Tuesday, February 28, 2012

An Old Rival Returns

UC Davis began its move to Division I almost a full decade ago. UC San Diego passed an initiative in 2007 that granted its student-athletes $500 maximum grants-in-aid, allowing the school to maintain a minimum requirement for remaining in Division II. The Tritons were a Div. III program until 2000, then had run as a non-scholarship D-II until five years ago.

UC Davis women's water polo now competes in the Big West Conference, which has featured at least five Top 20 teams every year. The league will get even stronger next year when perennial Top 10 programs Hawai'i and San Diego State enter the fray. UC San Diego plays in the Western Water Polo Association, an affiliation whose membership ranges from traditional WCC programs like Loyola Marymount and Santa Clara to small Division III schools from around the state. (Note: the NCAA does not break water polo down into divisions.)

UC Davis has played UC San Diego 31 times, most recently at the UCI Invitational last weekend. The Aggies have won 20 of those matchups, including Sunday's 14-6 victory down in Newport Beach. Saturday's Aggie Shootout matchup will be meeting No. 32, and the first since 2007.

But a Div. I school facing one that barely qualified for Div. II? Big West vs. WWPA? A 20-11 series record? Why does this feel like such a heated rivalry?

Take a peek:


Feb. 15, 1997 - La Jolla (W, 3-0)
Apr. 26, 1997 - Neutral (L, 2-4)
Mar. 1, 1998 - Neutral (W, 4-3)
Apr. 25, 1998 - Neutral  (W, 2-1)
Feb. 12, 1999 - La Jolla (W, 6-2)
Feb. 27, 1999 - Neutral (L-ot, 4-5)
Apr. 11, 1999 - Neutral (W-ot, 7-5)
Apr. 9, 2000 - Neutral (L, 4-5)
Mar. 31, 2001 - Neutral (W-ot, 8-7)
Apr. 28, 2001 - La Jolla (W, 5-4)
Mar. 29, 2002 - Neutral (L, 4-6)
Apr. 7, 2002 - Davis (W, 7-4)
Apr. 27, 2002 - Neutral (L, 5-6)
Feb. 9, 2003 - La Jolla (L, 4-5)
Feb. 23, 2003 - Davis  (W, 3-1)
Apr. 5, 2003 - Neutral (W, 6-4)
Apr. 26, 2003 - Neutral (L, 5-6)
Feb. 21, 2004 - Davis (L, 6-7)
Apr. 24, 2004 - Neutral (L, 6-10)
Feb. 6, 2005 - La Jolla (W, 4-3)
Apr. 10, 2005 - Davis (W, 6-5)
Apr. 30, 2005 - Davis (W-sd, 7-6)
Feb. 26, 2006 - Neutral (L, 4-5)
Apr. 8, 2006 - Davis (W, 6-5)
Apr. 1, 2007 - Davis (W, 6-1)
Apr. 28, 2007 - Neutral (W, 7-6)
Mar. 7, 2008 - Neutral (W, 5-4)
Feb. 7, 2009 - La Jolla  (W, 10-9)
Mar. 27, 2010 - Neutral (L, 9-10)
Feb. 27, 2011 - Neutral (W, 10-9)
Feb. 26, 2012 - Neutral (W, 14-6)

Twenty of the 31 matchups were settled by a single goal (marked in gold). Four went into overtime, including the 2005 conference semifinal, which ended in sudden victory. And before you pass off the clashes as an artifact from UC Davis' WWPA days, notice that the previous five games were one-goal games. Oh, and consider also that UCSD returned six of the top eight scorers from the team that made the NCAA Championship a year ago.

Head coach Jamey Wright even downplays the recent eight-goal win (the widest margin in series history): "I think they're a much better team than that score indicated. We've never played an eight-goal game with San Diego. Last year, we beat them by one at Irvine only because [Ashley] Chandler was able to slow down that freshmen center who was killing us."

"This will be a tight game. That's my prediction."

Hard to argue with that.

