Teams appear in order of finish predicted by Times staff writers. Harvard
COACH: Gary Thran, 13th year
LAST SEASON: 8-6 overall; second in Pioneer League, 4-1
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Dominic Sandifer has become one of the most versatile players on the talented Saracen team. Sandifer, an All-Southern Section kicker last season, will also play running back and safety for the Saracens, ranked No. 4 in the Southern Section preseason poll. The Harvard offense amassed 2,255 total yards last season, an average of 225.5 over 10 games. Sandifer connected on 14 of 19 attempts last season, including a 52-yard field goal during the Desert-Mountain Conference championship game. The Saracens will have plenty of offensive depth in quarterback Mike Patterson, Andy Bell and Alex Huh in the backfield. Bell rushed for 998 yards and seven touchdowns on the way to All-Pioneer League honors. Huh amassed 482 yards on 96 regular season carries. Said Thran of Bell: “He’s worked real hard in the off-season to improve his speed and strength. I’ve noticed a difference in the way he’s running the ball already.” Andrew Sikking, who has moved from tight end to flanker, is expected to be the team’s top wide receiver along with senior Steve McCray. All-league linebacker Peter Andersons (6-3, 195) will be the “key to our defense,” Thran said. Other returning players include center David Reiner, guard Chester Koh, guard/tackle Mike Huskins and nose guard Marty Holly. Other contributors this season include punter Jeff Salzman, linebacker John Adams and tailback Jim Cole.
OUTLOOK: “It’s going to be a little bit different in that we’re not used to playing these teams,” said Thran of being transferred from the Pioneer to the Santa Fe League this season. “It will take a little bit of adjustment. The thing we’re looking forward to is not doing as much traveling as in the past. I think St. Genevieve and Chaminade are the teams to beat. We’ll be right in there fighting for it.
COACH: Lindon Crow, 11th year
LAST SEASON: 10-3; first in league, 5-0
PLAYERS TO WATCH: The Valiants have won four consecutive league championships but only 10 letterman and four starters return this season. Three key graduates are quarterback Andy Sherman, wide receiver Steve Escovar and running back Jeff De La Cruz. In eight games, Sherman threw for seven touchdowns and 1,268 yards completing 50.6% of his passing attempts. Escovar had 35 receptions for 536 yards and four touchdowns and De La Cruz rushed for 766 yards. Overall, the Valiants’ offense gained 2,218 yards, an average of 277 yards per game. They are ranked No. 10 in the Southern Section preseason poll. Dion Contreras, who started at safety last season, will replace Sherman at quarterback. Junior Chris Fregeau (6-4, 190) will be his backup. Mark Colon is set to start at wide receiver and Tony De Santis, an all-league center last season, will move to guard. Frank Aguirre will be played at safety, running back and tailback. The Valiants’ defensive line, which allowed an average of 162 yards per game to rank fifth in the Valley last season, will be led by returning players Jack Leighton and Marc Panneton.
OUTLOOK: “Personnel-wise, we’re pretty even, but they have a little more experience” Crow said of the other teams in the league. “We can’t afford to make mistakes.”
COACH: Rich Montanio, fourth year
LAST SEASON: 7-3-1; second in league, 4-1
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Although quarterbacks Jim Chrissman and Pablo Suarez have graduated, junior quarterback Dave Morrison should be an able replacement. He led the junior varsity to the league championship last season. Chaminade is ranked No. 11 in the Southern Section preseason poll. “Dave has gained a lot of experience,” Montanio said. “He can throw the long ball. Hopefully his experience in reading defenses will help him out.” Robert Bae and Steve Orr, who Montanio credits with great speed and hands, are returning wide receivers and will also play cornerback. Chaminade lost both its tailbacks from last season. Yang Kim, who rushed for more than 1,100 yards, graduated and Tim Lavin moved out of the area. Fullback Troy Kirk (5-10, 190) will run out of the I-formation along with Jonas Escalera (5-8, 155) and sophomore Sean Burwell (6-1, 170). Chaminade has traditionally been a running team and Montanio believes both Escalera and Burwell could end with 1,000-yard seasons. Kirk will double at inside linebacker along with third-year varsity player Paul Galido. Tackle/outside linebacker Andy Connolly (6-2, 205) and guard/linebacker Doug Kavulich (6-1, 200) will also start at two positions. Montanio said the Eagles were too predictable last season and will run a more balanced offense this season. Chaminade will use a 5-2 defense with Ricky Baker at strong safety and John Draddoc at free safety. Chris Noonan will be the kicker.
OUTLOOK: The Eagles will have only 12 seniors. “We’ve got a lot of developing to do,” Montanio said. “Physical strength will be the difference. We have good skill people and good speed but there are a lot of questions left to be answered. Defensively we’re always strong.”
