Tuesday, May 13, 2014

"Q" has the "A" for the MLS' Chicago Fire

Quincy Amarikwa of the Chicago Fire (Photo Courest USA Today Sports Images
Former Aggie All-American Quincy Amarikwa is among Major League Soccer's top goal scorers thus far in 2014. (Photo Courtesy USA Today Sports Images)
In your best Alex Trebek voice, ask yourself the following, "This former UC Davis standout has been on 'Fire' for his MLS squad, ranking among the league's top goal-scorers in 2014."

If you said, "Who is Quincy Amarikwa?" Collect your "Daily Double" winnings and select your next category.

While his name may not be associated with the long-running television game show (yet), the Bakersfield native and Aggie All-American has been the answer offensively for the Chicago Fire of Major League Soccer (MLS) thus far this season, experiencing a scoring renaissance of sorts to the tune of a career-high five goals in eight matches for a side that has been fit to be tied in 2014 (1-2-6 as of May 13) -- including an MLS-record six consecutive draws -- but is coming off its first win of the year, 5-4, over the New York Red Bulls on May 10, with the tying goal scored by Amarikwa off a header in the 49th minute (watch highlights)

Amarikwa, in the midst of his sixth MLS season and his second with the Fire, leads the team in scoring and is one of six players tied for fifth in the league in goals scored, while also standing second among his Chicago teammates with 18 shots on the year (as of May 13). He has scored a goal in each of Chicago's last three matches -- tied for the second-longest active streak in the league entering the week -- and has a point in his last five straight contests, trailing only Brad Davis (six matches) of Houston among active streaks.

The 2008 Big West Conference Offensive
Player of the Year and an NSCAA All-American,
Amarikwa finished his career third on the all-time
UC Davis goals list and fifth in points.
(Photo by Wayne Tilcock/Davis Enterprise)
Selected by the San Jose Earthquakes in the third round (32nd overall) of the 2009 MLS SuperDraft -- the first-ever Aggie to be taken in the SuperDraft and only the second UC Davis player to be drafted into the MLS ("Who is Ryan Shaw?") since 2004 -- the now 26-year-old Amarikwa made his league debut later that season against New England, eventually scoring his first career point with an assist against Columbus on May 27 and finding the back of the net for the first time against FC Dallas on Oct. 7.

Following stops with Colorado (which claimed the 2010 MLS Cup) and Toronto FC from 2010 to 2012, scoring three goals in 31 matches during that span, Amarikwa signed with Chicago prior to the 2013 season and immediately paid dividends as a spark ("fire" reference) off the bench, scoring three times in just 299 minutes of action -- all coming in the final 10 minutes of regulation or stoppage time -- including one strike that was up for the league's Goal of the Year (watch the final goal in Group P).

This season, Amarikwa has also scored highlight-worthy goals against Chivas USA on March 9, D.C. United on March 29, Montreal on April 12, and New England on April 19 -- the latter his first goal scored in front of the hometown crowd at Toyota Park.

His career at UC Davis was also nothing short of highlight-worthy, finishing off his four years as a collegian ranked third in school history in goals scored (31) and fifth in points (69), while his 15 goals as a senior in 2008 led the Big West and ranks tied for third on the school's single-season list.

He was named the Big West Conference Offensive Player of the Year and earned all-conference first-team laurels that season, as well as earning All-Far West Region First Team and All-America Second Team honors from the National Soccer Coaches Association of America.

Amarikwa, who lettered at UC Davis from 2005-08, twice led the Aggies into the NCAA Tournament, including a second-round appearance in 2008.

Whether he can help the Fire accomplish the same is yet to be seen, but the former Aggie is well on his way.

- Jason Spencer, assistant athletics communications director, has never been a game show host, but once used a cassette recorder (kids, ask your parents) to tape the audio off an episode of "Press Your Luck" to practice with when he was younger.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Mount Aggie comes together for a roundtable

Take Mount Rushmore, drop it in Davis and call it Mount Aggie. Now, what iconic figures of UC Davis Athletics would you chisel into the granite? Good luck trying to whittle it down to four.  

OK, let's narrow the focus a bit. There's been almost a hundred years' worth of Aggie football but if four coaches found their faces sculpted into a side of a mountain, it'd be hard to argue if that group included Jim Sochor, Bob Foster, Bob Biggs and Fred Arp.

