Let's dispense with the formalities. If we're talking Los Angeles City high school football, we're talking Carson and Banning--the winners of the last 10 City 4-A titles.
This year should be no different, and there are a few added ingredients: Carson Coach Gene Vollnogle is boasting his best running-back tandem ever, while Banning Coach Chris Ferragamo believes he has his strongest defense to date.
If Carson's backfield or Banning's defense truly reach new heights, it could dictate another City title.
Banning won the title last year--its seventh in nine seasons--after losing in league play to a strong Carson team that was favored in the finals.
"Last season we were technically a JV team," Ferragamo said. "This year Banning should be the best around on defense. We feel that experience, size, agility and strength should be our strengths."
If there's a fly in the ointment, it is producing a consistent offense. Banning never did last year. "Our offense is the key to this season," Ferragamo said. "We feel confident but will wait and see how we progress."
Conversely, Carson Coach Vollnogle isn't worried about scoring points. Defense is the question mark.
"We've got the best backfield in Southern California and a good line to go along with the backs," Vollnogle said. "We also have good receivers. Offense should be the strong point. The defense is young. If they develop we will have an outstanding team."
Early games aren't necessarily an indication if things to come in December, but both teams' pre-season schedules are worth noting.
Banning opens Friday at CIF power Fontana. Two weeks later the Pilots take on local rival Long Beach Poly, which beat them last year and has the nation's most highly sought recruit this season in running back Leonard Russell. "That's a revenge game," Ferragamo noted this summer. "The kids will be fired up for that one."
Carson debuts Friday against Lynwood, then plays St. Paul--which won their match-up last year--Bishop Montgomery and San Fernando before starting league action.
Meanwhile, Gardena will have a new look under young first-year Coach Dale Hirayama, San Pedro is out to defend its Freeway League title against Locke in a competitive 3-A battle, Narbonne is hoping to shake off the doldrums of the last two seasons and Westchester will again display some of the best athletes in the Southland.
Here are how the area's teams and league races shape up:
Banning--Just talking about his defense makes Chris Ferragamo bubble. The Banning coach is often quick to pass out the superlatives, but he can back it up here.
Defensive back Marvin Pollard was named to Street & Smith Football Yearbook's top 50 in the nation, and linemen Terrance Powe and Tyrone Rogers made the national list of "ones to watch." Powe is considered one of the top 20 players in Southern California by an informal Times poll of college recruiters and scouts. The 6-3 Pollard, at free safety, is a superior athlete who was a starter at point guard on the basketball team.
The entire secondary is 6-2 or taller and Ferragamo says all four--Pollard, 6-4 strong safety Marlon Primous, 6-3 corner Ken Franklin and 6-2 corner Ted Presley--are stars in their own right.
The linebackers, McCann Utu, Calvin Spears and Jimmy De los Santos, are all returners and standouts. Ferragamo is trumpeting Spears, the latest in a long line of terrific middle backers, as the school's best ever.
The line includes Powe (6-4, 260), Rodgers (6-5, 250), Louis Woolridge (6-2, 210) and Eric Dozier (6-3, 230), all experienced seniors.
"Our defensive backs, linebackers and down linemen all run 4.8 or better in the 40," Ferragamo said. "Incredible, but true. Eleven of the toughest players."
The offense may be less settled but there is a lot more experience than last year, when it was made up mostly of juniors. Ed Kapu returns at quarterback, three of the linemen are returning starters and Archie Jean is a burner at wide receiver. If Kapu can get him the ball it will open up the option offense. He may also run out of the option. Ferragamo said Jean "is our main man. He's the fastest man on the team, 4.3 in the 40."
The line returns center Dan Gunderson (6-3, 235), billed by Ferragamo as Banning's best ever at his position, and guards Mike Padilla (6-2, 240) and Ed Lalau (5-11, 220).
As for facing Fontana and Poly in the first three weeks, Ferragamo said this summer, "That could be our season right there. Let us pray . . . "
On paper, it looks like most of Banning's prayers are already answered.
Carson--With Carson and Banning not scheduled to meet until the last league game on Nov. 15, the two neighborhood rivals could end up playing each other twice within four weeks. The two have played for the City championship six times since 1979.
By the time they meet this year, Carson's "Alvin 'n' Calvin Show" may well have rewritten much of Carson's record book. (In case you don't think this is a big-time program, Carson publishes a 40-page record book.)
Alvin is three-year starting tailback Alvin Goree. The 5-10, 185-pound senior with dazzling moves and quickness--and 4.5 speed--needs 291 yards to tie the school career rushing record of 1,611. Last year he scored 10 touchdowns nearly every way imaginable, from rushing to receiving to returning punts and kickoffs. Vollnogle may be a bit biased but he calls Goree "the best running back in Southern California."
Calvin is speedster Calvin Holmes, who has made some pre-season All-America teams thanks to his state-quality speed. At 5-10, 175, Holmes is a step faster than Goree. He scored six regular-season touchdowns as a junior.
The key to the backfield is junior quarterback George Malauulu, a southpaw who was named most valuable player of the Los Angeles Summer Games passing league and is a good all-around athlete with a strong arm.
Flanker William Pope, one of the team's best athletes, returns with good speed and fine hands. The line has experience and size, featuring tackles Steve Baker (6-2, 250) and Arthur Dennis (6-3, 260), guard Kevin Lepisi (6-2, 230), center Tommy Luapo (6-0, 240) and junior tight end Cephus Robey (6-2, 195).