-Mark Honbo, assistant director of athletics communications, will be among those who will confirm Coach Wright's prediction on Saturday. Game time is 2 p.m. out at the Schaal Aquatics Center. UC San Diego will also face Pacific in neutral waters at 10 a.m. that morning.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Reflections On A Five-Year Plan

Athletics Communications Intern

As I sit here reflecting on the past five years of my life - the best years of my life - I can’t help remembering how it all started.

Walking off the field, after losing in the Arizona State Quarterfinals in high school, I thought I might have played my last football game. My self-confidence was high since I knew I could play at the next level, but I had not landed an offer to a school that met my criteria and time was running out. I didn’t hold out a lot of hope that I would go on to play college ball.

However, I continued to work on my craft; throwing and training as if I had received that scholarship offer. December came and went with nothing more to show for my hard work and preparation. Then I received a call that turned my world up side down.  

“Hi Sean, this is Coach Biggs with UC Davis football. I would like to talk to you about playing football with us.”

I went to Davis three weeks later for my official visit where I met future coaches, friends, teammates and toured the place where I would spend the next five years of my life. After my official visit, I knew I wanted to be a part of it all; the camaraderie among the players; the history of UC Davis Football and, most importantly, to be part of the team.  

In February, as I sat signing the final documents which made me a part of it all, I told myself that my past and future efforts were not going to be in vain and that I was going to “make something of myself” at UC Davis. Thus, I created a five-year plan - a set of goals that I would accomplish in football by the end of my tenure.  Among the countless goals I created for myself, my first and most important goal was to become the starting quarterback.  So, in preparation for my first summer football camp, I focused my energy on becoming that guy - the starting quarterback. 

That first summer camp experience substantiated everything I believed about UC Davis football. I felt a level of camaraderie that I had never felt before, my coaches were great leaders and I truly felt part of a team. With this validation, I started the process of accomplishing my goals, with the “starting quarterback” goal bolded, underlined and highlighted at the top of my plan. Through my redshirt year and into spring ball, I did whatever I could to perform, impress my coaches, and learn our offense, all in an attempt to go into my second year ready to fulfill expectations.

My second season began and I competed for the starting role, losing it to sophomore Greg Denham  early in camp. Undaunted, I looked ahead, knowing there would be other opportunities down the road to earn the spot. I was therefore enthused when, toward the end of the season, I saw playing time through a "wildcat package" that was designed for me.  

That opportunity was short-lived and the harsh reality that there can only be one starting quarterback hit me hard. All of a sudden the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel seemed a great distance away and I had to adjust to the fact that my number one goal might not be achieved for some time, if at all. This realization was reinforced when I lost the battle for the backup position in my third summer camp and then tore my hamstring. My injury kept me out most of my third year and sent me to the bottom of the depth chart. Spring ball came around and I worked hard, as I always had, but couldn’t climb back up the chart. That proverbial light I had been following so diligently was virtually extinguished when I met with coaches after spring ball and was informed I would not be invited to summer camp because “the numbers” only allowed them to carry three quarterbacks through camp.

Although devastated, I kept my head up, pushed through the negativity and looked toward the future. I told myself that no matter what happened, I would not stop working towards my goal. As chance would have it, two weeks later Greg Denham retired, and I had the opportunity to try to prove myself once again at summer camp.  

As my fourth season began, I once again found myself behind two other quarterbacks: Randy Wright and Austin Heyworth.  It was at this juncture that I knew I probably would never reach my goal of being the starter. Although I would never stop competing for the job, I knew I had to alter my goals and I began looking at the big picture. After a great amount of thought, I decided on goals that were less self-centered and instead focused on goals that were in the best interest of the team. I decided that if I could not take on the role of the starting quarterback I still could make a difference in a different capacity. I chose to be the leader of the quarterback group, mentoring my younger counterparts and pushing them as hard as I pushed myself. I strove to be a player who could be used as an example as someone who never quit and did what he could do to always finish.

That season, with Coach Tim Plough’s direction, Heyworth’s’ intellect, Randy’s clutch play, freshman London Lacy's talent and my leadership, our quarterback group was more cohesive than in any previous year. We were a single unit.

When my last spring game rolled around, I played my heart out knowing that because of my position on the depth chart it could be the last time I competed on the field. Because of my new “big picture” focus, taking the field felt different this time. I played the best football I had ever played.  

