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PREP FOOTBALL : IT’S A TOSSUP : Fountain Valley Starts Season as the Top Team in County, but a Half-Dozen Others Are Just a Step Behind

Times Staff Writer

An intelligent left-handed quarterback and the finest receiving corps in a long line of gifted pass receivers gives Fountain Valley High School a slight edge as the top-ranked team in Orange County in The Times’ preseason poll.

But there could be at least five or six different teams ranked No. 1 in the county before the regular season is over.

Fountain Valley has a lot of question marks on the offensive line and another rugged schedule in which the Barons playing El Toro and Mission Viejo within a five-day span.

Of course, the Barons could lose their season opener to Mater Dei on Thursday night in Orange Coast College’s LeBard Stadium, which would propel Mater Dei into the top spot.

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Mater Dei has an offensive line that averages 260 pounds and bench presses foreign cars. But then there’s no guarantee that Coach Chuck Gallo will go with the ground-oriented game that his personnel dictates, which means Santa Ana could be numero uno.

Remember how Santa Ana exposed that huge and painfully slow Mater Dei line in a 24-3 win last season? It could happen again when the teams meet in the third week of the season. If so, there goes Mater Dei’s reign as No. 1.

Santa Ana? The Saints have three of the most talented running backs in the county--Garner Hicks, Julius Fletcher and Estrus Crayton--but what will happen when they meet powerful Loyola in their final nonleague game on Oct. 8?

Remember, it was Loyola who limited the state’s best running back, Russell White of Crespi, to 28 yards in 14 carries when teams met for the Del Rey League title last season. Santa Ana also has a date with Mission Viejo, another legitimate contender for the top spot in the county.

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Mission Viejo is favored over perennial powers El Toro and Capistrano Valley in the South Coast League, but the Diablos could easily be 0-1 after a season opener against San Diego Morse, the best large-school team in the San Diego Section.

How about Servite? The Friars have the county’s best running back, Derek Brown, and a major college linebacker, Garrett Greedy, but there’s the uncertainity of a 28-year-old coach, Jerry Person, who was named to replace Leo Hand just two weeks before conditioning drills began.

Uncertainity. It’s the best word to describe many of the county’s best teams on the verge of the 1988 season. Just three days before the season begins, there appears to be five or six good teams but no great team.

“There isn’t a team in the county that you can point to and say they’re going to be the No. 1 team,” said Bob Johnson, El Toro coach, whose teams were top-ranked over the past two seasons. “The top teams all seem to be lacking something. It’s going to be an interesting season.”

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A look at the preseason top 10, with last season’s record in parenthesis:

1. Fountain Valley (9-5). The Barons, who opened the 1987 season with four straight losses, rode a nine-game winning streak into the Big Five Conference final before losing to Fontana.

Quarterback David Henigan begins his third season and is coming off an impressive summer in which he led the Barons to 21 consecutive wins. Henigan’s passing skills were limited, at best, as a junior but he threw only 7 interceptions in 286 attempts.

“David is doing everything (UCLA quarterback) Troy Aikman is doing in terms of play calling and audibles,” said Mike Milner, Fountain Valley coach. “He’s the most intelligent player I’ve been around in 20 years of coaching.”

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Tight ends Eric Sassenberg and Mike Walcott and wide receivers Mike Cook and Doug Weaver give Milner “the most talented group of receivers we’ve ever had.” Glenn Christy was the seventh consecutive center at Fountain Valley to earn all-league honors and Milner thinks he will be the county’s best as a senior.

Defensive back Rick Mock, who intercepted five passes and blocked five punts, compares favorably to former star Mike Newton (Stanford), and defensive tackle Drew Edborg should find little trouble replacing Reza Mehdizadeh, The Times’ Lineman of the Year in 1987.

“We’ve had the lowest turnout (48 players) for varsity since I’ve been here,” Milner said. “But we’ve got skilled-position players that are as good as any we’ve had. David Henigan has always been the type of player who knew his limitations, but now there’s nothing he can’t do.”

2. Mater Dei (7-4). Try this one on for size: The county’s biggest offensive line this side of Rams Park is impressive in uniform but suspect against smaller, quick opponents. Just check the game films from the Santa Ana or Bishop Amat games last year.

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Still, three seniors--center Rick Pallow (6-3, 240), guard Brian Turk (6-5, 265) and tackle Bryan Ducote (6-3, 265) have started since they were sophomores, giving Mater Dei some valuable experience.

Two more three-year starters--nose guard Lua Pola (5-11, 255) and linebacker Jason Uhl (6-4, 240) anchor a defense that should be vastly improved over the unit that allowed an average of 18.4 points per game last year.

The skilled-position players are headed by swift running back Robert Clifford and sophomore quarterback Danny O’Neil. Clifford gained 670 yards in 8 games as a sophomore. O’Neil is the publicized transfer from Corona del Mar who led the Sea Kings’ sophomore team to a 10-0 record.

