Twenty-five years ago, the best junior college football team in the country was at Long Beach City College when the Vikings were using an improvised offense to make history. Twenty-five years later, college teams are still using the same offense.
“There’s no way we thought we’d be a national championship caliber team,” said Neo Aoga, who was the LBCC quarterback in 1995 and is currently an assistant coach for the Vikings. “The pieces just fell into place as the season went.”
LBCC avoided multiple pitfalls throughout the undefeated 1995 season that ended in a bowl game victory and a national championship crown.
The first major challenge came in the second game when Aoga had his leg taken out on a sack attempt. The Long Beach Poly High alum suffered a severely sprained his ankle on the play that limited his mobility for weeks.
“I pretty much played the whole season on that bad ankle and I couldn’t move around,” Aoga said. “(Other coaches) take credit for it but we invented the Pistol offense at LBCC in 1995.”
Coaches Michael Taylor and Chris Ault are widely credited with developing the Pistol offense in 1999. The open formation puts the quarterback in a short shotgun with the running back directly behind him. From this position the signal caller and ball carrier can get their eyes downfield faster with limited movement.
“(The LBCC coaches) just moved me back from center because I couldn’t drop back,” Aoga said. “I just had to stay in the pocket and get the ball out quickly.”
Aoga, nicknamed the “Throwin’ Samoan,” flourished in the Pistol while racking up 3,626 yards and 37 touchdowns. Aoga still holds most of the LBCC passing records and went 19-2 in two years as the starter.
LBCC was coming off a quality season with a bowl game win, so the Vikings were ranked in California’s Top 15 before the 1995 campaign. They had to replace a good group of offensive lineman and wide receivers, but Aoga and linebacker Albert Dorsey both remember that team finding a way to support each other despite having a variety of backgrounds.
“We had people from the hood and people from the valley and we still got along,” Dorsey said. “There weren’t any fights, now that I think about it. There were no issues.”
“We were a laid-back, fun-loving kind of team,” Aoga recalled. “I don’t think we had a serious guy at all. (Coach Larry) Reisbig was kind of the serious guy for us.”
Reisbig, who passed away in 2017, took over the LBCC football program just four years before winning the national championship. The LBCC Hall Of Famer won 71% of his games in 11 years at the helm and was also the athletic director from 2003-10.
“Everyone knew their place when he would say something,” Aoga said. “He was so nice and let you do your thing. But if it was time to reel you back in and you had to go into the office, you knew you did something wrong. Everyone was scared to disappoint him because of how he (treated) us.”
“Coach Reisbig was a great guy who never cussed,” said Dorsey, who is currently the head coach at Compton College. “I think the worst thing he said was ‘dang’ and that was new and different for me.”
The most improbable win of 1995 season in the seventh game against Palomar when LBCC trailed 45-17 in the fourth quarter.
“That year was incredible and there were games we should’ve lost,” Dorsey said. “We had really good talent and good luck… It was a perfect storm to win it all.”
The veteran LBCC defense created momentum for the comeback with a pair of quick turnovers that turned into points, and the Vikings stayed undefeated with a 46-45 win.
“I can still picture playing all of these games, so it doesn’t feel like 25 years ago,” Dorsey said.
LBCC took on Los Angeles Valley in the Strawberry Bowl to finish the season. There were 9,000 fans at Cerritos College to see Aoga and the Vikings put on a show in a 59-49 shootout victory that clinched the national championship nod. Aoga completed 17 of his 33 passes in the game for 412 yards and three touchdowns.
“Our defense bent and bent and then didn’t break at the end with some more big turnovers,” Aoga said. “The lasting thing for me was how we all came together to play a game on Saturday. There wasn’t arguing or anything on the sideline. Everyone was just picking each other up.”
The national championship was the fifth in program history, and football wasn’t the only sport celebrating at LBCC in the first week of December 1995. The softball team and both men’s and women’s track and field squads won state championships within 24 hours of the football title.