Sochor's run as head coach from 1970-88 made him the program's winningest coach with 156 wins. Foster, the defensive architect during much of that era, followed Sochor as head coach from 1989-92 before Biggs took over and rattled out 144 victories in his 20-year run that ended with his 2012 retirement.

Arp was the common thread through all three, weaving more than 40 years on the defensive side of the ball and retiring in 2007 as one of the most beloved assistant coaches this school has ever had.

So, grab a chisel, hoist yourself on the side of Mount Aggie and make it happen.

Sochor, Biggs and Arp are still visible around the program, whether it be games, fundraisers or other events. Arp's also at every Aggie road game, as he has been for decades. Foster, after bouncing around coaching jobs at Oregon, Cal and Colorado, has settled into retirement in the Pacific Northwest.

Those circumstances are the reason why Mar. 12 was a fun day and why I was lucky enough to be a fly on the wall - or, based on my eating habits, the elephant in the room - when Sochor, Foster and Biggs joined current head coach Ron Gould to talk about Aggie Pride, Causeway Classic memories and what makes UC Davis a special place.
(L-R): Bob Foster, Fred Arp, Jim Sochor,
Ron Gould, Bob Biggs

Mike Angius, director of athletics development, and Scott Brayton, assistant athletics director for marketing and promotions, arranged for MediaWorks on campus to tape the discussion. I was a late add to help move things along but really all that meant was I was able to ask about things I wanted to hear about.

Arp, who makes the hour-long commute from his Weimar in the foothills outside Sacramento on a regular basis, was supposed to be part of the roundtable but a busted fan belt on his drive in delayed his arrival. Still, he was able to visit with his friends afterwards with Foster noting, "Look, Fred even got new Birkenstock's for the occasion."

The hour-long talk was filmed in the Bruce Edwards Club Room at Aggie Stadium and was a personal thrill. I've spent time with each of the coaches through the years but sharing lunch with them, watching them interact during the taping and then being around all five of them afterwards was certainly an enviable moment for any Aggie football fan.

The roundtable is currently in post-production. I hope that means they're taking those extra 40 pounds off me that the camera added on. It'll be made available to watch soon.

Jim Sochor
All four of the highly respected coaches are strong proponents of Coach Gould and have been very enthusiastic in his taking over the program. Similarly, Gould is a big fan of all of them. Biggs still has an office near the football staff and visits regularly with Gould. Foster was a coaching colleague with Gould at Cal and they maintain a close relationship. Sochor and Gould arranged afterwards for the legendary coach to come out to an upcoming spring practice to talk to the team. 

Having the five Aggie coaches as a resource is something not lost on Coach Gould.

"This is a real family," said Gould afterwards. "To have these guys here is really special to me. It's a tremendous honor to be amongst them. I hope someday I can be talked about in the same vein as them when we talk about great coaches like those four.

"When I got the job I called Coach Biggs and said 'I'm not going to let you retire," he added. " 'I'm going to be picking your brain every opportunity I get.' The fact his office is 10 feet away from me allows me to go call on him and he's always readily available to talk with me about anything."

Sochor came to UC Davis from San Francisco State in 1967 and has been synonymous with Aggie football for more than 40 years. Foster and Biggs are UC Davis alums and were Aggie-grown football products before their coaching days. Arp has been an Aggie since the 1960's. 

"I'm just so honored and so fortunate that these guys have let me in and accepted me as a part of their family and in helping me anyway they can."

Mike Robles is assistant athletics director who feels very fortunate to regard each of the five men as friends and colleagues.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Taking it in Stride to Find Answers

By Kristine Lozoya
UC Davis Athletics Communications, student assistant
Cross Country, Track and Field student-athlete

My career developed from gymnastics as a youngster to competing three years as a collegiate distance runner for UC Davis. Sometimes it’s hard to grasp that I completed three instead of four years of my athletic eligibility due to something involuntary and out of my control.

Regardless of how disappointed I feel, there is also a part of me that is satisfied to know I did all I could to help my situation. As I continue to push through my final year as a student, I sometimes find myself reflecting and missing the days as an athlete.

 My athletic career started way back as a four-year-old kid who had way too much energy and climbed furniture like it was Mt. Everest. My parents decided it would be best to make use of my energy and soon signed me up for gymnastics at a local club, which eventually became my second home. 

