Diablo Valley College football coach Mike Darr knows his stuff. He's sent more than 20 players to four-year programs in each of the past six years.
Featuring a robust defensive front, depth and athletes galore, the Vikings will open the season at Feather River on Saturday up north in Quincy.
DVC is ranked ninth in the California Community College football coaches' preseason poll, tops among East Bay teams, after a strong 7-4 season in which they made a seventh consecutive bowl appearance.
"The No. 1 strong point of the team is we're very competitive at every position," Darr said. "We're very deep at every position except, like everyone, offensive line. Our defensive line, we've got three monsters up front."
Indeed, the Vikings will feature defensive linemen in Marc Anthony Hor of Mannheim, Germany, Chris Mulumba of Finland and Franklin Uesi of College Park.
"These are going to be Pac-12-scholarship guys," Darr said of the trio. "That's really probably our strongest position, our defensive line."
The Vikings feel they can go six or seven deep on the D-line and still be effective. Freshman Dylan Gilfoy of Liberty High, a 6-foot-5 edge guy, has been so impressive that they decided not to have him grayshirt.
"He's got such an amazing get-off," Darr said of Gilfoy. "He's going to give us a tremendous pass rush. Long kid. Coach (Ed) Hall and I had David Tollefson back in 1999 and 2000. Played for the (New York) Giants eight, nine years. Has a couple Super Bowl rings, and we're hoping (Gilfoy) is going to develop into that next skinny kid out of high school that had a great motor and was tough as hell and turned in a great player."
New quarterback Drew Anderson of Miramonte, a strong-throwing and accurate transfer from San Diego State, will be complemented by an deep cast of receivers, led by all-Big 8 Conference returner Marcus Armstrong-Brown of Justin Siena, who is big and long and runs great routes. He had 55 receptions for 869 yards (15.8 average) and 10 touchdowns last season.
"Marcus, he's a special player, he's a special kid," Darr said. "He was an all-conference guy as a freshman in the toughest conference in the country."
A perfectionist, Anderson passed for 4,074 yards in 2013 when he led Miramonte to a 12-2 record. Darr said the team was blessed to have quarterback Adam Wood last year, and "we're all real impressed with this guy that's chucking it this year too."
Backing up Anderson is a Colin Kaepernick look-alike, Ali Shojaee (6-4, 225), a dual-threat who can throw the ball about 70 yards and run by people with pure speed. Darr said he looks like a linebacker with his shirt off.
Nick West is a home run hitter at wideout with great speed and smooth acceleration. Ex-California High star CJ Cornwell, who excelled as a true freshman with 31 catches, is a smart and seemingly fearless slot receiver. Aareon White, who has been battling injuries in his DVC career, reminds Darr of the San Francisco 49ers' Anquan Boldin when he's on his game. The 215-pound White's physical nature makes him tough to press off the line.
The determined Cooper ran a couple of kickoffs back last year, and just "never goes backwards," Darr said. "If he gets a crease, he's gone. For a speed guy, he's just tough as hell inside."
Defensive lineman John Vaka (6-5, 260) is a rugby guy who bolsters the defensive line. Thompson Pulu, a Hayward High graduate and a transfer from College of San Mateo, is an impressively versatile athlete who has moved from the defensive line to linebacker.
The offensive line is strong but a little nicked up, boasting center Drew Sullivan of De La Salle (6-3, 320), who has that De La Salle "get-off," Darr said, and a great upside. He was considered the top offensive on the unbeaten 2014 Spartans team. Guard Rangel Lowry (6-4, 350), a three-time Bay Valley Athletic League wrestling champion, has great leverage. Tackle Chris Taliu, a transfer from Long Beach Poly who is considering playing rugby at Saint Mary's College, has been a most welcome recent addition.
"Third-and-1 is going to be a very successful down and distance for us this season," Darr said.
A talented but inexperienced secondary is without All-American Antoine Albert, who moved on to Cal, or any returning starters. But Darr says the secondary is better and more focused than last year's unit. Freshman Shane Morris, who played corner and running back at Clayton Valley Charter before grayshirting last year, had a tremendous camp and is sitting on a big season.
Returning kicker Brandon Brown is a touchback machine and an outstanding all-around athlete. He expects to boot a few more field goals this season too. Returning punter Jacob DeMaio of Monte Vista, another good athlete who ran track at DVC, is a key component on special teams.
"We feel we were better at every position this year," he said.