It's been a long time in the making. On January 12th, the Menlo College Athletic Department took the leap into an historical and exciting new era. Director of Athletics Keith Spataro officially made the announcement in front of a packed house of students, faculty, staff, alumni, and media, that Mark Speckman would be the newest Oaks head football coach. Ever since that moment, anticipation has been bursting at the seams for the start of the 2012 Menlo College Football season. An almost overwhelming sense of excitement and eagerness has filled the air for the last eight months, but now we are just a day away from kickoff as the Oaks travel to the University of British Columbia on August 25th.
The ball club enters the 2012 campaign with a great deal of momentum after a solid 2011 season that saw Menlo finish with a .500 record (5-5) for the first time since 2003. Aside from the stellar mark, the Oaks also found themselves in the NAIA National Rankings on two separate occasions, led by then Head Coach Fred Guidici. Guidici spent 14 years with the program, including the last three as head coach, but now the reigns have been handed over to Speckman.
The Bay Area native spent the past 17 years, the last 14 of them as head coach, at NCAA Division III Willamette University in Salem, Oregon. Under Speckman, the Bearcats were an impressive 82-59 (.582) in 14 seasons, including an outstanding 47-28 (.627) in Northwest Conference play. Additionally, Willamette enjoyed 5 conference championships, 5 national playoff berths, and a 1997 National Championship Game appearance with Speckman in the fold. The Bearcats have also seen 8 All-Americans, 4 Conference Player of the Year honors, and 79 1st Team All-Conference distinctions since Speckman took over as head coach before the 1998 season.
The overwhelming success has earned Speckman two Northwest Conference Coach of the Year awards (1999 & 2008), as well as being recognized as the 2008 Regional Coach of the Year by the American Football Coaches Association and D3Football.com. In 2008, Speckman was a Liberty Mutual National Coach of the Year Finalist, where he was featured on ABC and ESPN.
Speckman brings his renowned "Fly" offense with him, which shouldn't keep fans in their seats for too long. The "Fly" brings the flanker in motion across the formation before the snap to take a handoff, block on a running play, or become a receiver. The ball can go in a number of directions on any given snap, creating havoc for the opposing defense.
If Speckman and the Oaks look to have success in 2012, they will have to navigate through a difficult schedule, one that features a combined 2011 record of 69-37 (69-28 if you exclude Pomona Pitzer's 0-9 mark), and seven of the ten schools had winning seasons last year. Menlo will also clash with two preseason top ten NAIA and NCAA Division III schools. "It's a real challenge," said Coach Speckman on his team's 2012 slate. "There is a lot of regional diversity and a lot of these teams have had playoff experience. It's definitely going to be challenging, but at the same time it's going to be a lot of fun."
Menlo will look towards a number of key returners if they have any playoff aspirations. On the offensive side of the ball, the Oaks welcome back last year's NAIA All-Independent First Teamer, wide receiver Robert Adan. Adan snatched 65 passes for 939 yards in 2011, including an unbelievable 11 receiving touchdowns. The 65 receptions ranked the Pittsburg, CA native fifth in the nation, while his staggering 93.9 receiving yards per game were good enough for tenth in the country.
Menlo's back field is a year more experienced, with senior quarterback Matthias Pelasasa and junior running back Thomas Reynolds prime for a breakout year. Pelasasa, the native of Redwood City, did it with his arms and legs last season in accounting for 18 total touchdowns, while Reynolds posted a remarkable 5.7 rushing yards per attempt and showed Oaks fans what he is capable of with a 71-yard TD run against Azusa Pacific on Senior Day.
Shifting to the defensive side of the ball, seniors Devon Jonsson and Greig O'Connor will be excepted to carry some of the work load. Jonsson finished third on last year's squad with four sacks and six tackles for loss from the linebacker position, and O'Connor's 6'0", 265lb. frame from the defensive line make him a force to be reckoned with.
The Oaks open the year with three straight road games, including 2011 rematches with British Columbia on August 25th and Linfield College on September 1st. Menlo took out UBC 39-13 in their home opener last season, but fell to Linfield 23-6. The Oaks kick off their home slate on September 15th against Occidental College, a team Menlo downed 41-17 last year, and homecoming is on October 20th against Wesley College.