A year ago, Thomas Whiting and Jerry Jaso were the offensive and defensive coordinators, respectively, at Long Beach Poly. This year they are co-coaches of, perhaps, the best high school football team in Southern California--Long Beach Poly. Talk about good luck.
The Jackrabbits had reached the conference final in three of the previous four seasons. Last season, the team finished 10-2 and made the Big Five Conference semifinals before losing to eventual champion Riverside Poly.
The coaching job opened when Jim Barnett, last season’s coach, decided to become coach at Trabuco Hills of Mission Viejo, a school with 750 students that held classes for the first time last Thursday and will play its first football game Saturday. Jaso and Whiting were named co-coaches to succeed Barnett at Poly.
The Jackrabbits have eight returing starters on defense, including Mark Carrier, and four others on offense, the best being wide receiver Chris Roscoe. When they open the season Sept. 20 at Gardena--most other schools begin play this weekend--it will be as The Times’ No. 1 team in the Southern Section.
As Barnett said recently about his former team: “They can be really good. If Michael Herring stays healthy and does everything that he can do, they will be real tough. But so much of it is on what he does. If he has success at quarterback, they can be hell.”
Herring, 6-2 and 180 pounds, is one of the few uncertainties on the team, and only because he has never played quarterback in high school. He is a former defensive back and played point guard on the basketball team. So, Jaso and Whiting aren’t expecting expecting miracles from him. But they won’t be too surprised if he turns into quite a player, either.
“He’s no stranger to pressure games or tense situations,” Jaso said. “But this is his first year at quarterback, so we know it might take a little time for him to get rolling.”
Otherwise, the Jackrabbits have plenty of talent.
Carrier, 6-2 and 180, was tabbed as one of the top three prep defensive backs in the country by Street and Smith magazine. Roscoe, also 6-2 and 180, is the deep threat at wide receiver. Defensive linemen Stacy Elliot, 6-3 and 240, and Gilbert Moxley, 6-2 and 230, are tough against both the pass and run. Eric Golston, an All-Moore League guard at 6-2 and 220, is one of three players returning in the offensive line. Cornerback Michael Coulson has the speed to cover almost anyone man to man.
Poly will also get a chance to gain revenge for at least one of last season’s losses, a 48-27 thumping by Banning. The Jackrabbits and the City Section runner-up will meet Oct. 5 at Veterans Stadium in Long Beach, after the Gardena game and before Fountain Valley, meaning that Carrier & Co. will get the chance to prove exactly how good they are.
The rest of the preseason Top 10, with last year’s record in parentheses:
2--FONTANA (11-3)--Dick Bruich is concerned that his players may be overconfident after reaching the Coliseum and the Big Five Conference final in 1984. But, the Steeler coach is keeping a close check on his own high expectations. He says his team will be lucky to make the playoffs from the tough Citrus Belt League.
Sixteen starters and 35 lettermen are back from the team that outscored its opponents, 300-95, last season. Two of last season’s losses were at the hands of Riverside Poly, one of them in December’s championship game, 27-7. All-Southern Section tackle Nigel Clay, 6-4 and 250, is one of four starters back on the offensive line and, like tight end Ernie Rogers, 6-6 and 240, should be popular among recruiters. Quarterback Barry Titus and his primary receivers, Tim Zickuhr and Michael McClellan also are back.
3--HUNTINGTON BEACH EDISON (8-3)--Coach Bill Workman figures to have a good team, especially on offense. Senior quarterback Mike Angelovic, a scrambler who spent most of last season on the JV team, completed 67% of his passes when with the varsity. He will be well supported by a veteran line, a proven group of receivers--Rick Justice, with a 20-yard average for receptions, and tight end Ken Griggs were both all-league--and young but promising tailbacks in junior David Sherman and sophomore Kaleaph Carter.
The defense, by comparison, is less experienced, with only nose guard Jim Collins and defensive end Phil Nabal back.
As Workman said: “If we’re still standing after five games, and have won a few and put together a tough defense, we’ll be OK. . . . Can Edison High School stop anybody? If not, then we won’t win too much. If we can, then we’ll be very good.”