When my final summer camp arrived, my early goal of being the starting quarterback had faded away but my new goals shined brightly. I entered camp as a senior leader with confidence flowing from the previous spring. In addition to it being my final camp and season, I also knew something special was looming on the horizon. Our first game was going to be in my hometown against Arizona State University. With only the slightest hope of seeing time in that game, I pushed every day to prepare and ready myself for that moment. Camp concluded and we flew to Arizona. The summer heat greeted me, as if to say, “Welcome home.”

In the moments before the game started, I looked around at my teammates in our locker room and I thought to myself, “How perfect is this, to be in my hometown playing football with my best friends.” The game was tough, but we never gave up. With time running out in the fourth quarter, Coach Plough sent me out with the offense. There were only eight seconds left. While most would think eight seconds is hardly anything, it was enough for me. I made the most out of my eight seconds, completing two passes. Afterwards, I walked over to the countless people who had come to support me: family, friends, and ex-teammates who had walked off the field with me five years ago after our state quarterfinal loss. Looking at all of these people, I was overcome with pride, knowing that all the work I had put in had all been worth it.

During the next week’s game against Montana State, Randy sustained an injury, which propelled me to the backup position, with Heyworth being the starter against the University of San Diego in our first home game. I was ecstatic to be able to be in a position where I felt I could give something to the team from a playmaking standpoint. However, my contentment was short-lived. During a live goal line practice period on the Tuesday before our Saturday game, I dove into the endzone, scoring a touchdown, but at the same time injuring my knee. For the next two weeks I walked around on crutches and was sidelined for an additional three weeks. 

Upon returning to practice, still fighting my injury, I again I found myself back in my position near the bottom of the depth chart. But, I never looked down or pitied myself. The football “gods” obviously had different plans for me. After Heyworth was injured in the USD game and Randy was back as the starter, a young London Lacy had to step up and be the backup quarterback to potentially lead the team if Randy was to get injured again. Being in London’s position several times throughout my career, and not being able to play, I turned again to helping in his development.

During our last week of practice, the seniors had an opportunity to address the team. I went first and told my teammates and coaches that, “It has truly been an honor to have played with you and to have been a part of this team.” I have never spoken truer words.

The season ended and my football career at UC Davis was over. Yet it didn’t feel that way until I returned from Christmas break. Stepping foot in Davis and feeling the wet winter air, something felt different. Then, it finally hit me - football was truly over. No more two-hour meetings, mandatory lifting four days a week, or 6 a.m. running. I began to mentally review my football career. Did I do everything I could? Yes, I truly think I did. Did I truly work as hard as I could? Yes, yes I did. But, was all that work in vain - did I accomplish my goals? That final question remained unanswered until late January at my final football banquet. 

At the banquet I sat next to my fellow seniors and my parents. The finality of my UC Davis football career filled me with nostalgia. Then, Tim Plough, my friend and teammate from my freshman year, my coach, and now friend once again, was standing at the podium about to give the Aggie Pride Award. Listening to him talk, as I had countless hours in the past through meetings and practice, brought a smile to my face. Plough announced that my teammates had voted to give me the Aggie Pride Award and explained that I symbolized Aggie Pride - the character and tradition of UC Davis football - much like Coach Biggs and Coach Sochor do. As I walked to the stage and received my award, I began to see people rise. As I turned back, the entire room was standing and clapping.

At that moment, seeing my family, friends, teammates, administration and coaches standing and applauding me, made me realize that nothing I had done had been in vain. Everything, from the numerous hardships to the amazing moments, had all been worth it. And, while I may not have followed my five-year plan to the letter, I had followed it in spirit. I found that even the best laid plans would inevitably change. It became clear that setting individual goals and having expectations for yourself is important, but that true personal success is based upon how you react to the hardships, adapt to the adversity and, in the end, persevere by doing what is best for the team.

Sean Maraz is a writing intern in the Athletics Communications Office during the WInter Quarter. His contributions to the football program during his career as a UC Davis student-athlete made him a very deserving winner of the Aggie Pride Award. The senior from Phoenix, Ariz., is majoring in Science & Technology Studies.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Dutch & The Cosmic Punch

Well, I'll be damned.

