) and Chris Schneider (6-4, 245, So.), along with left guard Parker Smith (6-4, 290, Sr.) are also back as UC Davis tries to build on a rushing game that averaged 152.8 ypg., its best showing in more than a decade.
Fullback Dalton Turay, another honorable mention pick, will join Manzanares in the backfield while starting wide receiver Corey Galindo returns as well.
Gould will use the spring drills and fall camp practices to find a replacement for four-year starting quarterback Randy Wright who ended his career with more than 8,000 passing yards - just the second Aggie to eclipse that mark - while also winning four Causeway Classics against rival Sacramento State.
UC Davis returns four quarterbacks off last year's roster - senior London Lacy, sophomore Ben Scott, and redshirt freshman Garrett Bogart and Mitchell Sheppard - who will vie with City College of San Francisco transfer Turner Baty and incoming freshman C.J. Spencer for starting duties.
A half-dozen Aggie starters will be back on the defensive side of the ball including all three starting linebackers and two in the backfield. Reserves who saw plenty of action on the front line are ready to step up into starting roles but building depth behind them will be a goal.
The linebacking corps looks to be an area of strength for UC Davis with the return of All-Big Sky honorable mention pick Steven Pitts (6-1, 225, Sr.), Ryan Dimino (6-0, 220, Sr.) and Jonathan Bias (6-3, 245, Jr.).
Pitts is one of the Aggies' fiercest hitters. He finished second on the team with 74 total tackles, led the squad with 11.5 TFLs, broke up three passes and forced and recovered a fumble. Dimino was also always near the ball, collecting 53 tackles and 3.0 TFLs. Bias had 46 total stops and a quarterback-hurry.
The three reserves behind them on the depth chart at the end of last season - Russell Reeder (6-3, 200, So.), Artice Nelson (6-3, 200, Jr., and Ryan Bua (6-0, 240, So.) - will be back and joined by redshirt freshman Xavier Griggs (6-1, 215) and highly touted transfer Travon Brooks (6-2, 240, Jr.) who originally signed an NLI with the University of Washington before transferring back to Contra Costa College for last season.
Senior Charles Boyett leads the defensive back corps after posting a team-high 86 total tackles in 2013. He added an interception, four pass breakups and two forced fumbles on his way to All-Big Sky honorable mention recognition.
He'll be joined by cornerback Shamawn Wright who saw significant starting duties during a breakout season in which he led UC Davis with nine PBUs. Wright, a threat returning kickoffs as well after averaging 25.8 yards last year, also collected an interception and four TFLs.
New starters will be determined for the other cornerback position, replacing honorable mention pick Jonathan Perkins, and for strong safety Aaryn Jones.
Defensive tackle Kyle DeVaughn (5-11, 285, Jr.) is the only returning starter to the defensive line although defensive end Walter Earnest (6-1, 245, Jr.), who was injured after starting the first two games, is ready to go.
The special team returners are led by All-Big Sky third-team honoree Brady Stuart and honorable mention punter Colby Wadman. Stuart hit a school-record 16 field goals and was twice named the conference's special teams player of the week while Wadman, who replaced All-Big Sky punter Colton Schmidt, averaged 38.4 yards per kick during his two freshman season and was named All-Big Sky honorable mention.
Boyett, a punt returner, is among the other returning special team starters.
UC Davis lost its first four games last season before rattling off wins over Idaho State and eventual playoff participant Southern Utah. The Aggies rattled off wins over North Dakota and Sacramento State to end the season, tying for fourth in the Big Sky.
The Aggies will be preparing for arguably their most difficult schedule ever. Besides a tough Big Sky schedule which includes perennial powers Eastern Washington, Montana State, Northern Arizona, Montana and Cal Poly, UC Davis will also travel to face national power Stanford in the opener and Colorado State two weeks later.
Season tickets for the upcoming 2014 season go on sale Wednesday.