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LEAGUE PREVIEWS : PAC-8

Teams appear in order of finish predicted by Times staff writers. Westchester

COACH: Larry Wein, fifth year

LAST SEASON: 9-2; second in league, 6-1

PLAYERS TO WATCH: Only six starters return from a team that reached the semifinals of the City playoffs last year, but they could be some of the best athletes in the league. First-team all-league linebacker Keith Bowen (6-3, 205) will also be the starting fullback. Bowen and tackle Troy Lane (6-3, 210) are being recruited by Division I schools. Quarterback Steve Kristy (5-10, 165), center Chris Brandon (6-1, 180) and linebacker Thomas Reese (5-9, 190) and punter Jeff Lanley also return. The key, however, will be the play of newcomers. “At least 50% of the team will be underclassmen, so a key will be how much they improve during the course of the season,” Wein said. “That, and if our quarterback stays healthy. We’re going to throw the ball more this year because we feel we have a quarterback that throws the ball well.” The Comets won’t have much time to find out because they open the league season Sept. 26 at Venice in a matchup of preseason favorites. “It’s a big game, and somebody has to lose, but I don’t see either of us folding after that,” Wein said. Westchester has finished first and second in its first two seasons in the league, compiling a 13-1 record.

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OUTLOOK: “Offensively, we’ll be a better team,” Wein said. “But I don’t think it’s as much a matter of whether we’re stronger or weaker. I think the other teams in the league are going to be very competitive. I’d be surprised to see anyone go through league undefeated this year.”

Venice

COACH: Al Dellinger, 12th year

LAST SEASON: 9-2; first in league, 7-0

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PLAYERS TO WATCH: The Gondolier accomplishments of a year ago--an undefeated league season--might be hard to match, but the team will once again be among the favorites to win the league. Ernie Soto (5-9, 160) is a big reason why. He was Venice’s player of the year after leading the team to the semifinals of the City playoffs. Soto threw for 1,200 yards and 12 touchdowns as a junior. Nine starters in all--three on defense and six on offense--return for the defending champions. Defensive back Eric Crawford (5-10, 155) was a first-team all-league choice last year. Guard Jimmy Ito (5-10, 220) and linebacker Chuck Grove (5-8, 180) were second-team selections. Chico Garcia (5-8, 190), a two-year starter at fullback, and Sheldon Turner (5-7, 145) return at running back to give the Gondoliers a balanced offensive attack--and a shot at repeating as champions. “The problem with us is that a year ago, most of our key games were at home,” Dellinger said. “This year, we’ll be on the road. We have some tough travels ahead.” But they have the league’s best quarterback to steer the way. “No question, quarterback is the key position for us,” Dellinger said. “But we also have excellent players at the other skill positions.”

OUTLOOK: The key for Venice is defense, where Dellinger is looking to replace eight starters. “We have to rebuild the defense,” he said. “That’s our biggest weakness. Linebacker and defensive end are the biggest questions.”

University

COACH: Joe Sedia, 25th year

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LAST SEASON: 4-5; third in league, 4-3

PLAYERS TO WATCH: The Warriors could be the best-kept secret in the league, with talent at each of the skill positions. The receiving positions will be especially well stocked, with Marc Rogers (5-11, 180), a second-team all-league selection as a junior, and Paul Richardson (6-3, 185), a second-team pick as a linebacker. Moni Davis (6-2, 215), a second-team pick at fullback, also returns. All three players are being recruited by Division I schools. “I’m real pleased for those guys,” Sedia said. “They came in as 10th-graders and have developed, and there has been a lot of interest shown in them.” Sedia also thinks he has a capable quarterback in senior Daryl Hobbs (6-3, 170). The Warriors’ shortcomings, however, may be as visible as their strengths. They have little experience on the offensive line and return only four starters and eight lettermen in all. “We have mainly seniors on the team, but not a great deal of experience,” Sedia said. “The most important thing is for us to build our offensive line.”

OUTLOOK: “We have good players at the skill positions, but our line is inexperienced,” Sedia said. “If that comes together, I look for us to be competitive, and barring injury, to be contenders.”

Sylmar

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COACH: Tom Richards, eighth year

LAST SEASON: 3-6; fifth in league, 3-4

PLAYERS TO WATCH: There will be little mystery to the Spartan attack this year. It could be as predictable as Sean Hampton left, Sean Hampton right. Hampton, the Valley-area’s leading rusher last season with 1,306 yards on 193 carries, is the force that could push Sylmar into playoff contention. “He’s going to get the ball 30 to 40 times a game,” Richards said of Hampton, a member of The Times’ All-Valley team in 1985. Hampton could have some help if quarterback Adrian Valdez is academically eligible. The senior quarterback, who has been ineligible the past two years, could give the Spartans a passing game to complement their one-man running show. “With Adrian at quarterback, we can run a lot of different sets, and if people load up for the run against us, we’ll burn them,” Richards said. Valdez will be on the sidelines again, however, unless the results of a summer typing class, expected this week, restore his academic eligibility. The Spartans return eight starters on defense, although Marc Cisneros, a safety who will be the quarterback if Valdez is ineligible, won’t have the cast removed from a broken arm until later this month.

OUTLOOK: “We have pretty good size, but we’re inexperienced on the offensive line, and we’ll have to develop there,” Richards said. “I don’t think people worry about Sylmar too much, but if we stay healthy and everything jells, we could be right in there.”