Even when I was among the youngest members of the UC Davis athletics staff, I had become something of an unofficial historian for this department. Other than the late Jim Doan, I've probably spent more time digging through the athletics archives than anyone else, whether from researching potential Hall of Famers or filling out records sections in media guides.

As much as I thought I knew, I've learned of two former Aggie football players within the last week or so.

The first is Kermit Schmidt, nicknamed "Dutch," who played for coaches Bill Driver and Crip Toomey back in the late 1920s. He was the first player to earn first-team All-Far Western Conference honors more than once (1928 and 1929). Furthermore, Schmidt was a member of the first UC Davis football team to win a FWC title: in his senior year, the old Cal Aggies went 5-0 in league play and outscored opponents by a 116-25 margin. This much is easy to find in any edition of our football media guide.

It turns out, Dutch owns another UC Davis first. He played for the Boston Braves (now known as the Washington Redskins) and the Cincinnati Reds (now defunct) in 1933 and 1934, respectively, making him the first Aggie to play in the NFL. We're talking 36 years and six U.S. Presidents before San Diego made Tom Williams the 42nd pick of the 1970 NFL draft. (Williams, however, remains the first UC Davis player to be drafted -- at least that much hasn't changed.)

The second player is less noted in Aggie lore but more decorated in his postcollegiate achievements. Lou Nova had been a star football/track athlete at Alameda High School. He enrolled at UC Davis and played tailback for one year, 1932. Nova left the University Farm for nearby Sacramento Junior College (now Sacramento City College), where he competed in track & field, football and boxing. He won the national and world amateur titles as a heavyweight fighter in 1935 then turned pro the following year.

Known as the Alameda Assassin and possessing what was dubbed as "The Cosmic Punch," Nova held a career record of 49-9-5, with 31 victories by knockout. Two of these victories came against Max Baer, the former heavyweight champion who had suffered an upset at the hands of James J. Braddock (a.k.a. Cinderella Man) in 1935. Nova beat Baer in 1939, then again by TKO in 1941 (Baer's final bout).

Footage of the 1939 bout can be seen here:

Nova, five months removed from his TKO of Baer and three months after a three-round knockout against Jim Robinson in Minneapolis, took part in perhaps his biggest opportunity on September 29, 1941: a heavyweight title bout against Joe Louis at the Polo Grounds.

Like most opponents, Nova was no match for the Brown Bomber, falling in the sixth round. A wire photo from the fight, shown above, remains one of the more popular pieces of memorabilia from the event. Nova continued to box professionally for four more years, retiring after a KO loss to another heavyweight title contender, Tami Mauriello, held at Fenway Park in May of 1945.

Though no longer in the ring, Nova never left the spotlight. He enjoyed a career as an actor for more than a quarter-century, ranging from a reunion with Baer in the "Killer's Wife" episode of The Abbott And Costello Show to a role in the all-star cast of the 1964 comedy What A Way To Go! He also appeared on Broadway in the casts of Guys And Dolls and The Happiest Millionaire during the mid-1950s.

It was only when researching a completely unrelated bit of information that I stumbled upon a late 1960s Sacramento Bee clipping buried in our storage room in Hickey Gym. Nova and Buddy Baer (Max's brother and another Joe Louis victim turned actor) were supposed to greet the Bomber at the Sacramento airport. Ever the showman, Nova wore a fruit-covered, Carmen Miranda-style hat for the meeting. He was listed as an actor, a one-time heavyweight contender and a former UC Davis footballer. Nova passed away in 1991, the year he entered the World Boxing Hall of Fame.

As I've said before, I've probably spent more time digging through the UC Davis athletics archives than anyone else alive.

This stuff is why.

Mark Honbo, athletics communications assistant director, cites BoxRec.com and the ubiquitous IMDB.com for much of the information in this entry. He can almost see his grandfather, who worked as a gardener for Buddy Baer, giving him an earnest smile for only now discovering a name so well-known to the greatest generation.