Spotlight Falls on Venice in Grid Preview : Gondoliers Take Center Stage as the Fairfax Eleven Loses a Few Stars

Times Staff Writer

The big story last season in Los Angeles City high school football on the Westside was Fairfax High with its 12-0 record and its 3-A championship.

A master at writing happy endings couldn't have concocted a much better plot for Fairfax Coach Denis Furlong and his Lions. The title game was the school's first in football, and Fairfax won the championship by shutting out Chatsworth, 27-0, in Furlong's second year as head coach.

There may be another storybook ending to Westside football this season, but probably not for Fairfax, a team composed largely of seniors last year. The protagonists this year may be the Venice Gondoliers and Coach Al Dellinger, whose 1985 team was made up mostly of juniors.

The Gondoliers were 9-2 overall and 7-0 in the 2-A Pac 8 League. Their season ended with a 14-7 loss to City champion Roosevelt in the 2-A semifinals.

Last year Furlong, whose 1984 team was 5-3-1, had a veteran team coming off a fine season. This year Dellinger does. Before last season, Furlong, who spent seven years as an assistant, said that his 1985 team might turn out to be the best since he came to the school. He was right.

This year Dellinger isn't as confident as he thought he'd be. "I don't think we're as good as we could be," he said. "We all thought '86 would be our year, but we're not as good on defense (as last year) by a long, long way."

The defense is lacking stalwart ends Paul Nikcevic and Bob Tomaselli, defensive backs Kevin Riven and Dwayne Lortie and linebacker David Gonzalez, all graduated.

And that's not the only problem. Dellinger thinks that several strong Pac 8 teams from last year should be stronger. And that opinion is shared by other coaches in the league. Instead of a happy ending for Venice, it could come to Westchester, University, Reseda or Sylmar, coaches say.

A report on the Westside's seven City teams:

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.

VENICE

Coach Dellinger may be trying to plug holes on defense, but his team should have little trouble scoring once he unplugs the offense, led by senior quarterback Ernie Soto, Pac-8 League player of the year as a junior.

Last year Soto passed for about 1,200 yards, completing 52% of his attempts with but seven interceptions, and he accounted for 12 touchdowns, three by rushing. His chief targets will be senior speedsters Eric Crawford, a flanker-cornerback, and split end-safety Roger Serafin, who also runs back punts. Soto and Crawford will figure in the ground attack along with senior running back Sheldon Turner and fullback Chico Garcia (5-7, 190), who moves on defense from tackle to middle linebacker.

Dellinger has some big linemen, who may divide time between offense and defense. They are led by seniors Jimmy Ito (5-10, 235) and Marcos Buenabad (5-10, 240) and junior C. C. McCowen (6-4, 260).

Opener: Hamilton at Venice at 8 p.m. Friday.

UNIVERSITY

Coach Joe Sedia lost star passer Jonn Moomaw to graduation and is trying to rebuild his lines. Seniors who were expected to be line replacements, Noel Fournier (5-8, 165) at guard and Richard Horito ((5-11, 205) at tackle, are nursing injuries that may keep them out of action for a while.

Returning starters on the line are seniors Chris Chavez (5-9, 175), a guard and defensive tackle, and Dana Vatanpour, tackle and defensive end.

Sedia has a lot of offense to unleash if he can find people to block. "The skill kids we have are as good or better than any in the league," he said.

The skill kids include senior Daryl Hobbs, who will start at quarterback and was the backup there last year. Hobbs will also play some at free safety, where he was the starter last season.

Hobbs will have two All-Pac 8 receivers to throw to, seniors Paul Richardson and Mark Rodgers, and Varian Smith (6-1, 212) returns at tight end, slotback and outside linebacker. Big fullback Amoni Davis (6-2, 215), a second-team all-leaguer who also plays linebacker, will lead the rushing.

Star tailback William Harris has graduated, and his replacements are expected to be senior Curtis Ridley, who did not play last year, and junior Reggie Moore, who is still recovering from a knee injury picked up in summer workouts.

The Warriors were 4-3 in the Pac 8 League and 4-6 overall, and were in the thick of the league race until Venice pulled out a 28-27 win late in the season.

Opener: Huntington Park at University at 3 p.m. Friday.

PALISADES

Coach Jack Epstein has lost a whole lot of people to graduation, including some huge two-way linemen who could be mistaken for whole lots. With those linemen, the Dolphins finished 4-6 overall and 3-2 in the Crosstown League and were in the league race until they lost their last conference game to Fairfax.

Senior quarterback Mark Thau, who might have had a better season if hadn't missed a couple of games with a separated shoulder, is healthy. If he can stay that way, Epstein said, "we may be better than last year."

