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HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL PREVIEW : ALPHA LEAGUE

La Verne Lutheran

COACH: John Rode, 11th year

LAST SEASON: 2-7 overall. Sixth in Alpha League, 2-5

THE PLAYERS TO WATCH: It is payback time at La Verne Lutheran. The Trojans started six sophomores last season and chalked up the year to a learning experience. This season, 14 starters return, and Rode could get a measure of revenge. “We paid for our youth last year,” Rode said. “I hope that pays some dividends for us this year.” The Trojans may be more experienced, but they are still small. Junior nose tackle Pat Greun (6-0, 215 pounds) is the only starter who weighs more than 200. Three other juniors will start on defense. Ken Hernandez (5-10, 165) and Doug Schuelke (5-10, 155) will be the inside linebackers, and Scott Garbell (6-0, 155) will be the free safety and backup quarterback. Weakside linebacker Dennis Roney (5-10, 160) and cornerback Greg Miller (5-10, 155), a three-year starter, return for their senior seasons. Eight starters return on offense, including quarterback Rex Rhorer, tailback Fernando Valle, tackles Bernard Harris and Matt Jessup and wide receivers Mel Summers and John Albertson, all seniors. Two juniors, center Jason Crawford and guard Les Parks, also return to starting positions.

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OUTLOOK: There are only 26 players on the varsity, but Rode isn’t concerned about depth. “Physically, we’re the smallest team in the league, but we’ve got a pretty good crew,” he said. “Our first defense is our second offense, and they can do it. If we get a little banged up, we could be all right. But if we get banged up a lot, we could be in trouble.”

L.A. Baptist

COACH: Rick Hayes, 2nd year

LAST SEASON: 2-8 overall, sixth in the Alpha League, 1-6

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THE PLAYERS TO WATCH: Hayes thinks that weight training will help the Knights improve this season. “Nine players on the varsity can bench over 300 pounds,” Hayes said. “Last year, we had only two kids who could go 250.” The Knights will also be bolstered by the addition of several players from last season’s 8-1-1 junior varsity. Jeremy Leach, who threw for 1,000 yards on the JV, will play quarterback. Leach, a sophomore, will be one of the Valley’s top quarterbacks in the coming years, Hayes said. Junior Mike MacDonald, who gained 1,000 yards on the ground for the JV, will start at running back along with Chris Bollier (5-11, 170). Bollier was a second-team all-league performer at safety last season. “I’m looking for big things from him,” Hayes said. The Knights have seven starters back, including cornerback Mark MacArthur (5-11, 175), tight end/linebacker John Goeders (6-1, 185), linebacker/offensive tackle Mark Carlson (6-1, 185), offensive tackle Chris Loucks (6-2, 260), center Paul Hodgson (5-10, 215), safety Scott Dayley (5-10, 170) and Bollier.

OUTLOOK: “The team is much more together,” Hayes said. “We’re trying to do everything first class.” The Knights will have new uniforms and play night games this year. Hayes is hoping the changes lead to a playoff spot.

L.A. Lutheran

COACH: Stan Dobler, 1st year

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LAST SEASON: 8-3-1 overall, second in the Alpha League, 6-1

THE PLAYERS TO WATCH: The Lions, who reached the quarterfinals of the Inland Conference last season, will rebuild this season. They lost 12 starters to graduation. The top returners will be Scott Yurek and Brian Gannon. Yurek, a 6-2, 205-pound senior, made The Times’ All-Valley second team last season on defense. A linebacker, Yurek may not play in the season opener because of the lingering effects of mononucleosis. Gannon (6-1, 200), will play linebacker until Yurek returns. Rob Webb, a defensive end, will have to fill in at center while Yurek is out. Offensive lineman Barry Walter (6-1, 185) played last season as a sophomore. Greg Rozsa is back to play nose guard and fullback for the Lions. The quarterback position is up for grabs between senior Bernard LaRue and Jeff Young, the starter on last season’s junior varsity. “Bernard has a good arm, but his talent is raw,” Dobler said. The coach is counting on the returning players to hold the team together while the younger players develop. “We’ll probably be in the middle of the league,” Dobler said. “We’ll give it a good shot every game. “

OUTLOOK: Dobler, who recently moved to the Valley from Illinois, doesn’t know much about the other Alpha League teams. But from what he has read about Montclair Prep, he said: “We’re not going to be able to match up with them.”

Marshall Fundamental

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COACH: Lou Underwood, 2nd year

LAST SEASON: 4-6 overall; tied for third in the Alpha League, 4-3

THE PLAYERS TO WATCH: The bad news for the Eagles: Only six lettermen are returning. The good news: All are starters. The top two offensive players are Serge Delus, a wing back, and Thomas De La Torre, an offensive tackle. Delus (5-6, 147 pounds), a senior who also runs track, will also play defensive back. De La Torre (5-10, 240) is a two-year letterman. “I really expect those two players to shine,” Underwood said. “Of course, the new kids should do pretty good, too.” Two of the new players, Layne Perry and Alvin Rhodes, are competing for the quarterback. Perry is a 5-6, 140-pound senior, while Rhodes is a 6-0, 145-pound sophomore. “The option is the strength of both of them,” Underwood said. The Eagles should be strongest in the secondary--three players are returning. “We have a young squad,” Underwood said, “and we may have to go with a lot of 10th and 11th graders. The good part is that we should be pretty good down the road if we keep the kids.” Despite the youth, Underwood thinks his team can contend for the league title.

