El Toro Bowl-bound Matadors place 9 on 1st Team All-ACCAC, 7 on 1st Team All-WSFL squad
Yuma, Arizona – November 26, 2012 – Arizona Western College is proud to announce that a record fourteen members of the AWC Football team have been named to the All-ACCAC and All-Western States Football League postseason teams. AWC quarterback Tanner McEvoy (MAK-eh-voy) (who was also named ACCAC Offensive Player of the Year), running back DeSean (deh-SHONN) Martin, wide receiver Markeith Ambles, offensive lineman Dionte (dee-ONN-tay) Savage, defensive lineman Sam Wren, linebacker D’Vante (deh-VAHN-tay) Henry and defensive back Cassius Sendish were all named 1st Team on both squads. Tight end Emmanuel Bibbs and defensive lineman Chris Cormier (kohr-mee-AY) both joined them on the All-ACCAC’s 1st Team while earning 2nd Team All-WSFL nods. Joining them on the All-ACCAC 2nd Team (and placing on the All-WSFL’s 2nd team as well) was center Akoakoa Paleka-Kennedy (uh-KOH-wuh-KOH-wuh puh-LEE-kuh). Finally, placing solely on the All-ACCAC’s 2nd Team were offensive lineman Jaylen Hunter, defensive lineman Randy Gregory, linebacker Michael Carlisle (KARR-lyl) and defensive back Nate Willis. The announcements come following the conclusion of the WSFL postseason coaches’ meetings in Phoenix, and commence the start of El Toro Bowl Week 2012.
-For De’Sean Martin, the 1st Team honors exemplify what a topsy-turvy yet wonderful season it has been for him. After spending his freshman season buried on the Matadors’ tailback depth chart (his only carry of the season was nullified by a penalty), Martin spent the 2012 training camp beating out others for the starting fullback job, and went into the season figuring that rushing attempts would again be scarce. That theory was blown away in the Matadors’ 2nd game of the season in Tucson, when after not getting the ball in the team’s first three halves of the season, injuries to both of AWC’s top 2 tailbacks in the 1st half against Pima Community College led the Matador coaching staff to put Martin at starting tailback after halftime. Martin responded by exploding for 107 rushing yards in the final 30 minutes of that game, and secured his spot in the tailback rotation for the rest of the season. His next game against Scottsdale was his finest game of the year, scoring a rushing and receiving touchdown while even throwing for a TD against the Artichokes, amassing over 300 all-purpose yards in the process. He also had a 138-yard rushing night (on just 7 carries) 2 weeks later against Phoenix College. In all, the native of Las Vegas, Nevada, finished with a team-high 87 carries for 600 rushing yards (3rd-best in the WSFL) and a touchdown, 3 receptions for 112 yards and another TD, to go along with his 30-yard TD pass against Scottsdale.
-Wide receiver Markeith Ambles eased into the heart of the Matadors’ offense much in the same manner as Martin. After missing the Matadors’ first game of the season against Ellsworth, the native of Hampton, Georgia, slid into the starting lineup against Pima, catching a modest 3 receptions for 47 yards and a touchdown. But it would be the next week that would put Ambles not only on the WSFL radar but also the national radar with a career game of 10 receptions for a whopping 267 yards and 2 touchdowns, including a 2nd-half stretch where Ambles caught 7 out of 10 Tanner McEvoy completions in less than a quarter-with 4 of those catches stretching 39 yards or longer. Ambles torched the Eastern Arizona defense the next week with a 7-reception, 126-yard performance, and nearly racked up another 100-yard receiving performance (just 3 yards short) 2 weeks later against Mesa. For the season, Ambles was the WSFL’s 2nd-most potent receiver with 40 receptions, 724 yards and 6 touchdowns.
