Editor’s note: Because of a production error, some editions did not receive the entire South Coast League preview on Tuesday.
Irvine High School football Coach Terry Henigan thought his team had a legitimate chance of earning the wild-card berth in the Southern Conference playoffs last year.
Granted, the Vaqueros finished fourth in the South Coast League with a 5-4-1 record, but they beat perennial power Capistrano Valley and tied league-champion Mission Viejo.
“We were playing good football by the end of the season, but the playoff committee picked Loara instead of us,” Henigan said. “I’m still upset over that.”
Henigan’s disappointment is legitimate. He had a fine football team led by the league’s Most Valuable Player, quarterback Jeff Bielman, but was left uninvited to the playoffs. Such is the plight for opposing coaches in a league that features “The Big Three"--Mission Viejo, Capistrano Valley and El Toro.
Capistrano Valley has averaged eight victories per season for the past five years under Dick Enright, a former head coach at the University of Oregon. El Toro, which moved into the league last year, has advanced to the playoffs for seven consecutive seasons. This year, Mission Viejo, with 13 returning starters, is the overwhelming favorite to win the league championship.
Where does that leave the likes of Irvine, Dana Hills and the rest of the seven-team league?
“The addition of El Toro together with Mission Viejo and Capistrano Valley makes this one of the toughest leagues in the Southern Conference,” Henigan said. “I’ve been in the same league with El Toro for five years and they’re always good. They’ll always be good with 3,000 students.”
Dana Hills Coach Don Douglass has one of the best teams in the school’s history with 15 returning starters. But the veteran coach was being realistic when he said his team had a chance of beating “The Big Three.”
“We played Mission Viejo and El Toro close last year,” Douglass said. “Even that was gratifying because we had never played them close before.”
While Irvine and Dana Hills will be scrambling for a playoff spot, Mission Viejo is expected to win the title. Veteran Coach Bill Crow had only 14 seniors on the team last year that finished 8-3-2 and lost in the Southern Conference semifinals to Esperanza.
Crow enters his sixth season with an experienced offensive line, one of the top running backs in the county and four gifted athletes who started on the Diablos’ baseball team that was the runner-up in the Southern Section’s 2-A division last year.
Center Rick Costello anchors an offensive line where four starters return. A fifth returner, tackle Ben Morgon, has been moved to the defensive line. Tailback Todd Yert is the top returning running back in the league, and the Diablos figure to get some added strength in the backfield when transfer Darrin Sweazy becomes eligible.
Brendan Murphy, the starting center fielder on the baseball team, replaces Ray Reinders at quarterback. Free safety Don Roberson (catcher), tight end Marc Preston (third base) and wide receiver Bob Doran (second base) are also exchanging their gloves for shoulder pads.
“I’ve been at Mission Viejo since 1968, and I’ve never seen a team with so much experience here,” Crow said. “I also said last year’s league champion wouldn’t be undefeated, and I don’t think this year’s will go undefeated, either.”
Capistrano Valley, with some excellent skill-position players, and a young but talented El Toro team are expected to challenge the Diablos. Which should leave Irvine and Dana Hills waiting for next year.
Here’s a closer look at the South Coast League:
CAPISTRANO VALLEY: Key Personnel--Nathan Call (6-0, 180), WR; Todd Beightol (5-11, 170), WR; Dave Berkeley (6-4, 220), LB/T; Tom Grieco (6-0, 210), FB; Dave Ruffell (6-6, 210), DE/OT; Brent Parker (6-0, 185), FL/LB; Erik Hannah (5-10, 170), PK and Rich Grant (5-11, 170), TB.
Top Newcomers--Scott Stark (6-2, 180), QB; Rex Volmer (6-2, 220), OT/DT; Marcel Durand (6-1, 180), QB; Steve Lawrence (5-10, 160), WR; Matt Belardes (6-0, 219), OT and Joe Rossini (5-10, 205), C.
Outlook--Enright enters his sixth season with a 42-15-2 record. The Cougars finished third in a tight race last year, losing to El Toro, 27-24, for the league title. Enright said the loss of Hannah with a herniated disc injury halfway through the season cost the Cougars the title. Stark, who started as a sophomore at Chaffey High, moves into the quarterback spot, allowing Call to move back to wide receiver. “He transferred here too late to learn the offense, so we went with Nathan last year,” Enright said. “Nathan thinks his position will be receiver or defensive back in college, so he was all for the move.” Enright has installed the run-and-shoot offense and Stark, Call and Beightol figure to gain a lot of yardage through the air. “I’ve got six quality receivers and I’ve never had so many good ones on one team,” Enright said. Unlike Dana Hills or Irvine, Enright has only one returning starter on the offensive or defensive lines but Berkeley is one of the best in the league.