Returning senior lettermen include center Tom Wulf (6-0, 190), defensive end Tremain Robinson (6-0, 180), strong safety Sean Nelson, cornerback Everett Jones and defensive tackle Calvin Silvera (5-11, 180).

Varsity newcomers include these juniors: linebacker-halfback Lou Randall (5-10, 185), left end Harold Champion (6-2, 175), guard Willie Bolton (5-10, 175), linebacker Chris Armes (5-11, 175), free safety Allan Clark, the Bs' most valuable player, and offensive tackle Todd Spector (6-4, 250).

Inexperienced seniors include wide receiver Naim Shau, guard Shawn Brown (5-10, 165) and nose guard Sidney Lewis (5-9, 150). Lewis may be small for that position, but Epstein said he is "very quick and was all-league on the B team."

Epstein said that the Dolphins "are very young and very inexperienced. But if we stay healthy, we could be troublesome to some teams."

Opener: St. Monica at Palisades at 8 p.m. Friday.

FAIRFAX

Fairfax generally has strong teams, and this squad should maintain the tradition, even though many of last year's stars have graduated.

Star quarterback Rodney Dorsett, who led the Lions to a 12-0 record, is at Humboldt State with some of his teammates, and his job goes to his backup, junior James Malbrough.

Malbrough's chief target will be senior wide receiver Mark McGroarty. Coach Furlong said he thinks McGroarty is "the best wide receiver in Los Angeles, bar none."

Furlong also has praise for senior guard-defensive end Iran Washington (6-1, 225), calling him "as good as a defensive lineman as there is around." Other experienced players are junior two-way tackle Dan Keller (6-2, 240), senior safety-tailback Marcus Williford, senior guard Aaron Sims (5-9, 170), junior guard-defensive end Khaled Farah (6-1, 215), senior two-way tackle Wally Farah (Khaled's brother and 6-1, 210) and two-way tackles Bruno Naulls (6-4, 235), a junior, and Joshua Prince (6-2, 225), a senior.

Junior Darrell Heath, who played wide receiver and defensive back for the Bs, probably will start at flanker.

Said Furlong: "We're really young and could start three or four sophomores and seven to nine juniors. We're exactly in the same shape we were in two years ago. . . . The (league's) best team from last year is not going to be as good, and the worst team is going to be better."

Opener: 8 p.m. Friday at Taft.

HAMILTON

Coach Dave Lertzman's Yankees, 4-7 overall, 3-2 in the Crosstown League last year, were strong on defense as usual but didn't have much offense. This year, Lertzman said, "The offense should be a little bit better and the defense a lot better."

The little-bit-better offense will be led by junior quarterback Aaron Echols, a backup last year, who will also contribute to the lot-better side as a defensive back. Lertzman said Echols is "probably the best athlete in school," has 4.5 speed in the 40, will probably play varsity basketball and is the school's best tumbler, though he is not on the gymnastics team.

All-league center Juan Mena (5-9, 197) is one of a group of returning seniors that includes fullback-linebacker Jerrald Hines (5-11, 175), offensive guard-defensive end Courtney Campbell (5-11, 243), defensive back-fullback Troy Rodriques (5-7, 165), defensive tackle Lee Sanders (6-0, 198) and linebacker-tight end Alvin Banks (6-0, 180).

Juniors Phillip Frazier (6-0, 220) and Charles McKinzie (5-8, 168) will again alternate at tailback, and a promising newcomer is sophomore wide receiver Paxton Griffin.

Opener: 8 p.m. Friday at Venice.

HOLLYWOOD

Coach Jim McNicholas has retired, and his replacement is Ray Kasparian, the B-team coach last year. Steve Stuart, whose son Steve will be the quarterback, will coach the offense.

The Sheiks were 3-5-1 overall last season and 1-3-1 in the 2-A Northern League, a pretty good year for Hollywood.

But Kasparian doesn't inherit much from that team and has given a new twist to a coaching cliche. "We're just going to try to survive one game at a time," he said.

Stuart (5-8, 160), a rollout type who had been the backup quarterback, replaces Edgar Pelayo, a three-year starter. A starting free safety as a junior, Stuart also returns to that spot.

The new passer will have an easily discernible target at tight end in 6-5, 190-pound J. C. Farrow, an all-leaguer who is also a defensive end.

Senior veterans include fullback-linebacker Armen Mkrtchyan (pronounced Moo-KIRCH-an) (5-8, 190), two-way tackle Ray Luna (5-11, 200), wide receiver-defensive back Thomas Clark, running back Diedrick Joseph and linebacker-fullback Jorge Velasquez ((5-8, 170).

Juniors with strong survival instincts include center Alvaro Gonzalez (5-10, 190) and wide receiver-defensive back Dion Miller.

Opener: 8 p.m. Friday at North Hollywood.

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