About the only sure thing about the City Western League in 1985 is that Kearny High School is favored to repeat as champion.
The race for second place and and the league’s other playoff berth is wide open because last year’s playoff contenders lost most of their key players to graduation.
Kearny is the favorite because of experience. Quarterback Ron Bradley and several other starters are back from last year’s team that went 9-2-1.
And Kearny Coach Tom Barnett, starting his ninth year, agrees that his team should be the choice to finish first.
“I think we’ll be able to run the ball well and pass well,” Barnett said. “We have a lot of returning players on defense. So everybody is saying ‘Kearny is favored. ' Yeah, I like to think so.”
Coach Gene Edwards’ La Jolla team, which hasn’t advanced to the Section playoffs since 1980, should contend with either Rex Edwards or Eric Prior at quarterback.
Clairemont, which finished second last year, is now under the guidance of Nate Wright, the former San Diego State and Minnesota Viking defensive back. Steve Miner, who led the Chieftains into the Section playoffs for five straight years, has moved to neighboring Madison.
University’s new head coach, Ron Hamamoto, has just four starters back. Hamamoto, quarterback coach and offensive coordinator last year at Servite of Anaheim, a perennial Orange County prep football power, replaced Dan Ritter, who is now an assistant coach at the University of San Diego.
Mission Bay Coach Willie Matson is optimistic that the Buccanners, who return 10 starters, will improve.
Here’s a closer look at the City Western League:
CLAIREMONT 1984 record: 9-3-0, 4-1-0 in league
Coach: Nate Wright (First year)
Offense: Split I
Top returnees: Eddie Taylor (5-10, 160, Sr., WR), Brandon Watts (6-1, 190, Sr., OG), Brandon Wright (5-11, 195, Sr., LB), Billy Smith (5-9, 160, Sr., LB).
Top newcomers: Circy Moore (6-0, 190, Soph., TB), Chris Box (5-6, 200, Soph., LB/FB), Lewis Gibson (6-2, 218, Sr., LB).
Outlook: Nate Wright, in his first head coaching job, will have an inexperienced team with little depth. One-third of his starters will be sophomores--most of them from last year’s junior varsity.
Sophomores Circy Moore, a transfer from Lincoln, and Chris Box, up from the JV, will start in the offensive backfield along with a senior quarterback, Greg Gibbons, who saw little action behind starter Jeff Sturch last year. Gibbons’ main passing targets should be seniors Eddie Taylor, a returning starter, and Jumel Miller, a letterman.
Defensively, the Chieftains should be bolstered by their linebackers, a traditionally strong position at Clairemont. Back for another year are starters Brandon Wright and Billy Smith. Box will also see action at linebacker.
“We have a lot of team speed,” Wright said. “I’m optimistic about doing real well. We have a nucleus of good players. We just don’t have a lot of people.”
KEARNY 1984 record: 9-2-1, 4-0-1 in league
Coach: Tom Barnett (Ninth)
Top returnees: Ron Bradley (5-10, 170, Sr., QB), Matt Epenesa (6-3, 210, Sr., FB/DE), Bobby Johnson (6-0, 175, Sr., S), Steve Daley (6-3, 205, Sr., OG/DE), Rob Skinner (6-1, 175, Sr., LB), Kevin Archer (6-3, 180, Sr., DE), Lupe Ford (6-0, 185, Jr., RB).
Top newcomers: James Courtney (5-11, 175, Sr., CB/WR), Darrell Hicks (5-9, 150, Jr., WR), Scott Welish (5-10, 170, Jr., WR/QB).
Outlook: The Komets have already reaped the benefits of last year’s success, Coach Tom Barnett said. About 90 players tried out for both the varsity and junior varsity, compared to a total of 51 on the two squads last year. “I had to go down to the store and order more gear,” Barnett said.
Among those not returning are the Western League’s offensive player of the year, halfback Robert Ring, and its defensive Most Valuable Player, Larry Huff. Barnett thinks he can replace Ring with the combination of fullback Matt Epenesa, who gained 600 yards last season, and halfback Lupe Ford.
Returning quarterback Ron Bradley will again try to go for the big play whenever possible, said Barnett, who employs a wide-open offense. James Courtney, a transfer from Serra, and Darrell Hicks and Scott Welish, both up from the junior varsity, will be the wide receivers.
Defensively, the Komets have a big, experienced line led by returnees Epenesa, Steve Daley, John Corlett and Kevin Archer, and two returning linebackers, Rob Skinner and Marc Bonner.
LA JOLLA 1984 record: 4-5-0, 2-3-0 in league
Coach: Gene Edwards (25th)
Offense: I-formation, unbalanced line
Top returnees: David Pyatt (6-3, 225, Sr., OT/DT), Andre Liptay (6-6, 215, Sr., OT), Bradon Brush (5-11, 172, Sr., S), Leonard Richardson (5-8, 180, Sr., CB/TB), Rex Edwards (6-0, 175, Sr., QB).
