COACH: Alan Epstein, 5th year
LAST SEASON: 3-6 overall. Fifth place in Sunset League, 1-4
THE PLAYERS TO WATCH: “Slow, small and inexperienced.” That’s how Coach Alan Epstein described his Braves. “I mean it,” he added. “There is not too much talent, not too much depth.” The Braves were hurt this summer by the loss of Kevin Zeitz. An all-league performer as a running back last season, Zeitz was scheduled to be the starting quarterback. But the junior had to have arthroscopic surgery on a knee after straining a ligament last month in a passing league game. Epstein hopes to have Zeitz back sometime after the season opener. In the meantime, either Jay Tanzier or Alan Sedacca will play quarterback. Tanzier is a junior with no varsity experience, while Sedacca is a sophomore with no football experience. Mike Flores, who gained more than 1,000 yards on the ‘B’ team last season, will start at running back, along with senior Sheldon Welch (5-8, 160). Two all-leaguers return to the offensive line--tackle Daryl Cobin (6-2 1/2, 195) and guard Jared Clark (6-3 1/2, 180). The Braves should be strongest at linebacker, where all four starters return: Brett Heller, Charlie Reed, David Lopez and George Moussa.
OUTLOOK: “I hope we win a couple of games, I hope we’ll be right in the middle of the race,” Epstein said. “With a little luck and a good defense, we might be right in there.” It figures that Birmingham will need a lot more than luck to compete in the Sunset League.
COACH: Ed McCarthy, 7th year
LAST SEASON: 5-4 overall. Tied for third place in Sunset League, 3-2
THE PLAYERS TO WATCH: The Hunters are blessed with speed. Said Coach Tom McCarthy: “This is as much speed as I’ve ever had at this school.” Among the speed demons: Kenny Durr, a transfer running back from El Camino Real; Mike Conover, a 1,300-yard rusher on the ‘B’ team last season; Michael Turner, a 5-11, 165-pound senior wide receiver and Danny Arrias, a wide receiver/quarterback. Arrias was academically ineligible last season, and McCarthy is excited about his return. Arrias could see action at quarterback, but most likely will play wide receiver. That means the quarterbacking duties will fall to either Tony Cantrell or Jeff Myers. Another player ineligible last season, Ben Ripa, will play strong safety and running back. The fullback will be Robert Franklin (5-9, 180), a starter last season. The question mark for Canoga Park is its youth. McCarthy may have to start as many as five sophomores. At linebacker, the Hunters may go with sophomores Brian Hoffman (5-9, 175) and Pak Odama (5-10, 175). Mike Vazquez, 5-10, 175-pound senior, could return to center--where he started last season--or play linebacker.
OUTLOOK: “I think we have the potential to be explosive,” McCarthy said. “We have to develop a consistent defense. We don’t have a lot of size, so we have to be aggressive.” Canoga Park figures to finish at or near the top of the league, along with Taft.
COACH: Myron Gibford, 8th year
LAST SEASON: 7-4 overall. City Section 3-A semifinalists. Tied for first in Sunset League, 4-1
THE PLAYERS TO WATCH: Whomever fills in for Myron Jones, the All-City running back from a year ago, he will have the benefit of running behind an experienced offensive line. Alex Campos, a 6-3, 295-pound senior, will anchor the line. Campos is a two-year starter at offensive tackle. The other returning linemen are James Love (6-2, 220) at offensive guard and Chris Ogren (6-1, 200) at center. The size and experience of the line is needed since Coach Myron Gibford has no running back with varsity experience. “We have about six or seven backs, but we don’t have an outstanding one at this point,” Gibford said. The leading candidates at running back are Michael Santini and Spence Durham. Santini was a defensive back last season, while Durham was a ball carrier on the ‘B’ team. Matt McCourt was the starting quarterback last season until injuring his knee. McCourt is back and battling Rogelio Vargas for the starting spot. The fifth and final returner on offense is wide receiver Brent Ruedy, a senior who also does the punting. The Chancellors will rely on many seniors this season who played on the ‘B’ team last year. That team went undefeated in league.
OUTLOOK: “We have to come up with a defense,” Gibford said. “We’re very, very green. And we’ve got to find a running back. That is the critical thing.” The Chancellors were the only Valley team in the City Section to win a playoff game last season.
