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Santa Cruz Awarded NAIA Honor

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Published
January 10, 2011
By
Gary Pine

AZUSA, Calif. -- Azusa Pacific Head Football Coach Victor Santa Cruz has been named the 2010 NAIA Independent Coach of the Year.

Santa Cruz was announced the winner among the association on independent institutions within the NAIA during this week’s American Football Coaches Association Convention in Dallas, Texas.

Santa Cruz, who just completed his tenth year on the Azusa Pacific coaching staff, his fifth as the Cougars’ head coach, led Azusa Pacific back into the NAIA playoffs this past season. He guided the Cougars to victory in 6 of 9 regular-season games, including victories over longtime rivals San Diego and Southern Oregon, a 2-game sweep the Cougars hadn’t accomplished since 2004.

During the last year’s off-season, Santa Cruz re-tooled the Cougar offense, first naming former Cougar QB Rudy Carlton as the offensive coordinator, and then expanding the spread offense employed the past few years. The changes produced the highest scoring offense in Azusa Pacific football history, a team that averaged 35.9 points a game.

“I’m proud of Victor and happy for his success,” said Azusa Pacific Director of Athletics Bill Odell. “As a coach of an independent school and the only NAIA member in the southwest with football, Victor has faced challenges uncommon to most coaches. Yet, he has been creative and always maintained a positive, can-do spirit, and it truly is rewarding to me to see him rewarded for his faithful work with the young men in our program.”

Azusa Pacific eventually finished the 2010 season with a 6-4 record, narrowly losing to eventual NAIA national champion and undefeated Carroll College in the opening round of the NAIA playoffs. The Cougars are expected to return at least 17 starters from last year’s team.

A former University of Hawaii linebacker, Santa Cruz came to Azusa Pacific in 2001 to serve on Peter Shinnick’s staff. Santa Cruz was the Cougars’ defensive coordinator and became the architect of one of the greatest defenses in school history, the 2004 unit. In 2006, he was named Azusa Pacific’s ninth head coach in the program’s then 40-year history.