The one constant in the Freeway League the past four football seasons--La Habra High School’s dominance--is no certainty in 1986.
The arrival of new head coaches at Sonora and Buena Park along with a wealth of players with size and experience at Troy, Fullerton and Sunny Hills may make for a wide-open race.
Nobody’s expecting to waltz past La Habra, despite the fact that formidable running back Chuck Weatherspoon has graduated.
But the team that seems to be causing the Freeway League coaches the most preseason anxiety is Sunny Hills.
The Lancers have 28 lettermen, including nine starters, returning from the young team that finished fourth last year at 4-6.
They appear strong on defense and at the skill positions, where they have one of the few returning “name” players in the league, wide receiver and defensive back Tim Imperiali. Troy Coach John Turek said Imperiali may be the best proven skill player in the league.
The Lancers have two returning quarterbacks, Trevor Painton and David Chisum, each of whom started half the games last season.
Looking at the Lancer roster, it’s easy to see why opposing coaches do not feel any pangs of sympathy for Sunny Hills. Sonora Coach Steve Silverman had a friendly lunch with the Lancer coaching staff last week.
“They weren’t exactly crying in their beer,” Silverman said.
But Lancer Coach Tim Devaney thinks that the rhetoric about his team being loaded with talent is just a byproduct of the school’s many spirited rivalries.
“They all lie,” he laughed upon being told the other coaches had picked Sunny Hills as the favorite.
“It’s not an enviable position to be in. We’ve got enough pressure now without throwing a can of gasoline on the fire.
“They’ve all got some kind of rivalry with Sunny Hills. Buena Park has always disliked us, Sonora beat us in the CIF, last year La Habra had a rivalry with us and Fullerton has always been our natural rival. Everybody likes to point to the Hill.
“If Buena Park is progressing as I hear they are, it’s going to be a pretty even dogfight (for the playoff berths). Sonora has a group of good kids up from their junior varsity, La Habra has a lot of kids back, Fullerton has the good running back (Darrell Corbin), and Troy’s quarterback (Mike Pawlawski) has a strong arm, plus Troy has some big kids that make us look like a Pop Warner team.”
Here’s a closer look at the Freeway League:
BUENA PARK: Key Personnel--Robert Speno (6-0, 220), FB; Scott Vigil (5-9, 150), RB/DB; Steve Saunders (6-2, 180), TE/DB; David Baylor (6-0, 190), WR/DB, and Quentin Hoff (6-1, 190), DE.
Top Newcomers--Steve Lucas (5-11, 155), QB; Mike Atwood (6-2, 190), OL/DL; Danny Winninberg (5-10, 160), TB, and Shane Smith (6-4, 190), QB/DE.
Outlook--The Coyotes may be entering a new era under the guidance of Coach Mike Barron. Most recently of West Hills College in Coalinga, Barron made a name in Orange County in 1979-82, when his Rancho Alamitos teams won or tied for three league titles. The Coyotes, who didn’t win a game last season, have 40 players out for the team, including eight returning starters. “I think they’re hungry to accomplish something,” Barron said. “We’re not that strong or fast or talented, but we’re not that small and we’re hungry for success.” Barron thinks that his linemen, led by returning starters Joel Bess (6-4, 210), Joe Brown (5-11, 215) and Tommy Reyes (5-10, 200), will be one of the team’s main assets. The Coyotes had an excellent summer in passing leagues with quarterback Steve Lucas, a junior who plays three sports.
FULLERTON: Key Personnel--Darrell Corbin (5-9, 155), RB; Rich Burrell (5-9, 160), DB; Mike Chacon (5-8, 150), RB/DB; Aaron Acton (6-1, 175), QB, and Wes Dodds (6-2, 210), C/LB.
Top Newcomers--Steve DePhillips (6-0, 180), RB/DB; Brent Bice (5-8, 150), QB, and Brad Bice (6-1, 200), TE.
Outlook--The Indians have some of their largest players ever, such as returnees Jeff Bailey, a 6-5, 255-pound tackle, Mike Magana, a 6-2, 235-pound tackle, and Brett Reuter, a 6-6, 225-pound end. They also lead the league in returning starters with 11. The offense will probably be directed by Aaron Acton, who started at linebacker last year and appears to have the edge for the quarterback position over Brent Bice, a sophomore. Darrell Corbin will be a ground-gaining threat; he had gained almost 700 yards as a sophomore last season before breaking his leg in the ninth game. Rich Burrell was a first-team all-league pick in the defensive backfield with eight interceptions last year.
LA HABRA: Key Personnel--Matt Shackelford (5-10, 170), QB/CB; John Robertson (6-0, 195), FB/S; Jim Dean (6-0, 180), TE/CB; Kevin Capps (5-7, 165), PB/LB; Mike Segovia (5-11, 175), WR/S, and Rob Bills (6-1, 230), OT/DT.