OUTLOOK: Marshall led Montclair Prep, 13-0, last season before losing, 25-13. The loss showed Underwood that his team could play with the mighty Mounties. “They should be the top team,” he said. “But the rest of us will be there, fighting for the playoffs.”

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Montclair Prep

COACH: John Hazelton, 4th year

LAST SEASON: 9-3 overall, Alpha League champions, 7-0

THE PLAYERS TO WATCH: Hazelton won’t duck the obvious--the Mounties are loaded with talent. “Barring injury, if we don’t reach the conference finals, it’ll fall on my head. I’ll be the one to blame,” he said. Eighteen of 22 starters return from a team that lost in the quarterfinals last season. Where to begin? Try the offensive line. At tackle are seniors Todd Bowser and Troy Banks. Both are being recruited by major colleges and both are massive. Bowser is 6-7, 275; Banks is 6-6, 260. The guards are Junior Ron Walker (6-2, 265) and Bill Huston (6-2, 235). The center is Josh Berger, a 5-11, 190-pound sophomore. Riche Swinton, who has gained nearly 2,000 yards rushing in his career, returns at running back. Swinton is being recruited by several Pacific 10 schools. Reggie Smith Jr., another highly recruited player, will start at fullback. Cliff Sullivan, who split time at quarterback with Smith last season, and Jason Radovan, last season’s junior varsity starter, are competing for the quarterback spot. The winner will throw to a pair of receivers who transferred from El Camino Real, Anthony Pack and John DeRouen.

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OUTLOOK: “The kids are expecting to go a long, long way,” Hazelton said. “They feel they are contenders for the championship. So do I.” In the Southern Section’s preseason rankings, Montclair Prep was rated No. 2 in the 35-team Inland Conference behind Whittier Christian.

Village Christian

COACH: Mike Plaisance, 4th year

LAST SEASON: 7-4 overall; tied for third in Alpha League, 4-3

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THE PLAYERS TO WATCH: Damon Zavala, the Crusaders’ starting quarterback the past two seasons, is moving to fullback this season. The reason: “Chris Johnson is too good to be on the bench,” Plaisance said. Johnson, a 6-1 1/2, 190-pound junior, showed promise in the summer league, so Plaisance will let him start. “He has a rifle arm,” Plaisance said. Steve Girard, the leading rusher on last season’s junior varsity, moves up to the varsity. The junior has run the 40 in 4.8 seconds. Plaisance also thinks receivers Brad Hersh (6-4, 180) and Brian Blankenship (5-10, 150) have improved. “Brian is a major-college prospect,” Plaisance said. “He has very, very good hands.” Village Christian will use two tight ends, Geoff Lloyd and Brian Bovee. Lloyd will also be the punter. Last season, he had a JV school-record punt of 76 yards. Defense should again be a focal point for the Eagles. They had six shutouts last season. Brendon Bradley was a second-team all-league performer last season at cornerback. Tyler Victor led the team in interceptions last season as a junior and returns at cornerback. Tad Benson (5-10, 185) is back at guard.

OUTLOOK: Plaisance is looking for a return to the playoffs, as well as a league title. “The winner of the Oct. 19 game between us and Montclair Prep will be the league champion,” he said.

Western Christian

COACH: Tim Kistler, 1st year

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LAST SEASON: 7-3 overall; tied for third in Alpha League, 4-3

THE PLAYERS TO WATCH: Chuck Booth will try to replace quarterback Guy Coniglio, the Southern Section’s No. 2 passer last season with 2,028 yards. Booth, a junior, has been the starting quarterback on the junior varsity the past two seasons. “He is one of our better runners,” Kistler said, “but he is the only guy who can be quarterback. We definitely plan to use the option.” Kistler wants Kjell Petridis to handle the ball often. The 6-0, 205-pound senior, an all-league last season as a tight end, will move to flanker/running back this season. He’ll also play defensive end. The running backs will be Mike Johnston (6-1, 180) and Torrey Pearson (5-11, 205). "(Pearson) will go right up the middle and run you down,” Kistler said. The offensive line has only two players with varsity experience: guard Per Negaard (5-11, 190) and tackle Rod Ramoneda (6-1, 215). Kistler is also happy with junior lineman Troy Handley (6-5, 220). Petridis will anchor the defensive line. “Our defensive line,” Kistler said, “is nearly the entire offensive line.”

OUTLOOK: “The defense is the key,” Kistler said. “Last year, our scores were like, 55-45. We feel if we can keep the scores down, we’ll be able to win.” Kistler sees his team battling for second or third place in league.

Football previews were compiled by Dave Desmond, Mike Hiserman, David Keck, Gary Klein, David Morgan, Jeanmarie Murphy, Derek Raser and Johannes Tesselaar.

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