CLU football: Wrapping up, looking ahead

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A little more from Monday's conversation with CLU head coach Ben McEnroe, beyond the story in Tuesday's paper wrapping up the 2009 season and looking ahead to 2010:
What did he think the key element was that allowed his team to make the step forward and reach the playoffs?
"I think the big thing is this team practiced better than any team I've ever coached, and they knew how to practice. They understood preparation. We made some format changes in practice to really make it more competitive, more game-like in practice, so I think the No. 1 thing was just the ability to practice well, practice hard, and understand how to practice as a team.
"And then you get some breaks, get some things that go your way. And I think athletically we were probably better than we have been, and fortunately, most of those guys are returning. So I think between the ability to practice, some better athletes and a few breaks here and there, that put us over the top."
On the challenge CLU and other SCIAC schools face in recruiting, compared to some other areas:
"I think there's some advantages in areas where the best players either go Division I or Division III. There's no junior college football in the state of Oregon. I think there's one I-AA program and one Division II program.
So schools like Linfield and Willamette have a great advantage in that the kids up there, and throughout the Midwest -- places like Ohio and Pennsylvania, where there's great Division III football -- Division III football is a big deal.
"So we're working to make the quality of the product better so it's more marketable to the Southern California student-athletes. You saw that this year with our skill kids. We had good skill people. And we had a very good offensive and defensive line for competing in the SCIAC. But once you get a taste of playing at the highest level in Division III, now we know where we need to go, and we're going to work tirelessly to make that happen."
Is he comfortable with the size of this year's roster -- roughly 110 players -- and how large does he anticipate this year's recruiting class will be?
"What we will do is we will reevaluate the guys in the program. Obviously, there's going to be some attrition at some level. I think we lose 13 or 14 seniors, and generally speaking, there's another 10 or 12 that decide for some reason -- academic or some other reason -- that they're not going to return. So that puts us at about 80, which means you've got to bring in 40 or 50 guys to have similar numbers to where we're at.
"So we're going through right now as a staff and just reevaluating the returning personnel. We did do a preliminary evaluate of where we're at and what our needs are. Now that the season's over, we'll revisit that. Obviously, the playoff game put the offensive and defensive lines at the top of the list, and they weren't too far from the top the first time we evaluated.
"It probably won't be as large as last year's class, but if we can match the skill level and ability and get a little bit bigger, we'll be right where we need to be."
On the significance of hosting a playoff game -- something CLU can't do at present because of Mount Clef Stadium's inadequate media facilities:
"It's a great advantage to be able to stay home -- not only from a weather standpoint, but from being able to sleep in your own bed, and practice at your normal times. We do everything in our power to keep things as normal as possible, but if you're able to take the travel piece out of your game week preparation -- I know from a head coaching standpoint, there were a lot of distractions, there were a lot of things to work on. That's no excuse -- it didn't affect how we played -- but it's a great advantage to be able to play at home. And I think you'll probably see as the playoffs unfold, with the geographic challenges of Division III football, that a lot of the home teams are going to hold serve throughout. ...
"If you look at the university as a whole, we are moving in very positive directions with all our facilities. And I think within the university and campus community, there were enough people who made the trip that understand the importance of developing first-class facilities. You would have to talk to the adminstration as far as where it is on the pecking order, but I have full confidence in our administration in making decisions that are best for the university and the department, and putting us in a position to not only recruit to CLU but also to have a playoff-caliber venue here in the near future."

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David Lassen has written for The Star and one of its predecessors, the Thousand Oaks News Chronicle, for more than 20 years, and has been the paper's sports columnist since 2000.

He has covered the last four Olympics, as well as the World Series, NBA Finals, Stanley Cup Finals, NCAA Final Four and a wide variety of other events.