 The older I got, the more competitive I became. Seventh to ninth grade were the three years where I competed in the higher levels of gymnastics. I competed two years as a level 9 and my last year as a level 10. Although I was young, my dream was to compete as a UC Davis gymnast and I felt like there was nothing that could stop my motivation from achieving my long-term goal. Or so I thought.

The first semester of my freshman year at Oakmont High School in nearby Roseville completely changed my image as an athlete. The head cross country coach, Ryan Nugent, recruited me to join the team after he saw me running track laps during PE class. He explained what cross country was and regardless of how bizarre I thought this sport was, he successfully persuaded me.

Before I knew it, I was traveling with the team to my first cross country race. Aside from the scorching hot weather, dry and hilly course, and the rawness of my throat, I felt extremely accomplished to compete something where all I wanted to do was curl up in a ball and cry.

Kristine Lozoya
I understood that running was the polar opposite of gymnastics, but I already saw myself falling in love with this sport. I concluded my first cross country season in November 2006 and my gymnastics season was coming up in January. At some point during the next two months, I felt like gymnastics was becoming more of a habit and less of something I enjoyed. I eventually laid out the pros and cons after the season ended and decided to end my gymnastics career that July and begin my sophomore year continuing with cross country and debuting as a track runner.

For the rest of my time at Oakmont High, I must say that I had no regrets with my decision. Between running for Oakmont and a local running club, Buffalo Babes, I gained experience as a runner and understood how the two sports worked. In the end - and I mean the very end of my senior year of track season in 2010 -, I was able to sign a national the letter of intent (NLI) with UC Davis, the school of my dreams, as a collegiate distance runner.

As a freshman on the Aggies' cross country team, I was the girl who came on report date, letting Coach Drew Wartenburg know that I could not walk on my right foot without me being in pain. It turned out that I had a stress fracture and as a result, I had to bike, swim, and rehab for countless hours all Fall Quarter 2010 in order to stay in shape. I was frustrated and disappointed that I could not partake in my first season, but there was nothing I could do to change the past. My whole mindset had to switch and although my teammates were halfway through their cross country season, I was already training for track.

I received a medical hardship waiver season for cross country - preserving a year of eligibility - and found myself satisfied with my debut season as a 5k/10k runner during track. I lowered my time in the 5k and I had the chance to compete and contribute a point to the team in the 10k at the Big West Conference Championships in 2011. Although my freshman year took me by surprise, the next step was summer training and then my "first" cross country season; there was nothing I wanted more than to keep up the momentum.

My first season of cross country during my sophomore year  was a complete success.. In the beginning of the season, however, I had an incident of blacking out while racing, which had also happened during a couple of high school races but I was never diagnosed with anything. The athletic trainers and doctors were unable to figure anything out so I just made sure I was hydrated and ate well before my races. The rest of the season was golden and the blacking out discontinued. 

I raced as a redshirt freshman and my team and I performed just as we needed towards the end of the season. The conference championship race was the most memorable experience for our UC Davis women’s cross country program during as Div. I . My team and I traveled to Riverside, Calif., for our race which was held in late October. After our warm-up and racing strides, my teammates and I did our usual pre-race huddle with the coaches and it felt like money. The girls and I were confident and the adrenaline was already starting to kick in. Coach Drew told us to keep pushing until the end no matter how hard the race felt, and so we did.

Once our results came in, the entire team immediately went through short spurts of crying, laughing, and shouting with excitement. We all performed top-notch and we finally won.
A couple of weeks later, we concluded our cross country season at the regional meet and then took our two weeks off before prepping for track.

Sometimes as an athlete, whether it happens to the individual or their team, there are roller coaster moments during one’s career. To elaborate, cross country season was a strong season overall and I came into winter training rested and ready to roll. Unfortunately, I hit a point right before track season with an Achilles injury. Although I raced a few times, I struggled towards the end of the season because another injury occurred in my hip. It was disappointing but I was able to watch the women’s team win the 2012 Big West Track and Field Championship at UC Irvine - another proud moment for our program.

