The prediction as the community college football season opens Saturday is that El Camino College will field a veteran, competitive team, and Harbor College will have 11 guys in uniform.
The latter may be as remarkable an accomplishment as anything El Camino does this year.
While El Camino Coach John Featherstone was completing his first season there and doing his first full winter of recruiting, Harbor was among the Los Angeles Community College District schools ticketed to have its program canceled because of district budget cuts. Coach George Swade hung on to his teaching job and funds were eventually found to maintain the program, but by then most of Harbor’s better players had transferred and most of the top recruits had gone elsewhere.
El Camino will unveil its latest team at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Glendale College, the defending Potato Bowl champion.
Harbor opens at home at 7:30 against Moorpark.
El Camino--"I’m pretty excited,” Featherstone said. “We’ve accomplished what we needed to do in practice. We’re much more comfortable as a staff. We got great cooperation from the (South Bay) coaches (in recruiting). Spirit is high. It’s a good group.”
Featherstone has added what he calls one of the best recruiting classes in school history to a squad with 22 lettermen and 14 returning starters. As usual, the offense will be diverse and has a number of weapons. The key one is quarterback Craig Kennedy, who must fill the shoes of graduated all-state player Ron Barber.
The Warriors were eighth in the nation in total offense in 1985 but were 5-5 overall and 4-4 in the Pac-9 conference.
The difference this year, Featherstone predicted, will be a tougher defense thanks to an influx of talented recruits and the addition of Steve Schmitz to the coaching staff. The longtime North Torrance High coach will work with defensive coordinator Walt Justice and will handle the secondary.
‘We’ll Move the Ball’
“Barring injury we’ll be able to move the ball,” Featherstone said. “Our major concern was to shore up the defense. Our personnel is so much better than last year on defense. If we just coach the heck out of ‘em . . . they should do the job.”
Kennedy was Barber’s understudy and saw a fair amount of playing time. He’ll be pushed by former Rolling Hills High star Dan Speltz and freshman Mike Reddington, the South Bay player of the year last season at Leuzinger High.
The receiving corps may be the team’s strongest spot, with returning standouts Mike Wimberly, Shawn Hodges and Tony Nettles. “They could be the three best receivers in the conference,” Featherstone said. Wimberly caught 52 passes for 657 yards last year, good for 11th in the nation. Hodges had 44 catches for 619 yards and Nettles 27 for 580. The ranks are swelled by freshmen Sean Smith from Leuzinger and Mike Jones from Redondo, both All-South Bay choices last year, and Banning products Brian Burnett and Damon (Spud) Culver.
Returning all-league running back Vea Manu will be joined by transfer Rod Trammel, who played last year at mythical national champion Saddleback, and freshman Earl Saunders, the Los Angeles City player of the year at Banning High. Three offensive linemen return: tackles Dave Roney (6-4, 250) and Keith Gibson (6-3, 270) and guard Willie Dillard (6-2, 235).
There are some impressive freshman linemen as well, including Jim Tulette from North Torrance (6-2, 250), Pat Hunt from Bishop Montgomery (5-11, 245) and Adam Brown from Palos Verdes (6-5, 255).
Three starters are back on defense--cornerback Robert Justin, tackle Jon Hill and linebacker Roy Tavui--and Dennis McConahey switches from linebacker to the line.
The newcomers include former Banning star linebacker Joe Scott, a transfer from USC; Utah State transfers Michael Sharp and Mark White, both from Hawthorne; and freshman linebackers Ken Sale from Bishop Montgomery, Dana Florence from Leuzinger, Robert Morris from Hawthorne and Pat Morris from North Torrance.
“It’s a good group. There’s excellent leadership from the sophomores, and the freshmen are good character kids,” Featherstone said.
Doub Pfaff returns to handle kicking chores, with freshman Erik Estrada in the wings.
The Warriors will be competing in the revamped South Coast Conference after the breakup of the Pac-9 superconference. Cerritos is considered the early favorite, with El Camino, Pasadena and Fullerton in the running.
Featherstone said the Warriors won’t sneak up on anybody. “The other teams in the conference know that we have some good football players,” he said. “We’re ready to see if El Camino College is capable of winning championships. We feel we can.”
Harbor--Relief may be the boldest expression here. Ask Swade how he’s doing and the answer is, “I’m living.’ ”
It was nearly July before Swade knew he’d have a team. Then the problem was to find one. By then, El Camino had cornered many of the harbor-area players who traditionally attend Harbor.
With a laugh, Swade says his recruiting was “a couple of months behind the ‘machines.’ ”
Of the 60 or so players who came out for the team, Swade has about a dozen holdovers from last year, three of them starters: linebacker Ty Bradford, cornerback John Russell, who is coming off abdominal surgery, and offensive lineman Thomas Jackson.
Fine Running Backs
The one position that may be deep is running back, featuring former Carson High star Dwayne Smith, former Hawthorne star Tony Duvall and Jeff Lewis from Redondo. Running “will be one of our fortes,” Swade said. There’s a good freshman on the line in Arthur Easton from Westchester.
Swade also has a veteran quarterback in Myron Ashley, a transfer from West Los Angeles College.
Swade likes his defense, especially after it blanked Santa Barbara in a scrimmage last week. Bradford and lineman Steve Batchelor stood out.
Even the staff is revamped. Receivers coach Keith Wright played there two years ago. The offensive line coach, Harold Daniels, and backfield coach Fred Diocsin are the only holdovers from last year. Bob Revell is defensive coordinator and two former USC stars, Ty Sperling and Eric Scoggins, handle the line and linebackers.