CHANNEL LEAGUE : Varying Styles Clash in Wide-Open Race
The teams, it seems, are clustering in a sort of Harmonic Convergence in helmets. Beware of perennial doormats like Buena and Hueneme. The time may be right to slap around normally dominant Ventura. Oxnard and Rio Mesa appear poised to rebound from disappointing seasons.
It’s the New Age of the Channel League, which promises to be as balanced as Shirley MacLaine meditating cross-legged on a Persian rug.
Yet all is not in sync. Some coaches sound like channels for lieutenants of Attila The Hun preparing the hordes for pillage and plunder.
Listen to Hueneme’s George Machado explain why 10 players have quit since the first day of practice: “I’m tough and impatient with these kids and some can’t take it. We have teams in this town that carry 60-70 players. They are the Disneylands of the district. We’re the Spanish Inquisition.”
Maybe Machado is Attila reincarnated. Hueneme’s nickname is the Vikings. But the attitude isn’t much different under Harvey Kochel at Ventura.
“We like to crank up the intensity at practice and we’ve still got a bunch of kids standing around scratching their heads wondering what’s going on,” Kochel said.
Others coaches want to boldly experiment or turn their program inside out. A New Age indeed.
Oxnard’s Jack Davis says he has the best junior class in school history. Then, in the next breath, he says he chucked the I formation and implemented the wishbone.
“This is my 30th year coaching and I though I’d do something different,” Davis said. “I’ve never run an option before.”
To which Kochel cracked: “We’ll see how long Jack stays in the wishbone.”
Meanwhile, Buena’s Rick Scott introduces a level of offensive sophistication to the league. Like his highly successful Hart teams of the past four years, Scott’s Bulldogs will pass. And when the passing game isn’t working, they’ll throw.
But the highest-flying team may be Santa Barbara, led by wide receiver-defensive back Paul Perkins, an uncommon talent. The Dons also have young talent--their sophomore team won the league title last year.
“Santa Barbara looks awfully good,” said Rio Mesa Coach John Reardon, whose own team should be better than last year’s 3-6-1 showing.
Only Dos Pueblos and San Marcos, two schools that are victims of declining enrollment, appear to be weak.
A glance at the Channel League:
Ventura--There are plenty of holes for the defending co-champions to fill. And some of them are between the players’ ears. “This is a strange team,” Kochel said.
The only returning starters are Tim Albrent, who has moved from tailback to quarterback, two-way lineman Jack Gattenio, safety Chris Thomas and defensive linemen Jesse Sloan and David Mitchell.
Chris Lambert, a senior transfer from Dos Pueblos, will play fullback and either junior Danny Taylor or senior Troy Erwing will play tailback.
“We put so much emphasis on defense, we should be OK there,” Kochel said. “I think we’ll come together.”
Hueneme--The Vikings went from one win in 1986 to an 8-3 record and league co-championship last season, but few believe that Machado can work another miracle--maybe because this junior class was 0-17-1 as freshmen and sophomores. No matter, Machado has the Vikings believing in themselves.
Freddie Bradley, a 5-11, 205-pound running back-defensive tackle, is regarded as one of the best players in the state. Lining up alongside him will be Mel Nunnery, a junior beginning his third varsity season. Tight end-linebacker Doug Brekke had seven interceptions and eight fumble recoveries last season. Junior Damon Hicks replaces graduated all-county quarterback Joel Gaxiola, and Carlos Cardenas replaces graduated all-county receiver Gabe Diaz.
“Hicks can run better than Gaxiola and Cardenas is beginning to show the leadership that Diaz gave us,” Machado said.
Oxnard--The truth is that Davis implemented the wishbone because it suits his personnel. Turner, who passed for 1,128 yards and rushed for 455 yards last season, is quick and smart enough to run the option. Although Turner threw 19 interceptions last season, Davis says “most of those bounced off of our receivers.”
Speedsters James Gaston, Landry Wofford, Richard Haser and Richard Alvarez have moved from wide receiver to halfback in the new scheme. Fullback Bryant Taylor, the team’s leading rusher last season with 541 yards, also returns.
The line is a question mark, but Oxnard is almost certain to improve on last year’s 3-7 record.
Rio Mesa--Reardon, who is beginning his 21st year, demands that his players adapt to him. “We’ll run exactly the same defense, the split 4, and exactly the same offense, the I option, that we always run,” he said.
Talent has been on a down cycle at Rio Mesa, but the sophomore team was 9-1 last year and the Spartans may be able to improve on last year’s 3-6-1 record. Hard-hitting, two-way linemen Lance Northcutt, Jim Byrd, Chris Knudsen and Ken Scholle will make sure that, win or lose, opponents know they’ve been in a game against the Spartans.
John Gomez, who completed 41.8% of his passes for 683 yards last season, returns at quarterback, although he may be pushed by junior Henry Wilson. Geoff Freedman, a senior who was injured most of last season, will play tailback.
Buena--Even after 50 summer passing games, senior Dan White, who passed for 1,105 yards last year, and junior Jason Isaacs remain deadlocked at quarterback. “That many games just made it more confusing,” Scott said.
Also confused is talented junior tailback Tony Williams. “If he grasps the system, things could get interesting,” Scott said.
The entire offensive line returns from last year’s 2-8 team, including tight end Steve Brooks, tackles Matt Biesecker and Mark Brondos, guards Peter Thow and John Simpson and center Eric Stadler. All will see action on defense as well.
Four wide receivers--junior Jeff Coyner and seniors Ty Hewitt, Jim Collins and Jason Phipps--will split time. And with Scott calling the plays, they will have plenty of opportunities to catch the ball.
Santa Barbara--The Dons had high expectations last season and finished only 5-5. But Perkins gives them the league’s best deep threat and junior fullback-linebacker Chris Sanchez, a 6-2, 200-pound returning starter, gives them a strong inside runner.
Junior linebacker Brent Banks, a transfer from Dos Pueblos, bolsters the defense.
The Santa Barbara junior class was unbeaten as freshmen and 8-2 as sophomores.
San Marcos--A host of talented skill-position players return, including quarterback Chris Cappon, a senior who passed for 900 yards on last season’s 4-6 squad.
Nuri March (5-6, 170), who rushed for 600 yards in six games before injuring a knee, will start at running back. Also returning is Dan Gallegos, who replaced March and earned All-Santa Barbara County honors.
Dos Pueblos--With only two on-campus coaches and an enrollment that has dipped below 1,400, Dos Pueblos is hurting. Six returning starters, in fact, transferred during the off-season. Still, Coach Scott O’Leary--who is also the athletic director and baseball coach--is highly respected.
Serge Kaska, a senior fullback-linebacker, is the best player.