AZUSA, Calif. -- After guiding his team to the quarterfinals of the NAIA playoffs, Azusa Pacific football head coach Victor Santa Cruz was named the 2011 NAIA Independent Coach of the Year at last week’s American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) convention.
The Cougars, in their final season as an NAIA independent before transitioning into membership in NCAA Div. II’s Great Northwest Athletic Conference (GNAC) starting in 2012, were a perfect 3-0 against fellow NAIA independents during a 9-3 campaign that ended with Azusa Pacific ranked fifth in the NAIA in 2011.
“Obviously, it’s a tremendous honor to accept this award on behalf of Cougar Football,” Santa Cruz said. “This is truly a team award that reflects the quality of my entire coaching staff, and I believe the program’s success on the field is a product of our players’ devotion and commitment to each other.”
Twenty-two Cougar players appeared in a variety of postseason awards lists after Azusa Pacific made its eighth playoff appearance since 1998 and shattered the program records for scoring, total offense yards, and rushing yards in a season.
"Victor is richly deserving of this award,” said Azusa Pacific Director of Athletics Gary Pine. “He has done a terrific job of growing the program by recruiting quality men, and developing them into outstanding students and athletes. This year's senior class was one of the largest in program history, which is a testimony to Victor's ability to develop a skill level of men which translated into loyalty to the program. In turn, there is no question that this year's team was one of the very best in school history."
Azusa Pacific has concluded its affiliation as an NAIA football program, as the Cougars will join the Great Northwest Athletic Conference as an associate member for football beginning in 2012. It will be the first conference affiliation for Azusa Pacific’s football program in the school’s history, and the rest of the Cougar Athletics program will compete in the Pacific West Conference as the school enters its second year of a three-year transition into NCAA Division II membership.