Bluejays’ roster laden with California gold for opener

Although Tabor College football coach Mike Gardner wasn’t around for California’s gold rush of 1849, he apparently has struck gold there lately with 18 players from the Golden State on this year’s roster.

The Kansas-California connection started with former coach Tim McCarty, Gardner said.

“A lot of these guys we get by referral,” he said. “We contact a prospect and he has a friend and he has a friend-and it just keeps growing.”

One of the richest recruiting veins has been in the Shafter-Bakersfield area, which is located 90 miles north of Los Angeles in the Central Valley.

Eight players on the Bluejay roster come from that area, with 10 more from other areas of the state.

Carrying the highest profile of the clan is Ricky Ishida, who was picked last fall as first-team quarterback on the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference all-conference team after his freshman season.

“We all knew each other before we came out here,” said Ishida, a 5-foot-10-inch, 210-pound sophomore, about his Central Valley teammates. “Ever since we got out of high school, we’ve talked about getting the chance to play some more football together and we got the chance to do that here.

“We took advantage of that chance.”

Ishida’s path to Tabor, covering 1,200 miles, wasn’t a straight shot.

After graduating from Shafter High School, where he earned all-state honors as a cornerback his junior year and as a quarterback his senior year (1,600 yards passing), Ishida opted for a junior college in Bakersfield.

“I had a couple of colleges that showed interest in me out of high school, but not that much,” Ishida said. “I don’t know if my height was a factor or what.”

Ishida spent the 2002 season as a red-shirt freshman, but his situation didn’t work out as planned.

Luckily for Ishida-and for the Bluejays-his friend, Lee Waldron, was enrolled at Tabor and invited Ishida to join him.

“I told Lee if the junior college didn’t work out, I’d like to come out here and play-and a bunch of us guys ended up doing just that,” Ishida said.

“Just getting a chance to get out of the state of California to come to school and play football with these guys was enough to get me to Tabor.

“Lee said Tabor was a good school and the instructors were really helpful in their classes,” Ishida added.

“Back home, you just have jucos and big universities and you’re just a number. Here, you walk around and everyone knows your name and the teachers bend over backward to help you in your classes. It’s kind of nice.”

During Ishida’s initial season at Tabor last fall, opportunity knocked when starting quarterback Dave Hernandez went down with an injury in the season’s third game.

The confident freshman answered the call without missing a beat.

“I’m not happy the way last season turned out when Dave got hurt,” he said. “Whether I played or not, I knew I just had to be patient and work hard.”

His effort translated into an All-KCAC resume: 2,144 yards (195 per game) and 14 touchdowns while completing 52 percent of his passes.

“I was surprised I did that well,” he said. “Coach McCarty told me he was putting me up for all-conference, but I didn’t think I’d get it.

“I was shocked when he told me I actually made first team. But I guess that’s what great coaching and great teammates can do.”

Ishida and the rest of the California nuggets will join their Bluejay teammates in the season opener on Saturday when Southwest Assemblies of God University from Waxahachie, Texas, comes to Reimer Field.

Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.

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