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Reseda

COACH: Joel Schaeffer, ninth year

LAST SEASON: 5-4; fourth in league, 4-3

PLAYERS TO WATCH: The Regents easily could have been 8-1 last season--and in the playoffs. Instead, they lost four games by a total of 22 points and took an early vacation. “Things went astray last year,” Schaeffer said. “Just some little things, although I thought we rested on our past laurels at times. This year, we’ll have to be a scrappy football team.” If nothing else, the Regents will be a hefty one. The starting offensive line averages 230. Two-year lettermen Kerry Price (6-3, 255) and Matt Graham (6-5, 260) are the behemoth tackles on that line. Tight end David Wilson (6-1, 195), a first-team all-league selection as a sophomore last season, could be one of the area’s best at a number of positions. “He’s very versatile,” Schaeffer said. “He could play any skill position on the football field.” Ron Wilkinson (6-0, 180), a second-team all-league pick as a sophomore, returns at tailback. Darryl Armstrong, who runs 4.6 in the 40-yard dash, provides the deep threat for the passing game. Don Grant, with a strong arm but little experience, will be the quarterback. “We have the skill people that can get under the ball if we can get it to them,” Schaeffer said.

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OUTLOOK: “People turn their noses up because we’re a 2-A league, but we play good football,” Schaeffer said. “The only difference between teams in the City is when you get down to the Bannings and Carsons, and maybe a Granada Hills or San Fernando. We play in a tough league, and we could wind up 9-0 or 0-9. We’re going to have to earn everything.”

Poly

COACH: Kevin Kennedy, first year

LAST SEASON: 2-7; sixth in league, 2-5

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PLAYERS TO WATCH: Kennedy, a former assistant coach at Southwest College, is a refugee from a defunct football program in the Los Angeles Community College District. Kennedy made his move before last season because he believed that Dick Windham would step down as Poly coach. He was right. Kennedy’s first priority at Poly will be to institute some continuity to the program. “I have a three- to four-year plan,” he said. “I want to uniform the B team with what we’re doing on the varsity. I want to get us to the point where we will be considered as a winning program year in, year out.” Joey Speakes, a transfer from Granada Hills, will provide much of the direction for Poly. The 6-1, 175-pound senior will start at quarterback and free safety. On defense, he will be joined by a talented cast in the backfield. Kennedy thinks junior Shawn Campbell (5-11, 160), senior Donald Senegal (5-8, 160), and either Glen Whitesell (5-6, 150) or Armando Urquidez (6-0, 170) will form the pass defense. Gregg Wilson (5-10, 230), an all-league selection as a junior, returns at offensive tackle. Senegal, himself a second-team all-league pick as a running back, and Wilson are the only returning starters.

OUTLOOK: “We might surprise some people,” Kennedy said. “We’ll run a wide-open offense, and I think we’ll score some points. If we play some defense, we might catch some people looking the other way. I think we have some talent. It’s a matter of bringing it out.”

North Hollywood

COACH: Fred Grimes, first year

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LAST SEASON: 2-7; sixth in league, 2-5

PLAYERS TO WATCH: If Grimes had his way, he would still be Jim Fenwick’s assistant at Pierce College. Fenwick, however, left behind the tenuous future of intercollegiate athletics in the Los Angeles Community College District for a voluntary coaching position at Cal State Northridge. Grimes, a teacher at Los Angeles City schools for 11 years, now coaches at one. His first season at North Hollywood could be a trying one. Grimes has a few good athletes; he just doesn’t have many of them. And experience is scarce. “We don’t have too many returnees that have played a lot,” Grimes said. “It’s mainly a junior team, so we have a good nucleus for the future.” Most of the Huskie starters will play offense and defense. Rick Luna (5-10, 175) will play wide receiver and defense. The other key senior, Ron Neason (6-1, 195), will be the center and an inside linebacker. Some other two-way starters will be Jason Crump (5-9, 155), a junior quarterback/defensive back; Richard Onkst (6-0, 230) a junior nose guard/offensive tackle, and Leo Marshall (5-11, 160), a junior wide receiver/defensive back. Grimes is also high on the talents of his junior tailbacks--Jason Grant (5-4, 140) and Mark Speiwak (5-9, 150). “Our quantity is down, but not the quality,” Grimes said. “I have about 15 players I think will be pretty good for us, and most of the quality kids will be playing both ways.”

OUTLOOK: “If any one of a number of our key people get hurt, we could be in a lot of trouble,” Grimes said. “I know in the past the good teams in this league have been from over the hill, but if we can stay healthy, we’re capable of being better than we were last year.” The teams past the Santa Monica Mountains--Venice, Westchester, University--will still be tough, however.

Grant

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COACH: Bill Foster, second year

LAST SEASON: 1-8; eighth in league, 1-6

PLAYERS TO WATCH: The best thing about Foster’s first season as coach of the Lancers is that it is over. The Lancers were shut out in five of nine games and were outscored, 249-36. In league play, they were shut out for four straight weeks after managing their only victory of the season, an 8-7 decision over North Hollywood. Foster is glad the first season is behind him. “I feel a lot better about the second season than I did the first,” he said. Fourteen players return for the Lancers, including seven starters. Senior tackle Mike Shedden (6-1, 240) and senior tight end Rick Rios (6-3, 220) appear to be the team’s top linemen, and running back Courtney Whitehead (5-11, 195) is the best of four backs Foster is counting on. Junior Ed Sevillano (6-0, 215), a returning starter, will be an interior lineman on offense and defense. Best of all, there is a new attitude at Grant, Foster said. “We didn’t have a good team attitude last year,” he said. “But we’ve developed one this year, and that should help us quite a bit.”

OUTLOOK: Foster realizes that not many people are expecting much from the Lancers this year. “I think that’s kind of an advantage for us,” he said. “I kind of like it. You could look at it like we’re in a building phase right now. We have a lot of unknowns, but the attitude is better and the kids are working real hard. We’ll just have to see what happens when we play somebody.”

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