DANA HILLS: Key Personnel--John Micilizzi (5-10, 155), QB; Darran Baird (6-5, 250), OT/DT; Pete Snyder (6-2, 225), OG/DT; Tom Schooler (6-2, 210), OG/LB; Matt Raith (5-10, 180), FS; Mike Singleton (6-0, 210), FB/LB; Keith Coley (6-0, 185), TB; Mike Henery (6-1, 270), C/DT and Dean Romo (5-10, 190), FB/SS.
Top Newcomers--Jason Hickman (6-0, 160), QB and Scott Ridneer (6-2, 195), TE/LB.
Outlook--The Dolphins have the biggest team in the league and return 15 starters. But the big question is whether they can shed a losing image. Dana Hills has won only seven games in the past three years and has never beaten Mission Viejo or Capistrano Valley. “Everyone is wondering about our attitude,” Douglass said. “We started a lot of juniors last year and lost our first six games. Then, we won three of our last four games, which says a lot for the players.” The Dolphins began the turnaround when Micilizzi replaced Raith as the starting quarterback. “Raith made some big catches for us at flanker, so the move proved to be good for both players,” Douglass said. Baird is considered a major college prospect. He has a 3.6 grade-point average, bench presses 285 pounds and finished among the top five in the league track finals for the shot put and discus.
EL TORO: Key Personnel--Chris Westerman (6-3, 245), DG; Chad Fouts (5-10, 185), DE; Mike Gonzales (5-10, 185), DE; Scott Ross (6-2, 195), LB; Eric Brass (5-8, 160), DB; Jim Hargy (5-8, 165), DB; Fred Spalding (6-3, 220), DT; John Thompson (6-0, 205), C; Steve Cuttrell (6-5, 215), OT and Christian Martinez (6-0, 205), TE.
Top Newcomers--Scott Spalding (6-5, 235), OT/DT; Bret Johnson (5-11, 160), QB; Chris Bailey (5-11, 160), WR; Scott Miller (5-11, 170), WR; Shane Brisbin (6-0, 170), TB; David Steele (6-0, 195), FB; Jon Barron (6-2, 205), OT and Darren Dudgeon (6-2, 190), LB.
Outlook--El Toro annually has one of the best football programs in the county. Last year, the Chargers won league titles on the varsity, sophomore and freshman levels. El Toro doesn’t have an offensive starter returning from a team that advanced to the semifinals with a 9-4 record, but an undefeated sophomore team should help fill the holes. “We’re really hurting offensively,” Coach Bob Johnson said. Johnson’s son, Bret, will start at quarterback and the 13-year veteran coach said he is looking forward to coaching the sophomore. “He’s the best we have at the position, and all the kids on the team know it,” Johnson said. “If I didn’t coach him, he’d be at another school where he could beat me, and I’d probably never get to see him play.” The strength of the team is at linebacker and defensive back. Two of the best players in the Chargers’ program--fullback John Montoya and Sweazy--have transferred. Sweazy moved to Mission Viejo, and Montoya is at Loara. The Chargers are planning a trip to Washington, D.C. next year to play their opening game.
IRVINE: Key Personnel--Greg Gerardi (6-7, 245), DT/OT; Bob Hamelin (6-1, 225), OG; Gary Renteria (5-10, 190), LB; Al Diaz (5-9, 185), LB; Steve Habermenl (6-2, 190), DE; Jimmy Raye (5-7, 150), QB/FS and Pete Brantley (6-4, 215), TE.
Top Newcomers--Bill Mazelin (6-2, 210), OG; Jim Miele (5-6, 155), FB; Rick Smetanka (5-9, 165), SE; Chris Hughes (5-10, 205), DL; Bill Brosnan (5-9, 160), SE; Brian Snoddy (6-3, 175), QB and Kevin Harkins (5-9, 185), C.