As usual, the Colts also have a good kicker in Luis Solorio.
The less experienced defense will feature end Alan Wilson (6-3, 225), characterized by Vollnogle as "a straight-A student on and off the field"; tackles Fili Maugaotega (6-0, 250) and Naiui Lepisi (6-0, 255); linebackers Robert Ward, a returning starter, and Edwin Ulufanua, the student body president; and defensive backs Michael Woodson, a returning starter, and Sheldon Jones, who saw action as a backup. Rod Smith, a 6-3 senior, may be the best athlete in the backfield at free safety.
Carson's opening opponent, Lynwood, opened with a 21-0 victory over Compton.
Gardena--First-year Coach Hirayama feels the Mohicans are well balanced and have talent at most positions, but in most cases he is uncertain which players will rise to the occasion. "We're searching for that medium. It's hard to say what our strengths will be," he said.
The key player may be returning quarterback Jon Matamoros, who was inconsistent as a junior. "He's improved over the summer," Hirayama said. "His feet are quicker, his arm is stronger and he's more accurate. I think we'll have a more effective offense."
Matamoros' top target should be junior Damon Mack. Four players are fighting for time at the running positions. Two standouts on the line are senior Lennard Graham (6-2, 220) and junior Terry Louis (6-1, 225).
The defense features one of the area's best linebackers, Barry Jackson (6-2, 190), a two-year starter. Another two-year starter, Michael Smith, has been converted to the line. The secondary features small (5-7, 140) but tough Sang Pak, another returner.
Gardena opens against top-rated Long Beach Poly at Long Beach Veterans Stadium at 7:30 p.m. Friday.
Crenshaw, Fremont and Dorsey round out the Pacific League. Only Fremont is not expected to be a playoff contender.
San Pedro--The Pirates won their first title in several decades last year and expect to make noise again this season, with all-league quarterback Randy Galosic leading the way. As a junior he passed for 20 touchdowns and ran for 10 more. All-American receiver Michael Ford is gone but Coach Henry Pacheco feels he has a talented trio in David Iacono, Jerry Marsee and Craig Huber. "They have outstanding speed and good hands," he said.
The line is anchored by tackle Lee Ursich (6-4, 250) and center Leonard Miller (6-12, 190). The defense returns five starters: tackle Charley Doyle (5-11, 205), linebacker Frank Magnetti, free safety Bobby Lee, strong safety Jack Demonte and cornerback Steffan Smith.
The Pirates play a challenging pre-league schedule, opening Friday at Daniels Field against North Torrance, then facing Banning. Despite inexperience in the backfield and on the defensive front, Pacheco confidently said, "Locke is the only team with a chance of unseating the Pirates" in the league race.
Locke--The Saints return a large contingent with a strong front line to help junior quarterback Darian Hagen, a converted running back, where he was good enough to earn all-City honors as a sophomore. The defense lost more players but still has talent.
The Saints open at 8 p.m. Friday against Dorsey at Jackie Robinson Stadium.
Narbonne--Last year Coach Lee Haley's team was taking its lumps (2-7) but Haley was singing the praises of what he called the school's best sophomore class ever. This year the inexperienced sophs have become talented juniors, and Haley says the Gauchos may be "good enough to give (San Pedro and Locke) a run for it."
Of 28 returning players, the best is probably senior flanker/running back/strong safety Nelson Fields. He'll team with strong-armed 6-3, 205-pound quarterback Eddie Lopez and fast, 200-pound junior running back Chris Heuser to give the offense some punch. Junior lineman Matt Satoris is another good prospect.
Despite the offensive talent, Haley feels his team's strength is on defense, which he described as "awesome" in a scrimmage against Westchester. Fields and junior linebacker Eric Williams, all-league as a sophomore, lead the stifling defense.
"We've got good size and we're learning," Haley said.
The Gauchos open at home at 3 p.m. Friday against Bell.
Garfield, Wilson and Franklin round out the league. Like Narbonne, Franklin has a veteran team coming off a poor season and could round into a playoff contender.
Westchester-- Coach Larry Wein's Comets were only two points weaker than Venice last year, losing their Pac 8 League game to the Gondoliers, 10-8, and finishing 6-1 in league and 9-2 overall. Westchester lost in the semis to finalist Bell.
Linebacker-running back Keith Bowen (6-1, 205) is widely regarded as one of the nation's top college prospects among seniors. College scouts apparently like him at linebacker, but Wein also likes him at running back, where his mate will be junior Kevin Owens (5-9, 160).
Quarterback is set with the return of senior Steve Kristy, whom Wein expects to be one of the league's best at that spot.
Wein lost top wide receiver David Brantley to graduation and the University of Hawaii, but he does have senior wide receiver-punter Jeff Lanley, a starter last year.
The offensive line, mostly juniors, has some size and returning starters in senior tight end Troy Lane (6-3, 215), who also plays defensive tackle, and center Chris Brandon (6-1, 185). Juniors who need experience--but not more weight--are tackle Kevin Johnson (6-2, 265) and guard Fred Rogers (6-0, 255). The other tackle is junior Brian Smith (6-1, 185).
"We're a young group, but I think we'll be OK as the season goes along," said Wein, adding that Venice should be challenged not only by the Comets but also by University, Reseda and Sylmar.
In Friday's opener, Jefferson is at Westchester at 8 p.m.