A bye week is just what the Southwestern College football team needed. It was a rough month.
The schedule maker threw the Jaguars a one-two punch by opening the season with Palomar College, the nation's #8-ranked community college team, followed two weeks later by perennial powerhouse Grossmont. At least that's over with.
SWC played well but not well enough in a 23-13 loss to the Comets and a 45-31 defeat in the hands of the Griffins. Sandwiched in between was a 26-0 win over San Diego Mesa College.
Jag players and coaches said they are hoping the Mesa game will be typical of the rest of the season.
While the Jags have lost key players like wide receiver George Bell, now at Arizona State, the team remains confident with its newcomers and returnees.
Despite being offered a scholarship to play at San Jose State, a Division-I school, fellow linebacker Ramsey Iapala convinced him to stay at SWC for at least one year to find a school that would be better suited for his talents.
Throughout training camp Tutogi and Iapala learned to count on each other.
"If I mess up, I trust Iapala enough to know that he is going to make up for my messing up," said Tutogi.
Sophomore defensive back Ivan Sillas-Navarro said he is excited to play behind the talented linebackers.
"I can look my linebackers right in the eye and I know that I got their back and they got mine," he said.
Sillas-Navarro said he has seen the chemistry build over the past year.
"We had a lot of individuality last year," he said. "People did not look out for each other but just for themselves. I feel a big change."
After completing its first shutout in seven years against Mesa, the stingy Jaguar defense has earned a reputation.
"If we go out and punch them in the mouth first before they punch us in the mouth, the game is over," said Iapala, who sacked Mesa's quarterback in the end zone for a safety in the Week Two victory.
Unlike the rock-solid defense, there remains uncertainty at the offensive skilled positions, which has remained the team's biggest concern throughout the offseason.
Victor Perez and Ryan Van Nostrand, both true freshmen, are competing for the open position at quarterback.
"Because we rotate quarterbacks during the game, that position will continue to battle throughout the season," said Carberry. "If one falters, the other one goes in."
Perez, who started in Week Two after splitting time with Van Nostrand in Week One, said having the competition pushes him to perform at a higher level. He threw for 169 yards with one touchdown in the 26-0 victory over Mesa.
The running back position was blown wide-open with an injury to preseason All-American Aaron Harris, sidelined with a shoulder injury. There is no timetable for his return.
Carberry said the injury is unfortunate, but the team must move on with or without their record-setting running back.
"There is a book on our shelf at home that says ‘next man up,'" said Carberry. "That's football."
Arona Tuiafono, a freshman running back from American Samoa, has been forced to fill the large shoes of Harris. Early in his first college game Tuiafono played admirably, rushing for 80 yards on 17 carries with a crucial fourth quarter touchdown against Palomar.
Linebacker Tutogi also saw time at running back. In the second quarter against Mesa, Carberry called for the Rambo formation. Tutogi, who lined up behind fellow linebacker Iapala, got the ball in a critical fourth down situation. The all-purpose talent burst through the Mesa defense, scoring from 42-yards out.
Tutogi and Iapala said the formation was in their playbook, but did not expect to see it this early in the season.
"We take the 11 biggest, meanest guys we can find and put them all on the same team," said Carberry. "We teach them one or two simple plays and try to get a yard."