Last year’s fad in the Empire League was passing, and it seems to have been just that--a passing fad.
This year, its characteristic traits hail back to an Orange County tradition: producing talented and disproportionately massive linemen. The outlook in the league is meaty, beefy, big and bouncy.
From Pacifica to El Dorado, to Esperanza to Katella high schools, the prospects are big, bigger, biggest. Kennedy even boasts a 6-foot 7-inch, 270-pound specimen, junior tackle Tim Wilson.
But the cream of the lineman crop resides at Pacifica, where two of the top performers in the county are back, defensive tackles Jason Brusuelas (6-1, 245) and Robert Joubert (6-2, 230). “I doubt anybody else in the county has a pair like them,” Mariner Coach Bill Craven said.
El Dorado’s Class of 1986 linemen are also talented. The Golden Hawks have constructed a human Great Wall of Placentia, in the form of five returning starters on the offensive line and five more on the defensive line.
It could be a long, hard season for running backs with crazy ideas of gaining forward yardage.
Three of the more exciting runners in the league will be Loara’s Chris Wright, the second-leading rusher in the Empire League last season, Pacifica’s Callen Chase, a former all-league selection who missed much of last season with a foot injury, and CIF high hurdles champion Terry Johnson of Katella, who opted not to play football last season.
Quarterback Tim Beckman of Esperanza, who passed for more than 2,000 yards last season, is one reason the speedy Aztecs are widely viewed as a slight favorite over less-fleet rivals Pacifica and El Dorado.
But Loara, Los Alamitos, and even Katella have solid offensive personnel and could emerge as surprise contenders.
CYPRESS: Key Personnel--Troy O’Leary (6-0, 165), QB; Jason Threedouble (6-0, 175), LB/FB; Al Aguirre (6-2, 225), TE/LB; Jeff DePrez (6-1, 190), TE/DT; David Downey (5-11, 175), WR/DB; Mark Steinert (5-7, 150), WR/DB and Ed Christopher (5-11, 205), DG.
Top Newcomers--Rob Davis (5-11, 145), WR; Ed Buras (5-9, 190), DG; Blaise Bryant (6-0, 170), TB/DB and James Padilla (5-8, 150), TB.
Outlook--Cypress, with the league’s youngest group of players, is one of two teams which may have trouble competing with the league favorites.
Last season, Cypress won just one league game, and this year could be equally difficult. Although eight starters return, several, such as quarterback Troy O’Leary and linebacker Jason Threedouble, are still just juniors.
O’Leary has speed and a strong arm, but he also has much to learn about his position after serving mainly as a receiver last season. A primary target for his passes will be Al Aguirre, a three-sport athlete who missed most of last season with a thigh injury. At nearly 6-3 and 225 pounds, Aguirre will probably be called upon to reinforce the defense at linebacker.
Last year’s Cypress sophomores were 7-2, finishing a game behind league co-champs Esperanza and Loara, but Coach Kris Van Hook says that is no indicator of their varsity aptitude. “They look pretty good against each other, but we’ll have to see how they handle the difference in size, speed and hitting ability of varsity players in this league,” he said.
EL DORADO: Key Personnel--Doug Sipple (5-10, 180), FB/LB; Dave Bullock (5-11, 200), C; Chris Hawn (5-10, 230), OG; Jeff Petredes (6-2, 220), OT; Scott Schultz (6-0, 200), OG/DE; Brett Clark (6-1, 205), DE; Leo Song (5-11, 190), DT; Gene Rehnquist (6-2, 200), DT; Todd Tomazic (5-11, 190), LB; Jim Buck (6-1, 180), LB and Jeff Boucher (5-7, 150), CB.
Top Newcomers--Dan Sutherland (6-0, 180), QB; Rich Chamberlain (5-11, 185), TB; Doug Ash (5-9, 165), S; Todd Jackson (5-10, 190), DE; Rob Sporrer (6-2, 190), WR; Rick Bowen (5-10, 170), WR; Barry Curtis (6-3, 210), TE/S; Doug Montgomery (5-8, 220), OG and Bruce Smith (5-10, 240), DT.
Outlook--The Golden Hawks have several large, imposing linemen, including five returning starters each on the offensive and defensive lines. Overall, El Dorado has the most returning starters of any team in the league. With 9 defenders among the 13, defense should be their strong suit, particularly against the run.
Texas transfer Barry Curtis is a potential blue-chipper, and he could make passing a risky business for opponents. The big senior will be one of the few Hawks to play both ways, demonstrating his catching ability at both safety and tight end, a pivotal position in Sweet’s offensive schemes.
With the exception of fullback Doug Sipple, El Dorado’s players at the skill positions have played little varsity football. Sweet says quarterback Dan Sutherland’s ability to pass has improved dramatically since his tenure as the reserve last season.
Tailback Chamberlain played in a few games last year, carrying the ball 43 times for 193 yards, an average of 4.5 yards-per-carry. Sweet believes Chamberlain has the ability to gain 1,000 yards.
