It's safe to say that Head Coach Tom Craft and the Riverside City College Tigers football program have a huge target on their backs. When you become a powerhouse program that has held a winning percentage of .850 (68-12) over the past seven seasons and has ran the table in the Southern California Football Association (SCFA) Central Division for four-straight seasons, people start to recognize real.
Craft, who enters his seventh season at the helm, has earned six conference titles and reached seven-consecutive bowl games – the longest streak amongst active head coaches. Additionally, he added to his personal collection of hardware by being named the 2016 SCFA-Central Coach of the Year. At this rate, it may be wise for him to invest in a bigger trophy case.
It is an impressive accomplishment when you look at the Tiger's strength of schedule and conference build. Playing in the Central Division is no leisurely climb to the top of the standings. According to the 2017 JC Bureau Preseason rankings, the Tigers currently hold the fourth overall ranking in the state. Their schedule is tattooed with numerous top-25 teams such as No. 5 Ventura, No. 7 Long Beach, No. 8 Mt. San Antonio, and No. 20 Bakersfield. Riverside plays Bakersfield September 16th followed by Ventura on September 23rd. Long Beach will then come to town on November 4th for the home finale, capped with a regular-season matchup on the road at Mt. San Antonio on November 11th.
"We have one of the toughest schedules in recent history," said Craft, who helped guide more than 25 student-athletes to four-year universities following the 2016 season. "We don't focus on rankings. We just want to get better each day."
The Tiger's coaching staff, like its roster, has been bolstered tenfold this offseason. Craft has surrounded himself with a strong coaching staff that features six former National Football League (NFL) players that stretch from both sides of the pigskin. Joining the Tigers this season is Kyle Turley, Az-Zahir Hakim, Cedric Gay, and James Dupree. Learn more about the coaching staff here.
The coaching staff has produced immediate results and it has shown statewide. In 2016, the Tigers saw 14 student-athletes earn SCFA – Central All-Conference accolades. Freshman linebacker Nick Underwood (Lake Oswego, OR) highlighted the talented bunch by being named the 2016 SCFA-Central Defensive Player of the Year. Underwood, who transferred to Division I University of Maryland this offseason, earned 71 total tackles leading to a 6.5 tackles-per-game mark. Furthermore, he made 11 stops behind the line of scrimmage, recovered four fumbles, and pocketed a pair of interceptions.
The transfer list RCC football possesses is something out of a fairy tale. The list is inked with top-tier, Division I schools which shows the caliber of the squad. Last season alone, the Tigers saw 25+ student-athletes transfer to schools such as University of Utah, University of Hawaii, West Virginia University, and Oregon State University just to name a few.
"We transfer a lot of kids each year, so replacing that talent is a challenge," said Craft.
With a high rate of transfers brings an even higher rate of turnover. After a grip of players took their talents to the next level, the Tigers look towards new faces to lead the 2017 squad to the promise land.
"This summer was full of opportunities and we are excited to see which players will make the most of those opportunities."