Kristine Lozoya's passion for
running developed while at
Oakmont High School in Roseville
In addition to the highs and lows as an athlete, sometimes unforeseen moments occur. Throughout my entire junior year of cross country, I was in constant battle of preventing episodes of experiencing tunnel vision and sometimes blacking out. Prior to a race I could never predict that it would happen because my episodes only occurred while I raced. During tunnel vision, my visual field was constricted and it literally felt like I was looking through a tube. My peripherals were black and all I could see were my competitors slowly blurring out. At times my tunnel vision would transition to a black-out where I would pass out and not remember the previous few minutes. I understand that these spells were completely out of my control but every time it happened I was beyond frustrated, startled, weak, and embarrassed. It took me about a weekend’s worth of time to recover, both mentally and physically, but I managed to move on each time.

Compared to the previous cross country season, I went through twice as many tests during my junior year in order to try and figure out why these episodes were continuing. I had multiple tests done on my heart and lungs, I got my blood tested and I also had to keep a food and water log. Overall, my nutrition was fine, my results came out negative, and we still could not figure out the problem.

I proceeded to race at the regional meet but tunnel vision symptoms reoccurred. Despite finishing the race, my junior season of cross country was over before my eyes and I left the course disappointed. With no explanation as to why this was still occurring, all I could do was turn over a new leaf and look forward to track season.

In a perfect world, my track season would consist of me meeting all of my goals in the 5k and 10k. However, the reality is that I continued to struggle with my previous symptoms. Although my body was fit and I was healthy towards the end of my season, my race at the Big West Championship was yet another race that will forever stain my memory.

It was a late Friday night in May 2013 and I was finally at UC Riverside’s starting line with a few of my teammates ready to conquer our 10k, which consisted of 25 laps.. We had a plan and we wanted it to work but sometimes things don’t always go as smoothly as you want them to. At some point later in the race, the tunnel vision crept in, my form was sloppy, and my head kept bobbing as if I were trying to stay awake. With team-oriented competitions like the conference championship, there was no way whatsoever that I was going to give up on my race. I was trying so hard to stay focused and to forget what was currently going on, but I couldn’t shake it off. 

After completing my 24th lap, I blacked out and fell to the ground. My memory towards the end of my race is still fuzzy,but I ended waking up in the medical tent cursing in my head and wishing all that had happened was just a dream. It took me a little bit of time to gain my strength back, but once I was able sit up I immediately started bawling because I realized this happened to me again and there is no way I can re-do any of it. 

To conclude the weekend, the women’s team won the conference championship for the second straight year. Sure, I was disappointed with my own performance but it was great watching my teammates, both men and women, tear it up on the track and on the field as a good portion of them won medals and conference titles.

My teammates were the core reason why I never wanted to give up. They motivated me and even after coming off two rough seasons, I still wanted to make a comeback my senior year in 2013-14 and finally figure out what was going on with my body. 

I set up an appointment in early June with one of our sports doctors in Sacramento. The doctor had me run on a treadmill to the point where I felt the tunnel vision occur. Even after reaching tunnel vision, he could not figure out any immediate problem. His assistants had me go back on the treadmill and I put on a blood pressure cuff and walked up a steep incline in order to increase my heart rate. They found that as my heart rate raised, but my blood pressure failed to increase. The doctor told me he would look more into intensive exercise and low blood pressure. My dad picked me up from the lab and I cried the rest of the way home to Davis. I felt defeated and my mind was fixed on not expecting any “cure.”

In the end, the sports doctor and I met in my athletic trainer’s office in Hickey Gym. He did his research and found two types of medication that would help increase my blood pressure but he could not guarantee that it would work. It did not take me long to weigh the pros and cons because taking medication that might work was not worth it to me. I told him how I felt and he was supportive in offering a medical retirement. The hardest part, however, was talking to Coach Drew and my teammates. Although I would still be going to school, I wouldn’t see everyone as much and a part of me felt like I lost my family.

After finals were over in June, my “mental rehab” began and I moved back home to Sacramento for all of summer. Although staying home and keeping busy helped me recover, the adjustment of knowing my career ended was not an easy transition. I had bouts of anger and sadness and just wanted my life to be back to how it was. After a few months, I was finally able to accept the situation and I thank all of my family and friends for being so supportive. To this day, I find it a bit taboo that I no longer have a daily regimen of practicing almost every day of the week and lifting in the weight room twice a week. It took me a while, but I’ve adapted the “new ways” by mixing up when I exercise and what I do. I still run most days of the week, but I also incorporate other exercises like biking, doing the elliptical, and doing HIIT exercises (high intensity interval training). 