ESPERANZA: Key Personnel--Greg Beckman (6-1, 185), QB; Kevin Clancy (5-9, 155), WR; Randy Misemer (6-1, 231), OT; Robert Entrican (6-1, 248), OG; James Rae (6-5, 241), OT; Eric Tochner (6-0, 226), C; Ray Williams (5-11, 205), DT; Dan Keefe (6-0, 185), LB; Don Herrick (5-9, 166), CB; John Ledesma (5-11, 170), SS; Tim MacNeil (6-3, 180), WR/S and Rich Poole (5-9, 175), CB.
Top Newcomers--Mike Mischione (6-0, 180), TB; Scott Taylor (6-3, 200), DE; Trevor Hargrave (6-3, 215), DT; Gene Bohen (6-1, 240), OG; Enrique Mason (5-8, 145), WR; David Denunzio (6-2, 194), DE; Brandt McCullough (6-2, 186), DE; Tony Chill (5-10, 184), LB; Rick Lane (6-0, 162), WR and Frank Klisura (6-2, 209), TE.
Outlook--Coach Pete Yoder’s favorite strategic brainstorms may revolve around his offense, but this season’s Aztecs will be a defensive force, first and foremost.
One of the best defensive backfields in the county--staffed by MacNeil, Ledesma, Herrick and Poole--returns intact. “It’s the best secondary we’ve ever had,” Yoder said, featuring four players who intercepted a total of 19 passes last season.
This offense should not be expected to measure up to the once-in-a-decade unit, now graduated, of fullback Derrick Gachett (USC), wide receiver Keith Pontiflet (Colorado) and tailback Jim Farrell (Colorado). But Esperanza returns quarterback Greg Beckman, who completed 72% of his passes for more than 2,000 yards last season. The team also has some fast receivers, such as Kevin Clancy.
Esperanza’s ability to rush is unknown with junior Mike Mischione replacing Farrell and senior Lee Malcolm (5-9, 205) playing fullback. Yoder said the Aztecs, who lost to El Modena in the Southern Section championship game, will pass even more than last year. As usual, the Aztecs are mighty along both lines; Yoder says it’s not a particularly tall team for Esperanza, but one of the stronger in terms of weight-lifting ability.
KATELLA: Key Personnel--Greg Portis (5-8, 150), QB; Terry Johnson (6-1, 170), RB; Wayne Petrakis (5-11, 190), QB/DE; Darrell Baldwin (6-6, 245), OT; David Done (6-0, 200), C; Charlie Song (5-10, 175), FB/DE; Earl Boberg (6-4, 240), OT and Tim Clement (5-9, 163), WR/DB.
Top Newcomers--Bob Calhoun (5-10, 170), LB and Mark Mitzel (5-10, 180), LB.
Outlook--The Knights have not had a winning season in 14 years, as second-year Coach Richard Watson is quick to point out, but 1985 looks like as good a time as any to overthrow their time-worn losing tradition.
It may be hard to believe, but Katella may potentially have three of the best skill players in the county, and two of them will be playing quarterback . . . at the same time. One thing’s for sure, Watson deserves points for creativity.
He denies that the unorthodox arrangement will come down to using last year’s quarterback, Wayne Petrakis, as designated thrower and last year’s second team all-league running back, Greg Portis, as designated runner. But those are the notable strengths of each. Portis was the third-fastest sprinter in the league last track season, while Petrakis passed for 1,200 yards last football season, although he only completed 38% of his attempts.
Two other factors make Katella’s revival feasible, and its offense intriguing. One is the offensive line, which has three good returnees, including Darrell Baldwin, who is big and mobile enough to be a top-college recruit.
The other key will be the consistency and commitment of running back Terry Johnson, the two-time Southern Section high hurdles champ who quit the football team early last season. “He’s a track man first and a football player second,” Watson said, but Johnson should be a valuable asset to the Knights’ fortunes, even so.
KENNEDY: Key Personnel--Steve Kim (6-0, 180), LB.
Top Newcomers--Gabriel Chairez (5-11, 185), LB/RB; John Christensen (6-0, 180), FB/LB; Todd Bristow (5-11, 175), QB; Kyle Bernard (6-2, 185), TE/S; Tim Wilson (6-7, 270), OT/DT; Dan Stefani (5-6, 140), WR/DB; Tom Clinton (5-10, 170), WR/DB and David Wilson (5-10, 200), LB.
Outlook--On paper, it would appear that the Fighting Irish will have to fight to win any games this season. They have by far the fewest veteran players and perhaps the least raw ability of any team in the league.
Just one starter is back from last year’s fifth-place team that was 2-7 overall. New prospects have been few and far between as outbound transfers and academic ineligibility sapped the 1988 class of players, according to Coach John Carroll.
“If we returned a lot of people, I’d feel great, but it’s not so. It’s like starting all over again,” said the second-year coach. “We are young and inexperienced. We lack depth and we lack size. There are no game breakers. We just have decent athletes who work hard.