COACH: Doug Woodlief, second year
LAST SEASON: 5-5-1; third in league, 3-2
PLAYERS TO WATCH: All-league quarterback Keith Fitzgerald, who completed 42.7% of his passes and threw for 1,221 yards and 10 touchdowns last season, returns to lead the offense. Dave Lockwood and Stuart Amrhein will be in the backfield along with sophomores Mike Cesta (5-10, 180) and Aaron Green (5-9, 175). Woodlief does not expect Cesta and Green to make an immediate impact, but said both will get ample opportunity to prove themselves this season. Fitzgerald could connect with a variety of wide receivers, including Matt Woodlief, Bill Brockway and Tom Stanley. Bell-Jeff will field a 35-man team, one of their best turnouts in recent years, freeing many players to concentrate on a single position. “We try to keep the guys happy,” said Woodlief. “To keep football players happy, you have to keep them on the field.” John Szekely and Mike Thomson will likely start on the defensive line along with Tom Ressler, who missed several games last season with a dislocated hip. Injuries have also plagued cornerbacks Paul Perkins (knee) and Amrhein (shoulder). On the defensive line, senior Rick Penaranda will be joined by Bobby Kilduff (5-9, 175) and junior tackles Brian Hazlett and Jeff Strasser.
OUTLOOK: “The preseason choice is Harvard,” Woodlief said. “If we stay away from the injuries to the critical players and our offensive line comes around, we will be fighting for a playoff spot.”
COACH: Tom Strickland, second year
LAST SEASON: 4-6; seventh in Camino Real League, 1-6
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Most of a secondary that intercepted 23 passes will return to the Mustangs this season. Defensive back Danny Perez, the Camino Real League high hurdles champion, returns, as does Tony Gonzales, a running back and three-year starter at cornerback. Michael Sifuentes (5-11, 190) will double at inside linebacker and offensive guard. Offensively, six starers are back for the Mustang, including tackles Paul Aguilar (6-0, 225) and Albert Pacheco (6-0, 275). In Salesian’s wing-T offense, backs Kyle Franklin, (5-11, 180) and Mike Tamayo (5-9, 175), and tight ends Roger Aguirre (6-0, 170) and junior Auggie Quiroz (5-11, 170) will play major roles. Luis Ovalles (5-10, 165) and Luis Uralledes will be split time at wingback, with Uralledes playing behind junior quarterback Darren Taylor. “We’ll have excellent speed at the wideout positions,” Strickland said. “I think the middle linebacker and quarterback positions are going to be
OUTLOOK: “Last year we won the first four games of the season--three were shutouts,” Strickland said. “We hope to get as good a start, but keep it going.”
COACH: Dave Lucker, 10th year
LAST SEASON: 3-5-1; sixth in league, 0-5
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Lucker is hopeful that the experienced combination of senior quarterback Edgar Espinosa and wide receiver Mauricio Pavon can lead the Eagles to their first league win in three seasons. Pavon, who earned first-team honors last season, is only returning all-league player for the Eagles. Junior Rudy Aguilar will start at cornerback and Mario Ramirez, who missed six games last season with a badly sprained ankle, will start at tailback. Seven starters return on defense, including middle linebacker Adrian Morales, who Lucker said is his most aggressive player, and defensive end John Guzman. Carlos Lopez, a sophomore defensive tackle, also is expected to make an immediate contribution. Lopez (6-1, 235) is one of the Eagles’ larger players. Lucker believes this season’s schedule may be a bonus. Pater Noster will have ample time to scout the league’s top three teams, closing with Harvard, Chaminade and St. Genevieve.
OUTLOOK: “The other teams are a lot bigger,” Lucker said. “I think it’s to our advantage to be playing the better teams later in the season.”
COACH: Robert Fish, fourth year
LAST SEASON: 3-7; fifth in league, 1-4
PLAYERS TO WATCH: With no returning starters in the backfield and the graduation of Eric Chapa, Cathedral will have problems being competitive. Chapa played running back as well as wide receiver and did all the kicking. Juniors Javier Lopez and David Bautista are challenging for the starting quarterback position. Bautista will start at wide receiver should Lopez get the starting job. The backfield will be very young with sophomore Ricky Pinon (6-1, 230) and tailbacks Danny Lorenzo, Fernando Padilla and Sal Mercado. Even with returning wide receiver James Armenta, an All-Santa Fe League selection last season, Fish will rely on the running game and has Cathedral working out of the wishbone. “By late in the season we hope to have the wishbone functioning smoothly,” Fish said. Cathedral has depth at tackle with junior Christian Ramirez (5-11, 205), Joe Silva (5-10, 225) and Ed Williams (6-3, 220), all of whom are returning players. There are also some holes to fill on defense, Fish said. “We’re strong in the defensive line and the linebacking, but we’re very inexperienced in the defensive secondary,” Fish said. Ernie Macias (5-10, 180) will be one of the returning linebackers playing out of the 5-3 defense.
OUTLOOK: “We’ll have to struggle to be competitive,” Fish said. “We’re going to try not to get annihilated. I don’t see us as a contender.”