One of the most common phrases in the sports world is, “There’s no ‘I’ in team.” This, however, would be an inaccurate assessment of the Chapman football roster. There are, in fact, over 80 different ‘I’s’ on the Panther’s squad. It’s how they’ve been able to mesh into one that characterizes their team’s attitude.
“It’s more of a ‘we’ team, not an ‘I’ team,” said Marcos Reyes, a freshman running back. “We’re just having fun and playing the game.”
Currently sitting atop the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC) with a record of 7-0, Chapman’s football team is off to their best start since 2013. So how are these Panthers different? What’s changed? And most importantly, have the game results been a fortunate series of events or is there confidence that this level of play can be maintained?
“This team is a lot more whole than teams in the past,” said Ricky Medeiros, a senior defensive end. “We’ve put in a ton of hard work and everyone has bought into the program.”
Chapman’s football program has an established history of success, with only one losing end-of-year-record across the past seven seasons. Yet there’s an increased sense of unity that the team shoulders on the back of their jet-black Panther uniforms, running out onto Wilson Field as a cohesive unit. There’s a devotion for the team that trickles all the way down from its most senior members to the newest forces, Medeiros said.
There’s no better example of these varied contributions than a look at Reyes. He took home the SCIAC Offensive Athlete of the Week award on Oct. 28, after racking up 149 all-purpose yards and three total touchdowns in Chapman’s 44-6 victory over California Lutheran University Oct. 26. A notable feat for a first-year player – and one he never thought was possible at the beginning of training camp.
“When I first started camp, everything seemed a lot faster and I didn’t feel up to speed,” Reyes said. “I had no idea what I was doing then. But with the help of the other running backs and quarterbacks, they helped me through it.”
Reyes may have felt behind at first. But now, with continued development, head coach Bob Owens expressed pride for the award-winning play of his young running back.
“Marcos has been an outstanding player for us – he has given us a shot in the run game,” Owens said. “We knew he’d be a good player, but he’s exceeded far greater than what we expected.”
Fresh faces are making their mark on the defensive side of the ball as well. One of them, linebacker Jonathan Sheets, has been seeing significant playing time on the field after carving out a spot in the defensive line rotation. Medeiros, for one, has taken notice.
“Sheets has gotten significantly better after moving onto the defensive line,” the senior said. “You see that across the board, with a lot of freshmen on our defense.”
Assembling the puzzle pieces to the roster has created a sense of competition within the locker room, said Reyes. Yet ultimately, the Panthers take it in stride.
“It’s tight enough where it’s competitive and we want to make each other better,” Reyes said of the team dynamic. “But it is not a toxic or angry environment.”
Ultimately, this competitive drive and contributions up and down the roster have resonated with the coaching staff, who are excited to see how the rest of the season plays out.
“They’re able to look forward to the competition they’re about to face,” Owens said. “At a certain point, when you’re in the run for a championship, you hit your stride and start doing everything right.” With two games left to play and an undefeated record, the Panthers appear to be hitting that stride.