Head coach Victor Santa Cruz has taken Azusa Pacific football to the next level. After leading the Cougar football program into a transition towards NCAA Division II membership, the seven-year head coach guided Azusa Pacific to a Great Northwest Athletic Conference outright championship in the team’s second season of NCAA play. The 2013 season saw a Cougar team that was picked fifth in the GNAC preseason poll, roll through conference play with a 9-1 record before recording one of the most lopsided wins in school history, defeating Greenville 67-0 in the Victory Bowl to post the program’s third 10-win season.
Santa Cruz was named the 2013 GNAC and NCCAA Coach of the Year, and in his last three seasons has posted a 23-11 record. He’s also surrounded himself with an elite coaching staff that includes NFL Hall of Famer Jackie Slater, who helped mold Luke Marquardt into an NFL offensive lineman (currently with the San Francisco 49ers).
But perhaps his biggest coaching wins come from his ability to connect with his players and transform them into men who can achieve success postgraduation. With a focus on academics, he’s placed 21 players on the GNAC All-Academic team over the past two seasons. “I’m a passionate guy,” said Santa Cruz. “I’m passionate about Jesus Christ, my family and Azusa Pacific. Through competition on the field and in the classroom, I want to see young men exit this program with an understanding of effective process, a sense of self, and the vision to become successful husbands, fathers, employees and employers.”
It’s a philosophy that has delivered concrete results, as evidenced by Azusa Pacific’s recent success both on and off the field. The Cougars recorded a 10-2 record in 2013, and wrapped up the program’s long-standing affiliation as an NAIA independent with back-to-back playoff appearances while Santa Cruz was named NAIA Independent Coach of the Year in 2010 and 2011.