4--BISHOP AMAT (8-3-1)--How the La Puente school will adjust to Don Markham after six successful years under Jim Patricio, who moved on to Walnut, remains to be seen. This much, however, is certain:
Markham was an assistant coach working with the offense last season at Pierce College, which had the second-most productive offense among California junior colleges. And, Bishop Amat still has its starting backfield, led by quarterback Rick Carter and junior Eric Bieniemy. The potential to score a lot of points is there.
Markham likes his three tailbacks--Bieniemy, Lee Barrett and Mike Simen--so much that he might use them all at the same time in a one-back, multi-receiver setup with flankers and split ends and lots of motion. He has also moved offensive tackle Pat Patterson, 6-2 and 250, to tight end and plans to go with two tight ends.
The Lancers’ major weakness appears to be just that--weakness. “I know of teams where there are 22, 24 kids who bench (press) 300 pounds on the varsity,” Markham said. “I’ve got a couple. We’ve got a lot of weight training ahead of us.”
5--CLAREMONT (14-0)--Everybody from national recruiting newsletters to the local newspapers are touting 6-8, 220-pound Dan McGwire as the hot-shot senior quarterback in California, and they’re probably right. It’s tough to argue against a 57% completion rate and 24 touchdowns against only 9 interceptions, all as a junior.
Perhaps just as important, however, Coach Bob Baiz and the Wolfpack, having won the Eastern Conference title and finishing undefeated last season, have 10 other starters, seven on offense. Travis Watkins, a 6-2 wide receiver, and linebacker Sean Telish are the best of the rest.
Watkins caught 51 passes as a junior for 876 yards and 10 touchdowns and had another 317 yards on punt and kickoff returns and a 10.6 rushing average. McGwire should have plenty of time to throw to Watkins, since three offensive lineman are also back. Telish, who will become a three-year starter at linebacker and also plays tailback, led the Wolfpack with 187 tackles last season.
6--RIVERSIDE POLY (13-1)--Has the graduation of standouts Mark Green, Big Five Player of the Year last season; Steve Sigloch, Tim Hardin and 14 other starters left Coach Mike Churchill high and dry? Not likely, especially if the Bears follow their pattern of the last couple of years.
Churchill’s plan of bringing the players along as a class, for the most part keeping them together from freshman year on up, may not look good on paper, but the success rate is there. The current seniors have lost only one game in the first three years at Poly, the 7-6 season opener to Norco last September. The juniors were undefeated as freshmen and sophomores. And Churchill will be more than happy to recall that the 1983 team had two returnees--and won the Eastern Conference title with a 14-0 record.
“It’s the same story for us every year,” Churchill said. “We end up with an all-senior class team every year. If we were to begin playing today, we would probably have only two juniors starting.”
However, the Bears will have a couple of three-year varsity players starting both ways in split end-cornerback Todd Burden, and running back-cornerback Chris Brantley, who had a 7.7 rushing average as a junior. Josh Paxton and Randy Hord will anchor both sides of the line. Bruce Campbell has taken over at quarterback for graduated Tom Ostrowski, who started one game before his senior season but ended up throwing for 1,500 yards and 17 touchdowns.
7--HACIENDA HEIGHTS LOS ALTOS (8-4)--Coach Dwayne DeSpain said that running back Jim Jastrab is the Conquerors’ No. 1 player going into the season, but that quarterback Mark Smith isn’t far behind. They make for a 1-2 combination that should be tough to beat.
Los Altos won the Southern Conference championship in 1982 with another Smith at quarterback, 6-foot 9-inch Mike, who later was named California Male Athlete of the Year by Cal-Hi Sports and accepted a basketball scholarship to Brigham Young. Younger brother Mark is only 6-1 but he could be as popular with the college scouts by the time the year is over. “He is a very deceiving runner,” DeSpain said. “He’s very unpredictable as far as speed goes because he can fool you. It doesn’t look like he can run that well, but he has got a lot of speed. We’re not going to change our offense to utilize that, but we won’t be afraid to let him run.”