“We’re going to have to play on emotion, aggressiveness and heart, and that’s what I’m seeing on the practice field. This team is working hard to be winners.”
John Christensen, now a junior fullback, displayed promise filling in at tailback on a couple occasions last season. But he and quarterback Todd Bristow may enjoy scant protection, although Wilson, the most massive tackle in the league, should be an asset as he improves. “It’s the giant among the midgets,” Carroll said.
LOARA: Key Personnel--Wade Clester (6-2, 185), QB/S; Chris Wright (5-11, 180), TB/LB; Matt Denney (6-1, 175), OG; Tony Meyer (5-10, 165), TE and Kevin Hampton (6-0, 180), DE.
Top Newcomers--John Montoya (6-0, 190), FB/LB; Brian Malavar (5-8, 165), DE; Jon Rudd (5-9, 198), OG; Mike Rudd (6-0, 175), TE/DB; Steve Thompson (5-10, 190), OL/DL; Steve Okabe (5-9, 245), C and Marc Penasewicz (6-4, 235), OT.
Outlook--One of the league’s strongest combinations of returning skill players, plus some promising offensive line candidates, could provide Loara with one of its best teams in years.
The swift Chris Wright is the No. 1 running back in the league, as well as a track athlete, a Southern Section wrestling champ and a fierce linebacker. Last season, he rushed for 881 yards on 123 carries for a 7-yards-per-carry average with 11 touchdowns.
Clester, also a three-sport starter, shifts to quarterback after a season at fullback. Hill unhesitatingly describes him as “a good one,” which should be interpreted to mean Loara will be able to advance the ball through the air more effectively than last season.
The Saxons are much more numerous than last year, although still not deep. The squad has increased by 10 players for a roster total of 41, including members of last year’s championship sophomore team.
Given this material, the ever-resourceful Hill is capable of constructing a contender, as he has done so many times in his 24 years at Loara. However, he alleges to be worried about the Saxons’ “complete, stinking” defense on the basis of its performance this summer.
LOS ALAMITOS: Key Personnel--J.T. Snow (6-2, 180), QB; Rob Katzaroff (5-9, 160), SE/P; Chris Rose (6-0, 230), OG; Don DuBry (6-2, 205), TE; Chris Theodore (6-1, 215), DT; Randy Hacker (6-3, 175), S; Marc Trachtman (6-1, 200), LB and Jerry LeDoux (5-8, 175) LB.
Top Newcomers--Neil Sorensen (6-0, 170), TB and John Olsen (6-3, 185), OG/DG.
Outlook--This may be the season for the Griffins to dominate the air waves. J.T. Snow, son of former Los Angeles Ram Jack Snow, takes over at quarterback, where he will have the immediate advantage of throwing to the league’s finest receiver, Rob Katzaroff.
An all-league selection in football, soccer and baseball, Katzaroff caught 29 passes for 498 yards and scored 8 touchdowns last year. Nor will the Griffins be limited to this well-publicized weapon, since tight end Don DuBry has good hands and good speed for his size, Griffin Coach John Barnes said.
“We can throw and catch with anybody,” Barnes said. However, the Griffin rushing game is open to doubt, and certainly unlikely to equal the success of last year’s Sean Conboy-Bruce McMorris combination. The possible weak link is the offensive line, where only one starter returns, junior Chris Rose. His supporting crew will be sizable, but is untested.
PACIFICA: Key Personnel--Jason Brusuelas (6-1, 245), DT; Bill Hardesty (6-1, 190), FB/LB; Robert Joubert (6-2, 230), DT; Chris Hartman (6-3, 195), TE/DE; Callen Chase (5-10, 180), RB; Brad Keeney (5-11, 185), OG and Keith Greene (6-0, 200) OG.
Top Newcomers--Scott Pettit (6-3, 205), QB; Willie Taylor (5-10, 145), WR; Andy Hoodward (6-2, 230), OT and Steve Palczewski (6-2, 260) OT.
Outlook--With five returning all-league and all-county players, Pacifica has the best proven ability and the greatest size in the league, although the Mariner team speed will dazzle no one.
Last season, Pacifica was deprived of the chance to realize its potential after serious injuries to two quarterbacks and running back Callen Chase, an all-league first team running back in ’83 as a sophomore. The team regrouped to capture second place, and this time around, some consider it a narrow favorite over defending champion Esperanza.
The Mariners are similar to El Dorado in that each team has size, numbers and experience on the lines, but mainly rookies in the backfields. That situation gives rise to two concerns by Mariner Coach Bill Craven, each involving passing.
One question is whether his less-than-lightning-quick defensive backs can discourage aerial circuses. But the efforts of three of the county’s best defenders, Brusuelas, Joubert and Hardesty, could take some pressure off the secondary.
Craven’s other concern is whether his new quarterback, converted receiver Scott Pettit, can throw accurately enough to create an occasional aerial threat of his own. A drop-back passer with a good arm, at least Pettit should enjoy the luxury of taking his time, thanks to the caliber of Pacifica’s offensive line.