Outlook--Converted defensive back Raye will replace Bielman at quarterback and Henigan compares him favorably to Bielman. “Jimmy is very small, but he’s an excellent athlete,” Henigan said. Raye will be dwarfed by his offensive line that averages 220 pounds and features Gerardi and Hamelin. Gerardi was scouted by USC and Notre Dame during the spring while Henigan said three-year starter Hamelin is the best player on the team. The Vaqueros have experienced offensive and defensive linemen but Raye is the only returning skill-position player. “In the past, we’ve won with skill-position kids,” Henigan said. “We don’t have a returning starter at defensive back, wide receiver or running back. This is the biggest team I’ve ever had, but we’re still smaller than Dana Hills or El Toro.” Henigan on the releaguing plan that moved Irvine into the South Coast League: “We were projected to have 2,400 students and we’re still at 1,900. I’d like to know when I’m going to get those 500 kids. We belong with the other Irvine schools (University and Woodbridge) in the Sea View League.”
LAGUNA HILLS: Key Personnel--Wayne Helm (6-3, 190), QB; Chris Latham (5-8, 155), WR; Tom Kingston (6-0, 190), LB/FB; Charlie Salgado (5-9, 180), LB; Dennis Danzer (6-1, 260), OT/DT and Jeff Tinek (5-9, 160, DB.
Top Newcomers--Dave Delmonico (5-7, 150), TB; Dave Dancey (5-6, 155), TB; Rob Burpe (5-8, 175), OG/LB; Trevor Eynon (5-11, 240), C and Dave Reinhardt (6-0, 205), OT/DT.
Outlook--Former Servite defensive coordinator Paul Weinberger was hired to replace departed Ed Adams only two weeks ago, so the Hawks are behind schedule. Adams resigned to become the dean of students at El Toro. Weinberger admitted he had a tough job ahead of him when he said, “This certainly isn’t the ideal way to begin.” Helm, who figures to be one of the top pitchers in Southern California this spring, will start at quarterback. If he throws the football as well as he pitches a baseball, he could emerge as a top quarterback. The Hawks have only five returning starters and are the smallest team in the league. Considering the late arrival of Weinberger, the size of the team and the lack of experience, Laguna Hills will have difficulty winning a league game.
MISSION VIEJO: Key Personnel--Don Roberson (5-10, 165), DB/K; Jay Phillips (6-0, 170), DB; Craig Whitley (6-0, 204), NG; Dennis Erk (5-10, 160), DB; Todd Yert (6-1, 212), TB; Bill Hales (6-0, 201), LB; Rick Costello (6-4, 235), C; Wayne Preheim 6-0, 205), DT; Vic Carroll (5-11, 192), OG; Ben Morgon (6-4, 240), DT and John Charlton (6-2, 230), OT.
Top Newcomers--Darrin Sweazy (5-11, 182), TB; Greg Rende (6-3, 197), DE; Brendan Murphy (6-1, 170), QB and Anthony Callas (5-9, 170), OG.
Outlook--Sweazy, whose older brother, Damon, is the fourth all-time leading rusher in the county with 3,421 yards, is awaiting an eligibility ruling from the Southern Section office. Sweazy, the leading ground gainer for El Toro’s 10-0 sophomore team, transferred from El Toro to Mission Viejo during the summer, but did not establish a new resedency. His father, Chuck, is a science and driver education teacher at Mission Viejo. Crow, on his team’s lofty preseason predictions: “I don’t like being picked to win the league, but I can understand why everybody is picking us. Experience in high school is rare and we have a lot of experienced players returning.”
SAN CLEMENTE: Key Personnel--Alex Baker (5-10, 165), QB; Bob Moore (5-10, 165), FB/DB; Todd Sufferidge (6-1, 170), WR/DB; Greg Arcade (5-10, 180), DE; Brad Zell (5-10, 170), LB/WR and Scott Smith (5-11, 175), LB.
Top Newcomers--Dan Morgan (6-0, 160), TB; Rob Buhler (5-11, 155), TB; Joe Corral (5-10, 240), C and Darren Milner (6-1, 180), DT.
Outlook--Baker was rated as one of the top quarterbacks in the county last season until he broke his wrist midway through the season in a nonleague game against Mount Miguel. “When we lost Baker, we lost our offense,” Coach Allie Schaff said. Schaff has switched his offense from the run and shoot to the wishbone this year with Moore and Morgan joining Baker in the backfield. “We didn’t have a running back last year, so I went with the run and shoot,” Schaff said. “We’re not overly blessed at the position this year, but we are a little quicker. Hopefully, we’ll keep Baker healthy with the new offense.” The Tritons have only two players who weigh more than 200 pounds on the 37-man roster. “We starting to grow and have a good looking freshman class,” Schaff said. “In the next couple of years, I think we’ll get back to what we used to be.”