Top newcomers: Eric Prior (6-1, 190, Jr., QB), Mike Cassidy (5-10, 230, Sr., C/NG), Brad Matthews (5-11, 171, Jr., TB/CB).
Outlook: The caliber of players from last year’s 7-2 junior varsity has made Coach Gene Edwards optimistic about the coming season.
“I think we have a pretty good team even though we only have five starters back from last year,” Edwards said. “We have more speed and strength than we’ve had in the past. The kids are smarter, too. Out biggest drawback is a lack of varsity experience.”
The starting quarterback will be either Rex Edwards, last year’s backup, or Eric Prior, last year’s junior varsity quarterback. The one who doesn’t start at quarterback will start in the defensive secondary. Leonard Richardson, a letterman, and Brad Matthews, up from the junior varsity, will handle most of the rushing chores.
The Vikings will have some big players on the offensive line. Anchoring the line are returnees David Pyatt and Andre Liptay. Mike Cassidy, a transfer from Germany, will play at center.
MISSION BAY 1984 record: 0-10-0, 0-5-0 in league
Coach: Willie Matson (Second)
Top returnees: Kyle Ketchum (6-1, 175, Sr., WR), Kevin Alexander (5-10, 170, Sr., S/TB), Rod Weichelt (6-0, 185, Sr., LB), Kevin Casey (6-3, 235, Sr., OT/DT), Eric Williams (5-9, 170, Jr., S).
Top newcomers: Sean Rees (5-9, 160, Soph., QB), Rusty Patrick (6-4, 175, Jr., QB).
Outlook: The Buccaneers, potentially strong at wide receiver, running back and defensive secondary, are expecting to rebound from last year’s 0-10 season.
“Barring serious injury, we should be very, very competitive,” Matson said. “I don’t think we’ll be overmatched like we were in a couple of games last year. We could surprise a few people. I’m looking forward to winning a few games.”
All-league selections Kyle Ketchum, a wide receiver who caught 43 passes last year, and Kevin Alexander, a free safety-tailback who intercepted seven passes, lead the Bucs. At quarterback this fall will be either Sean Rees, a scrambling quarterback, or Rusty Patrick, who is a drop-back passer.
Rod Weichelt, Paul Wozniak and Rusty Filter return for another year at linebacker. The Bucs’ biggest question marks are the offensive and defensive lines, where Kevin Casey and Mike Jackson are the only returners.
UNIVERSITY 1984 record: 6-4-0, 1-4-0 in league
Coach: Ron Hamamoto (First)
Offense: Wing T
Top returnees: Matt Smith (6-0, 180, Sr., QB/S), James Wilson (6-4, 185, Jr., TB/S), Chris Johnson (6-0, 200, Sr., OG/DT), Eric Coleman (6-0, 200, Sr., LB).
Top newcomers: Mike Hastings (6-3, 200, Jr., DT), Martin Correia (5-8, 175, Jr., FB).
Outlook: Ron Hamamoto, starting his first season as a head coach, is looking at a vastly different situation than the one he faced a year ago. Then, he was quarterback coach and offensive coordinator at Anaheim’s Servite High School, a talented team that went 10-2 against some of the best teams in Southern California. University, on the other hand, will start between five and seven players both ways.
“Everybody isn’t expecting us to do well,” Hamamoto said. “I hope we can surprise a few people.”
Matt Smith, backup to starting quarterback Scott Marshall last fall, will start this year and double as strong safety. Also doubling will be returnees James Wilson, at tailback and free safety and Chris Johnson, at offensive guard and defensive tackle.
Servite was successful passing the ball last year, so expect Univesity to pass often this year.
UNIVERSITY CITY 1984 record: 3-4-2, 3-1-1 in league
Coach: Steve Vukojevich (Fourth)
Top returnees: Dave Gosney (6-3, 230, Sr., OT), Gus Bojkozsky (6-3, 202, Sr., OT), Mike Scherer (6-0, 200, Sr., LB).
Top newcomers: Kenny King (5-8, 150, Sr., WR), Paul MacRenado (6-0, 190, Jr., TB), Greg Cleveland (6-2, 200, Jr., OG/LB).
Outlook: Coach Steve Vukojevich has only three starters returning from last year’s high-scoring, pass-happy team that was devasted by graduation. Gone are The Times’ All-County duo of quarterback Eric Bridge, who threw for more than 2,000 yards, and wide receiver Mike Ventimiglia.
Replacing Ventimiglia may be Kenny King, a transfer from Lincoln. A quartet is competing to replace Bridge: Rod Cowell, Jeff Sturac and George Anders, all up from the junior varsity, and Brian Sexton, a transfer from University.
“We plan to run the option a bit this year, and whoever runs it best will get the quarterback job,” Vukojevich said. “That’s going to be a hardest decision I’ll have to make.”
Paul MacRenado, also up from the junior varsity, is the starting tailback. Returning tackles Dave Gosney and Gus Bojkozsky will provide experience on the offensive line.