Top Newcomers--Gary Mixon (5-8, 185), RB/LB; Sal Maldonado (6-0, 175), WR/S; Jaime Delgadillo (5-6, 140), WR/DB; Brian Hutcherson (5-10, 180), C/LB, and Tom Allen (5-10, 195), OG/LB.
Outlook--The four-time defending league champions do not have the bulk or depth of some of those who aspire to steal the title this season, but opponents know better than to underestimate the wizardry of Coach Bob Rau. Matt Shackelford passed for more than 1,800 yards last season, a great accomplishment in an offense dominated by the rushing of Chuck Weatherspoon. “He’s a very, very cool customer,” Rau said of Shackelford. “He can handle the pressure situations--he even seems to get better under pressure.” He’ll have a variety of targets to throw to, including John Robertson, whom Rau credits with the best hands on the team, and Jamie Delgadillo, “a very fine athlete.” Mike Segovia and Rob Bills were all-league first team selections last year. Another player to watch is junior Linton Weatherspoon, brother of Chuck and Anthony, who will play on the defensive line and at fullback.
SONORA: Key Personnel--Paul Leyvas (5-10, 180), OG; Gary Stick (6-0, 200), LB, and Eric Johnson (6-0, 180), RB/FS.
Top Newcomers--Graham Staines (6-1, 170), QB; Kurt Takahashi (5-8, 160), WR/CB; Anthony Zubia (5-8, 165), OG/NG; Chris Simpkins (5-9, 160), FB, and Jim Sterling (5-10, 180), C.
Outlook--New Coach Steve Silverman brings with him a reputation for quickly improving the teams he joins. He was an assistant at La Habra in 1982-83 and in two years as head coach at La Canada, transformed a team that had won three games in four years to a 7-4 club. The Raiders finished third in the league race last year, but as the sign in the weight room reminds them, they have not won a league championship since 1975. With just three returning starters, the Raiders will probably have an uphill battle, but they do have the advantage of an influx of promising young players from the junior varsity, which was 8-2 last season. Graham Staines, that team’s quarterback, is described as intelligent, mobile and strong-armed but he’ll be adjusting to varsity competition. “This team has as good an attitude as any group I’ve ever coached,” Silverman said. “But they’re so inexperienced that they’ll probably make a lot of mistakes. How we respond to them and learn will determine how well we do.”
SUNNY HILLS: Key Personnel--Trevor Painton (6-2, 185) QB; David Chisum (6-1, 170), QB/S; Tim Imperiali (6-1, 180), WR/DB; Brian Edmunds (5-11, 205), FB/DT; Scott Edmunds (5-11, 200), FB/DT; A.J. Vidaurri (6-2, 200), LB, and Steve Shin (5-11, 205), C.
Top Newcomers--Shannon Lawler (6-2, 220), OT/LB; Eric Carpenter (6-5, 200), TE/DE, and Rick DeFazio (6-1, 175), TE/DE.
Outlook--Neither Trevor Painton nor David Chisum has emerged as the clear choice at quarterback for the Lancers. “They both have average speed, but possess strong arms,” Coach Tim Devaney said. “I’d say they’re dead even at this point.” With Tim Imperiali, Mike McGuire and Rob Spurlock as receivers, the Lancers could have a potent passing game. But the graduation of all-leaguer David Wackerman has left a bit of a void at tailback and Devaney says his offensive line is “green from tackle to tackle.” The mostly veteran defense should be stingy with opponents, however.
TROY: Key Personnel--Eric Wright-Hay (6-3, 230), C; Jim DeFilippo (6-4, 245), OT; Mike Pawlawski (6-2, 190), QB; Wayne Ryan (6-1, 205), LB; David Shirota (5-8, 165), SE, and John Sliwinski (5-11, 170), CB.
Top Newcomers--Joe Shaffer (6-2, 205), G; Tom Wilson (6-1, 170), F, and Todd Murdock (5-11, 185), FB.
Outlook--Coach John Turek guided the Warriors into second place last season, their highest finish since 1979, and the Warriors’ massive dimensions and the proven ability of eight returning starters suggest they will again challenge for the title. They have an impressive offense led by Mike Pawlawski, among the best quarterbacks in the league. “He’s got the strongest arm of anybody I’ve ever coached,” Turek said. Pawlawski will be well-protected by his line, which features two returning all-league first teamers in Eric Wright-Hay and Jim DiFilippo. David Shirota was a second-team all-leaguer with 23 receptions last season. But the Warrior defense is less mature with six new starters on the line. “The defense has got to come around quickly for us to be competitive,” Turek said. “Otherwise, we’re looking at having to score six times to win.”
Friday: Garden Grove League.