To have three rushers on the same team with no less than 389 rushing yards in the same season means having a truly strong offensive line that can make the holes for those runners to break through. The postseason coaches showed how aware they were of that with the choices of Dionte Savage, Akoakoa Paleka-Kennedy and Jaylen Hunter. After blocking for 2010 NJCAA Offensive Player of the Year Reggie Bullock two years ago, Dionte Savage showed that the year off in-between seasons only served to make him a more seasoned, heady lineman. The Flint, Michigan native started every game for the Matadors in 2012 at left guard, and was the main lineman that the Matadors sent their tailbacks to follow behind when they needed big yardage. Next to him was the lone freshman starter in the 5-man line, Akoakoa Paleka-Kennedy. The Pahoa, Hawaii, native showed no signs of being intimidated by the experience around him, anchoring the line for 8 games-despite suffering and re-aggravating a knee injury in back-to-back games yet only missing one start. Finally, Jaylen Hunter’s prowess wasn’t just run-blocking; it was keeping McEvoy’s jersey clean by keeping his blind side intact by starting every game for the Matadors this season at left tackle. Considering McEvoy was sacked a total of 4 times in 2012, it was obvious how well Hunter-a native of Ponte Vedra, Florida-performed.
-While Sam Wren was listed in most of the games this season as an outside linebacker, he earns 1st Team honors on both squads as a defensive lineman, simply because opposing offensive coordinators knew what the Palestine, Texas, native’s job description entailed: wreak havoc on the quarterback as a rusher. Wren did that and then some, especially after fellow converted defensive end Randy Gregory went down with a season-ending leg injury. Wren shifted from down lineman to rushing linebacker in Week 2 and thrived. In fact, Wren didn’t record his first sack of the season until the Matadors’ third game, but after that, he averaged nearly 2 sacks per game, finishing with 13 ½ sacks, which was 2nd in the WSFL & in the nation. However, that stat only told a part of the story, since he also recorded a total of 16 tackles for loss (for 149 lost yards), 51 overall tackles & 15 solo tackles (both 4th-best on the team), and accounted directly for 9 Matador points on defense, with a fumble recovery in the end zone for a touchdown, and a sack in the end zone for a safety.
-Wren would likely say that it was D’Vante Henry who helped make him so effective as a pass rusher, and vice versa. The two combined for a ferocious ‘from all sides’ pass rush from their linebacker positions, and Henry racked up 3 ½ sacks as well as 8 ½ tackles for loss. But it was Henry’s deceptive speed that caught many opposing skill players off-guard, and the results were many times ‘highlight reel’ plays. His 24 solo tackles and 63 overall tackles both led the squad, and he tied for the team lead in interceptions with 2, but what Matador fans will talk about for years to come was the sight of the 6’5” linebacker picking off a 1st-quarter pass against Scottsdale, and creating major distance between him and several of the Artichokes’ skill players while sprinting to a 75-yard touchdown return.
-Several members of the Matadors’ defensive secondary racked up at least one interception in 2012, and many of those were returned for touchdowns. Starting cornerback Cassius Sendish got into that mode earlier than most, since it was his 27-yard interception return to paydirt that capped off one of AWC’s biggest wins of the season over 9th-ranked Scottsdale in Week 3. But while that may be the flashiest thing that Matador fans will remember about the Waldorf, Maryland, native, the Matador coaches will remember how consistent he was in a season that was anything but ordinary for the injury-depleted Matador defensive secondary. Sendish “saved the day” on many occasions during the season, since his 20 solo tackles ranks 2nd on the squad behind D’Vante Henry. He also had an eye for where the opposing quarterback was heading with the ball, since Sendish’s 11 pass breakups was easily the most on the team. He also finished with 39 overall tackles, and 18 yards accumulated in his 4 tackles for loss.