My 17-year long adventure as an athlete was priceless, and as bittersweet as it may feel to be completed, I would never ask to change a thing. The experience I had with each sport was unique and I met lifelong friends along the way. I have no regrets with the decision I made and I feel confident concluding such a significant part of my life and beginning a new chapter after graduation.

Kristine Lozoya is a student assistant in the UC Davis Athletics Communications office and is majoring in communication. She is also pursuing a writing minor. While she is a wonderful example of the importance of running, she has not entirely convinced the full-time staff she works with that they can run more than a mile.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

A Different Way to Winning

For someone who once saw a game-winning shot made from a player's knees about 25 years ago, I think it's safe to say that I've become prepared for just about any kind of crazy finish this profession can throw at me. 

I wasn't ready for Saturday night, though.

If you haven't had a chance to watch the replay of the end of regulation of the Aggie women's basketball win at Cal State Fullerton, do yourself a favor and click here, and then thank me later.

What made it so unusual? It wasn't Fullerton's game-tying three-pointer with nine seconds left that's out of the ordinary. That didn't make UC Davis feel good but it certainly wasn't unusual. 

Now, the Aggies' turnover with four seconds to go that resulted in a breakaway by the Titans' Alex Thomas - and subsequent foul by Alyson Doherty - with a half-second left? You're getting warmer.

But trailing 59-57 with less time on the clock than it takes to type "clock", the Aggies needed to dig deep into their bag of tricks to pull this one out. It wasn't like Christian Laettner was waiting for the inbounds pass at the other end of the floor, or that somehow the 1972 Soviet Union Olympic basketball team was setting up shop near the hoop.

"We have a notebook full of (last-second plays)", head coach Jennifer Gross said Tuesday afternoon. "But with .5 of a second, there's not a whole lot you can do."

Fullerton called a timeout after the free throws, putting 6-foot-1 post Natalie Williams on the baseline to try and impede any long pass by Celia Marfone. Once Gross saw how the Titans planned to guard the last split-second of game time, she countered with a timeout of her own and enlisted the help of assistant coach Matt Klemin.

"He took the board and drew up a play for Molly (Greubel) to sneakily come in and take the charge," she said. 
Molly Greubel

With only Greubel in the backcourt and a player guarding the inbounds heave, the idea was simple - have Marfone move along the baseline, hopefully draw the defender with her and then have Greubel step into her path to maybe draw a foul. But the play still needed something else. Enter assistant coach Joe Teramoto.

"He made the point that we have to get the girl moving," she said. "The defender was just kind of standing still so we didn't think she'd be running fast enough to get us a charge. So he had the key detail to get Celia running one way hard before she came back the other way."

Still, there was still one more thing Gross had to do and that was to have a quick chat with the nearest official.

"I kind of said, 'this is what we're trying to do' and take a look at it."

She wasn't asking for a call, nor baiting the ref, but she didn't want their attention to be solely focused on the other seven players on the court. Following a 30-second timeout by Fullerton - the third in a row by both teams as they tried to out-manuever each other - the play was put into action.

It worked perfectly… and beautifully. Marfone drew Williams one way before leading her back the opposite direction where Greubel was waiting to, well, take one for the team. And boy did she take one. Gruebel went down hard, whistles started blowing - including, Gross said, the first whistle which came from an official who was not aware of the play - and a foul was called.

You can't fault Williams for the foul. She was just trying to make a play and do her job as a defender. She shadowed Marfone like she was supposed to, just like a thousand other players do in similar situations. So, rather than blame her, everything she be directed to crediting the Aggies for designing and executing a play that Gross said she has never seen successful with a foul call. Even men's coach Jim Les, who dropped into her office to congratulate her on Tuesday afternoon, said he'd never seen a team pull it off. 

Desperate times call for desperature measures. But things weren't done yet.

The Aggie bench was celebrating, the Titans' bench was stunned. It was if UC Davis had already won the game and it hadn't. Greubel, who had just met the floor up close and personal, still needed to make two free throws with the game on the line. She's an 83.3-percent free throw shooter.

"She's the person you want on the line at that particular moment," said Gross. "Obviously, there are a lot of our kids I would trust but she's the one where I just feel she's as tough as nails. She'll take the hit and step up and knock the shots down."