COACHES: Frank D’Alessandro and Howard Reisbord, 2nd year
LAST SEASON: 6-4 overall. Tied for first place in Sunset League, 4-1
THE PLAYERS TO WATCH: It is unlikely the Vikings will sneak up on anybody like they did last year--winning the league championship after a 1-6-1 season the year before. Monroe should be a force with the return of Barry Thomas. Thomas, a 6-1, 170-pound senior, was All-City last season as a safety. He will play there again this season, as well as seeing action at split end. “He is just a great athlete,” Reisbord said. “He is a game-breaker.” Robert Harding (6-1, 185) returns as the starting quarterback. Ron Robinson, an outside linebacker last year, will move to the inside this season. The 5-10, 175-pound senior will also play some at fullback. The Vikings also have their starting tight end, Paul Halsch, back. Halsch, a 5-10, 165-pound senior, is also a starting outside linebacker. The Vikings have three other returning starters, Kevin Meighan, a flanker; Steve Stern, an offensive tackle; and Jim Josey, a junior center. Winning the league championship after a disastrous year has brought a new attitude to camp, according to Reisbord. “I think the kids are a little more anxious to get going to see what they can do,” he said.
OUTLOOK: “On offense, we really have to be able to throw the ball,” Reisbord said. “Defensively, everybody has to get to the ball.” The Vikings allowed just 26 points in five league games last year. A similiar effort might result in another league title.
COACH: Tom Stevenson, 1st year
LAST SEASON: 4-5 overall. Tied for third place in Sunset League, 3-2
THE PLAYERS TO WATCH: In Monty Gilbreath and Curtis Hein, Stevenson feels he has as good a pair of wide receivers as there is in the City. “I think Monty is one of the top five football players in the City,” Stevenson said. “And Curtis is in the top ten.” Gilbreath, a 6-0, 185-pound senior, was All-City as a defensive back last year, while Hein, a 5-9, 165-pound senior, was all-league. “Both have outstanding speed and good hands,” Stevenson said. Gilbreath and Hein were both members of the City champion 400-meter relay team in the ‘B’ division. Kevin Wolfe, a 6-0, 190-pound junior, will move from fullback to tailback this season. The fullback will be Scott Streitfield. The quarterback, Ray Daniels, didn’t play football last year after transferring from Crespi. “He is an excellent, excellent player,” Stevenson said. Tommy Jordan, an all-league performer at inside linebacker, is back for his senior season. Taft will also be helped by two transfers from Calabasas, linemen George Diem (6-2, 245) and Tony Wallack (6-2, 285). Another transfer, John Sullivan, is from Utah. Sullivan, a 6-1, 201-pound senior, will play offensive guard and middle linebacker.
OUTLOOK: Stevenson thinks the Toreadors have a legitimate shot at the league championship. “I think this is one of the best leagues the Valley has had in a long time,” he said. “I think the Valley will come back in the 3-A this year.” Taft just may be the team.
COACH: Kenny Lee, 2nd year
LAST SEASON: 0-9 overall, sixth in Sunset League, 0-5
THE PLAYERS TO WATCH: Van Nuys will be aided y the return of several players who were academically ineligible last season. One, Randy Brown, is a 6-1, 185-pound senior fullback. Kenneth Kinbrough, also ineligible last season, will play nose guard and offensive tackle. The tailbacks will be Louis Vann and Jeff Washington. Vann (6-2, 165) is a sophomore, while Washington (5-8, 170) is a senior. The Wolves have only two starters back, both offensive linemen. Chris Brown (6-3, 170) is a senior guard who might move to center. The other returnee is John Sun (6-0, 180). Lyle Oswalt was the quarterback on the B team last season, before starting the last three varsity games after the No. 1 quarterback was injured. Oswalt (5-10, 170) is a senior. A trio of receivers will be led by senior Ernesto Velazquez (5-11, 165). The other receivers are junior Boni Bruno (5-9, 165) and senior Mitch Sgro (5-9, 170). Coach Kenny Lee has a small squad in numbers and size. Because he has only 35 players, many of his offensive starters will also have to play defense.
OUTLOOK: Van Nuys scored just 15 points last season and allowed 211. “The kids are going into the season knowing it’s going to be rough,” Lee said. “But they have a good attitude. . . . I hope we’ll be competitive this year.”
Football previews were compiled by Dave Desmond, Mike Hiserman, David Keck, Gary Klein, David Morgan, Jeanmarie Murphy, Derek Raser and Johannes Tesselaar.