-It was a season of high expectations for Emmanuel Bibbs-although the highest expectations were from himself. He watched as last year’s starter, Darwin Rogers, parlayed the unselfish things he did for the Matadors in 2011 into a key role at Arizona State this season, and Bibbs was determined to show that he had that same ability. Bibbs did just that, becoming part of the blocking scheme that would spring DeSean Martin, J.C. Baker and Tanner McEvoy loose for a combined 1500 rushing yards, while also being one of McEvoy’s favorite ‘red zone’ targets throughout the season. Bibbs reeled in 20 catches for 185 receiving yards in 2012, but it was the Chicago, Illinois native’s nose for the end zone that earned him extra respect, since he had 5 TD catches, including a string of four straight games with a touchdown grab.
-Like McEvoy, Chris Cormier had to hit the ground running when he got to Yuma, since training camp had already started when the defensive end grabbed his AWC helmet and pads for the first time. The native of Houston, Texas, had decided to leave the place he spent his freshman season, Navarro Community College in his home state, and give it a try in Yuma, and the Matador defense was greatly improved because of it. It took Cormier the better part of the Matadors’ first two games (he didn’t play at all in the season opener) to get comfortable with the Matadors’ defensive scheme, but by Week 3, Cormier broke into the starting lineup, and stayed there the rest of the season. Cormier had 44 tackles overall for the Matadors in 2012, and his 40 assisted tackles ranked 3rd on the squad. He also had three tackles for loss for a total of 14 yards.
-While having 14 representatives on the postseason squads is an amazing feat in itself, the most amazing choice of all is the selection of defensive end-turned-linebacker Randy Gregory. It is the ultimate sign of respect for the coaches in arguably the toughest football conference in the NJCAA to give a guy who played only one game during his sophomore year a postseason honors nod. The native of Fishers, Indiana, was on the national radar from the time he moved into the starting lineup midway through last season, earned a pair of WSFL Defensive Player of the Week Awards as well as 1st Team All-ACCAC & All-WSFL spots last November, and was considered to be the most feared defender in the league coming into this season. Gregory did nothing to dispel those notions in the Matadors’ first game of the season against Ellsworth, leading the team in tackles (5) and registering the team’s only sack of the game. Unfortunately, that would be the last game action that Gregory would see in 2012, breaking his ankle in practice just five days after that game, and was lost for the year. Nevertheless, the four-year scouts haven’t stopped their hot recruitment of him, and the WSFL coaches-who breathed a collective sigh of relief when they found out they wouldn’t have to face him-never forgot about him, and named him to the 2nd Team All-ACCAC team for this season, anyway.
-Gregory’s story of being unheralded going into his freshman campaign and then quietly working his way into a comfort zone had to be an inspiration to linebacker Mike Carlisle, since it mirrors what the Dallas, Georgia native was able to do in 2012. Carlisle entered the season as the fourth linebacker in defensive coordinator Jerry Dominguez’s new 3-4 scheme, and was the only non-returner in the rotation (with Gregory (later Wren), Henry and sophomore Mike Williamson next to him). The notoriety given to the other three allowed Carlisle to quietly become one of the top stoppers up the middle in the WSFL this season, registering a team-high 44 assisted tackles as part of his 56-tackle season (3rd on the team). He was also tied for third on the team in tackles for loss with 6, and on those times when he did get the chance to blitz the quarterback, he took advantage of it with 1 ½ sacks.
-Finally, sophomore Nate Willis may have been the greatest study in versatility on the team this season. Willis started nearly every game a season ago at cornerback for the national championship runners-up, and was expected to lead a young group of cornerbacks into 2012. However, when the number of players from all four defensive secondary positions started decreasing due to injuries, it was the Pahokee, Florida native who moved out of his normal comfort zone to help the squad. Battling his own injuries, Willis started seven of the Matadors’ 9 games: four of them at his natural cornerback spot, and the other three at free safety. There were times where Willis slid into the strong safety spot as well. Willis began the Matadors’ trend of returning interceptions for touchdowns with his one-yard ‘pick-6’ in the season opener against Ellsworth in Pueblo, Colorado, and he added another interception to foil a possible touchdown pass in the end zone against New Mexico Military Institute. He also broke up four other passes, and registered 42 overall tackles (18 solo).