Which she did, sending the game into overtime. Of course, even though the Aggies took a five-point lead in the extra period, the fireworks weren't done. Another game-tying trey from the Titans preceded do-everything Sydnee Fipps driving the left side of the lane for a layup with 25 seconds left and a 69-67 lead. 

Oh yeah, then there was the matter of the Titans' final play which included a great save of the ball from going out of bounds and a wide-open three-point shot that rimmed out in the final seconds. Greubel grabbed the rebound, ran out the clock and a couple of minutes later turned to her dad who was in the stands and said, "Happy Birthday" and giving him a pretty good gift.

Happy birthday, indeed. And a pretty routine Aggie win to boot.

Mike Robles is assistant athletics director who wasn't in Fullerton but followed it courtside during the men's home game. He had essentially given up on a win after the Titans' free throws with a half-second to go. Yes, he's learned a lesson. The shot from the knees referenced above came circa 1988 when Cal Poly's Shaun Reed delivered the dagger at UC Riverside. It was also the first and last time Robles cheered at a press table -- a major no-no in this profession. An even crazier ending came on the final football play between the Mustangs and Cameron (Okla.) University around that same year (yes, Robles worked at CP). With the game tied, Cameron threw a last-second pass that was intercepted. The Cal Poly player who picked it off then tried to circle from one side of the field to the other, hoping to get up the sideline for a touchdown. (College football didn't have OT yet). As he was about to get hit, he threw a lateral behind himself to a teammate who never materialized in that spot. The ball bounced into the endzone where a pile of players scrummed for it. Cameron came away with it and jaws dropped throughout the stadium. That play is rumored to be on some kind of ESPN bloopers show airing in the middle of the night on one of ESPN's hundred channels. Look for it.

Aggie Basketball Enjoys Successful Weekend

A memorable homecoming, instant classic, scoring explosion and first league win were just a few of a slew of highlights involving UC Davis men’s basketball that took place this past weekend.

With a litany of Aggie basketball greats in attendance at The Pavilion as part of this year’s Alumni Weekend, UC Davis quickly erased its six-point halftime deficit with a 21-11 run and shot 61 percent from the field to capture its first league victory.

Saturday’s game against Cal State Fullerton also marked the return of former Aggie Dedrique Taylor, current first-year head coach of the Titans.

While the Aggie faithful watched Corey Hawkins post a team-high 22 points, Ryan Sypkens continue his assault on all UC Davis and Big West Conference three-point records, Olivier-Paul Betu earn his second career start and Justin Dueck battle the Titans’ bigs for 22 minutes in his inaugural appearance in the starting lineup, a future Aggie turned heads with his awe-inspiring performances to help his team finish its week with a 2-0 record.

Last Friday night against Normandy High School, Isaiah Walton singlehandedly carried his team to victory thanks to his 37-point performance. In addition to helping Elyria High School earn an eight-point victory, Walton’s scoring total was the highest recorded by a Pioneer in six years–enough to crack the school’s all-time top 10 list for the most points scored in a single game.

Less than 24 hours later, Walton was the difference, literally, in the 19th “Battle of Elyria” involving the Pioneers and cross-town rival Elyria Catholic.

By collecting a rebound on his own miss, Walton scored the eventual game-winning basket with 18 seconds remaining, then came up with a huge play on defense on the subsequent possession to help his team avenge last season’s loss to Elyria Catholic, and earn city bragging rights on its home court.

In his final regular season cross-town contest, the future Aggie finished with a double-double of 27 points and 10 rebounds.

Thanks to Walton’s heroics, Elyria enters this week’s action with a 10-3 overall record.

As for his future teammates, the Aggies will close their three-game homestand against the Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors. Tip time for Thursday’s game is scheduled for 7 p.m.

- Eric Bankston, assistant athletics communications director, cannot wait for Thursday's home game against Hawai'i as the Aggies look to end their homestand with another victory. 

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Football News: Now and Then

Colton Schmidt got booted once by the San Francisco 49ers but the former Aggie punter has been given second life by the team which is headed to Seattle this weekend for the NFC Championship.

