Two years ago, they were the Welts, the whipping boys of the Del Rey League.
The once-proud Crespi High Celts had become little more than a light Friday night workout for more-than-willing opponents.
It was tough to believe that National Football League players like Randy Cross, Babe Laufenberg and Willie Curren had ever been a part of their history.
Teams that Crespi had previously buried were returning the favor and there was talk that the Celts had begun to melt.
That’s all it was. Nothing more. Talk.
Coach Bill Redell took over the team last season and immediately returned the Celts to form. They won their first four games and posted a 6-4 overall mark, the school’s best in three seasons. They finished fourth in league with a 2-3 record.
And, while Redell’s team was marching toward a winning season, the junior varsity was posting a 9-1 mark. The freshman team did them a notch better, going 9-0-1.
“The confidence level is definitely there now,” Redell said. “Our biggest problem last year was building confidence. Everyone was coming off a winless season and didn’t have that confidence.”
Crespi may now be confident, but that alone doesn’t win championships. Linebacker Sean Howard leads a group of 14 returning starters who should return the Celts to the top of the league standings and into the Big-Five Conference playoffs.
Four of the five other league coaches have selected Crespi, ranked ninth in the Southern Section Big-Five Conference preseason poll, as the favorite to knock off defending Del Rey champion Loyola for the title.
While virtually every Celt returns from the 1985 lineup, Alemany has very few familiar faces.
Only four starters are back from last season, leaving Coach Enrique Lopez with a lot of holes to fill.
To sum it up, the Indians have gone to the dogs, something that doesn’t exactly distress Lopez. He has named a 13-player group the Dog Soldiers.
“The Dog Soldiers were an Indian tribe from the 18th Century,” Lopez said. “They were a mean bunch.”
Quarterback Nick Napolitan is the only two-year member of the Dog Soldiers and Lopez believes that Napolitan has the artillery to drive Alemany to the playoffs.
“Nick is a lot more consistent than some of the quarterbacks we’ve had here in the past,” Lopez said. “He reads coverages as well as anybody, has a quick release and moves well.”
And Lopez has had a perfect mode to test his quarterback during the summer. Every day in practice, Napolitan has had to face one of the best secondaries in the Valley.
One team that may challenge the Indians’ secondary is Notre Dame. The Knights may have been only 3-7 last season, but they lead the league in tall receivers. Paul Oester (6-3), Steve Hamilton (6-2) and Matt McElreath (6-1) will provide large targets for quarterback Brendan Cowles.
St. Francis, which failed to qualify for the playoffs last year for the first time since 1967, is strong, but thin.
A few key early injuries could lead them to another 3-7 season and an early vacation.
While 1985 was a nightmare for the Golden Knights, it spawned three all-league players who were underclassmen. Defensive tackle Geoff Arrobio, tackle Richard Hallstrom and defensive back Jeff Ojeda all return for the senior seasons.
St. John Bosco, a league runner-up with Alemany in 1985, may also contend for one of the Del Rey’s three playoff spots.
Two key members return to the Braves’ backfield. Jim Sterner is the league’s only returning starting quarterback. His experience may pay dividends in tight games.
He also has one of the league’s premier running backs behind him in Oscar Mesa, who gained more than 1,000 yards as a junior last season and scored 14 touchdowns.
Loyola Coach Steve Grady says his team will have to be “scrambling to make the playoffs,” but the Cubs have somehow found a way to make it to the postseason every season but one since 1973.