DeSpain wants to leave that to Jastrab, who gained 1,100 yards as a sophomore and came back with 800 last season, even though he missed three games with an injury. Other Conquerors returning are 6-3 1/2 lineman Scott Rice and good-blocking, good-hands tight end Will Harris, 6-3. There is inexperience, however, at wide receiver and in the secondary.
8--EL MODENA (13-1)--The Vanguards are particularly strong and experienced in the offensive line--All-Orange County picks Don Gibson and Allen Ennis are back with all-league selection Joe Scagliotti--but 19-year Coach Bob Lester said: “I’ve never seen a single game won by an offensive tackle.”
That responsibility usually falls on the quarterback. And in El Modena’s case, it’s a quarterback who has never played a down of high school football, varsity or otherwise--senior Chris Gallegos. The predicament, however, may not be as bad as it seems for the school in the city of Orange.
“He’s got a lot of raw, natural ability,” said Bill Cunerty, the offensive coordinator at Saddleback College who also runs the West Coast Passing School that Gallegos attended during the summer. “I’d say he is at least an 8 (on a scale of 10). The 9s and 10s are the kids who have all the experience. Besides, I think in that program tradition is important for everyone, so there will others around him to take the pressure off.”
Gallegos and the rest of the team will get a good test Friday night against Edison.
9--CANYON COUNTRY CANYON (14-0)--The Cowboys, two-time defending Northwestern Conference champion, have serious problems with inexperience on the offensive line and injuries in the defensive backfield. But it’s tough not to like a program that has done nothing but win the last two years under Harry Welch and has a talent like linebacker-tight end Randy Austin. Welch has a 27-1 record, including 24 straight wins.
Still, Welch is not bubbling with optimism. “I’m serious when I say that our offensive line averages 180 pounds,” said Welch. “The freshman and sophomore teams at our own school probably have bigger lines. Somehow, we’ll have to overcome it.”
Austin is a good person to have on your side to do just that. At 6-3 and 210 pounds, he figures to be one of the top college recruits. Nose tackle Joe Zacharia, another returning All-Southern Section pick, and linebacker Cary Caulfield will help make the Cowboys tough. Welch lost his starting cornerback, Jeff Paskwietz, and safety, Chad Zeigler, with broken collarbones the same night during a passing-league game, so getting them back will be a big plus.
Offensively, senior quarterback John Watkins, who passed for 1,835 yards and 19 touchdowns, and junior tailback Lance Cross, who ran for 1,071 yards and 11 touchdowns as a sophomore, are back. Welch has also moved Culver City High transfer Dio Shipp, 6-2 and 209, from tight end to fullback for some power running to complement the 5-8, 160-pound Cross.
10--SANTA MONICA (10-2)--A few more breaks last season and the Vikings could have been 12-0 and playing for the Coastal Conference title. Instead, they lost to West Torrance in a Bay League game, 21-20, then were knocked out of the playoffs in the semifinals by Ventura, 23-21.
Coach Tebb Kusserow, now in his 12th year, has nine starters back, among them quarterback Pat O’Hara, 6-3 and 190. O’Hara, a second-team All-Southern Section pick in ’84, passed for 1,976 yards and 23 touchdowns as a junior and proved he was tough enough physically to hold his ground in the pocket and take a hit.
Split end Dominic Holland and flanker Travis Clark figure to be the primary receivers, and Cedric Burris and Eric Davis are leading a six-man race for the two starting spots at running back. Davis and one of the others, Bernard Shockley, will also play linebacker.
The biggest area of concern is the offensive line, where, tackle Dale Evans is the only one of the six starters back.
OTHERS TO WATCH--Riverside Rubidoux, with running backs Trevin Moore and Cedric Jones; Anaheim Servite with linebacker Ted Valmassei, Diamond Bar with running back Kraig Washington, Fountain Valley with 6-4, 255-pound lineman Lance Zeno.
Times’ Preseason Top 10 1. Long Beach Poly (10-2) 2. Fontana (11-3) 3. Edison (8-3) 4. Bishop Amat (8-3-1) 5. Claremont (14-0) 6. Riverside Poly (13-1) 7. Los Altos (8-4) 8. El Modena (13-1) 9. Canyon Country Canyon (14-0) 10. Santa Monica (10-2) Records are last season’s