Schmidt, who set school records for season (44.48, 2012) and career averages (41.12), signed a contract as undrafted free agent with the 49ers last summer and played well during the exhibition season. He averaged 48.7 yards per punt, 11th-best in the NFL during the preseason, and routinely put balls into the endzone while handling kickoffs.
Colton Schmidt

He even had a celebrated tackle of Denver speedster Trindon Holliday on a kickoff, saving a potential touchdown.

But, admittedly, it was an uphill climb for Schmidt who was brought in primarily to give all-pro punter Andy Lee a rest before the regular season. Still, he was able to perform well enough that after he was released to be picked up briefly for the Cleveland Browns.

Schmidt, an All-Big Sky Conference first-team pick as a senior, didn't catch on with an NFL team during the regular season but is being given another chance with the 49ers after signing a futures contract with the club earlier this week. He said via email that it's essentially the same contract he had last year but this time he'll be able to go through San Francisco's spring workouts leading up to next season.

Pinned in his own endzone with little room to kick during a preseason encounter against the Kansas City Chiefs, Schmidt launched a 62-yard punt that, undoubtedly, opened a few eyes around the league.

Here's hoping more eyes find Schmidt before the next season.


What's a Grant Bowl?

Mark Honbo, assistant director of athletics communications, isn't easily stumped on matters of Aggie history. 

Want to know when boxing flourished at UC Davis? Ask Mark. Curious about the extinct men's gymnastics team from the 1980s? Ask Mark. If he doesn't know the answer, he can instantly tell you where to find it or if the answer is even to be found.

His knowledge of all-things-Aggie-history is invaluable, particularly when it comes to the annual Cal Aggie Athletics Hall of Fame. His research on the nominees is vital during the selection process, his acumen in helping the committee analyze all the information is high, and his resulting multimedia presentations that are part of the ceremonies are amazing.

It's no wonder then that every once in a while it's fun to see him truly stumped by something as trivial as the location of a football game. That's right, buried on page 58 of this year's football media guide is a list of locations for every Causeway Classic dating back to the inaugural matchup in 1954. (A 14-0 Aggie win, by the way). 

Among the series records for Toomey Field, Aggie Stadium, Hughes Stadium and Hornet Stadium, there is a notation that the Aggies hold a 2-1 record against Sac State at the Grant Bowl. Nothing in our files says where the Grant Bowl was/is located. Not even the internet gods helped. If Mark couldn't find the Grant Bowl, maybe it didn't exist.

Sometimes, though, you need to use a better source, such as someone that was actually there.

Welcome in Lonnie Cagle, an ardent Aggie supporter and former running back who rushed for more than 1,400 yards in his career, scored 12 touchdowns, had a 100-yard game against San Francisco State and once ripped off an 83-yarder against the Cal Ramblers. He played from 1955-56 and 1958-59.

Turns out Lonnie was my tablemate at November's football banquet and as we talked about the first Causeway Classics, he mentioned a couple of the games were played at nearby American River College. Once I mentioned that to Mark it hit is both that perhaps, just maybe, ARC was site of the Grant Bowl. 

Lonnie's years matched up to the games at the Grant Bowl. Perusing the ARC website, we learned that the campus, established in 1942, used to be called Grant Junior College and then Grant Technical College before taking on its current name in 1955. It started making sense that the facility at ARC must've been called the Grant Bowl.

This lingering question has hounded us for the better part of 15 years and resurfaces every year prior to the Causeway Classic as we look back at the game's history. Knowing that little tidbit may not seem like much but it certainly brought satisfaction to us.

Thanks Lonnie!

Mike Robles is assistant athletics director for communications and will rest easy tonight knowing where the Grant Bowl is located. 

Monday, January 13, 2014

Led by Walton, Elyria Strikes Again

With its second-highest scorer and top rebounder out of the lineup, Isaiah Walton lifted Elyria High School to another victory last weekend, improving the Pioneers' overall record to 8-3 in the process.

Drawing the attention of Mayfield High's defense throughout the entire evening, Walton was still able to score a game-high 22 points, grab 13 rebounds and record six assists.

The victory is Elyria's fourth in the last six games, the Pioneers are slated to host Normandy and Elyria Catholic this Friday and Saturday before competing in three straight road games.

- While Elyria battles Normandy, Eric Bankston, assistant athletics communications director, will prepare for Saturday's Big West Conference home game against the Cal State Fullerton Titans. Hopefully, Aggie players will enjoy two victories when everything is said and done Saturday night.