“We don’t have a lot of depth,” Gallo said. “So if we get into problems with injuries, we could go from an excellent team to a good team very quickly.”

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The Monarchs will find out just how good they are with an opening game against top-ranked Fountain Valley. The matchup between nose guard Pola against Fountain Valley center Glenn Christy should be interesting.

3. Santa Ana (11-2). Only El Toro (35-6) has won more games than Santa Ana (33-8) among county teams the past three seasons, and the Saints’ winning tradition should continue with nine returning starters.

Dan Tuioti takes over at quarterback from his older brother, George, but Tuioti’s weak knee has some doubting whether he will survive the season. Hicks, Crayton and Fletcher--the Saints’ backfield--outplayed heralded Glynn Milburn in a 42-26 rout over Santa Monica in the playoffs last year.

Oscar Wilson was the most feared pass rusher in the county as a sophomore, and tight end Julio Vargas is a major-college prospect. The only question here is who will emerge to provide the team leadership following the graduation of George Tuioti and Jose Avalos.

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Santa Ana’s schedule is also among the county’s most difficult, with nonleague games against Saddleback, Mater Dei, Mission Viejo and Loyola.

4. Mission Viejo (11-2). Will Troy Kopp be the next major-college quarterback to emerge from the South Coast League, following Bret Johnson (UCLA) and Todd Marinovich (USC)? Highly unlikely, but Kopp will draw his share of college scouts in what should be a banner season.

The 6-2, 195-pound senior impressed his coaches with his work ethics over the summer, improving his speed and arm strength. Kopp has run a 4.9 in the 40 and will be utilized in sprint-out plays.

Tailback Eric Ekdahl is the best all-around athlete on the team and showed his versatility by kicking a 47-yard field goal against Capistrano Valley as a junior. Guards Sean Parks and Pete Ashby give the Diablos experience on the offensive line, and linebacker Penn Bushong is being counted on to replace Jeff Pease at linebacker.

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Mission Viejo surprised everyone by winning the 1987 South Coast League title after being picked to finish third in the preseason. The Diablos now reverse roles, going from spoilers to favorites.

5. Edison (2-8). The worst season in the school’s 20-year history, in which the Chargers lost 10 starters with injuries, serves as a grim reminder as Coach Dave White prepares for his third season.

White points to several factors--injuries, rugged schedule, lack of preparation, inexperience and letdowns in the second half--to the uncharacteristic season.

“It was frustrating because I had no control over the injuries,” White said. “I feel good about this team, but in the back of my mind, I keep asking myself, ‘What if?’ ”

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The Chargers have an excellent quarterback in Greg Angelovic, a good wide receiver in Patrick Reilly, major-college tight end in Brian Ryder and one of the most improved players in the county in tackle Greg Thurston.

Angelovic has blossomed from a 5-11, 170-pound junior into a 6-1, 188-pound senior who has benefited from 30 games in a summer passing league, in which the Chargers lost only to Fountain Valley.

6. Servite (8-3-1). Start with the county’s best running back, Derek Brown, add linebacker Garrett Greedy, combine that with defensive tackle Darren Galloway and you have the ingredients for a good team.

Brown gained 1,080 yards as a junior and rushed for 217 yards and 4 touchdowns in a showdown with Russell White of Crespi in the playoffs. The two will be pitted in a rematch Oct. 1 in Orange Coast College’s LeBard Stadium.

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The drawbacks are a lack of depth, with only 43 players, and a new coach, Jerry Person, who has never coached a varsity game. Person, 28, was the school’s sophomore coach last year.

Chris Johnson, who played defensive back last year, moves to quarterback, where his sprint-out ability gives the Friars an added dimension. Johnson’s scrambling ability will be tested, with only center Eric Bowman returning on the offensive line.

7. Los Alamitos (12-2). A talented cast of defensive players who gave up only 27 points in 10 regular-season games has graduated, but junior quarterback Todd Gragnano returns for a second season.

Gragnano passed for 1,136 yards and completed 57% of his attempts in 10 games. Joining Gragnano in the backfield will be fullback Eric Caesar and tailback Chris Stewart, both 1,000-yard rushers on last year’s sophomore team.

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Defensively, all-league selection Winston Wolf returns for his fourth season at defensive back and linebacker Eric Thompson and defensive back Bob Farrell are also experienced players.

8. El Toro (12-2). Coach Bob Johnson is counting on some talented underclassmen to continue a winning tradition. The Chargers’ freshmen and sophomore teams were both undefeated in 1987, and some of the teams’ standouts should make a successful transition to the varsity.

Quarterback Steve Stenstrom beat out Johnson’s son, Rob, for the starting position at quarterback with Johnson moving to the sophomore team. Running backs David Nemeth and Ken Romaniszyn are experienced players, and Sean Drinkwater is a quality wide receiver.

“I think we’ll be a ground-oriented team, but we have a lot of offense,” Johnson said. “The senior class isn’t as strong as it’s been, and we’re certainly not a powerhouse. But we have the tradition of El Toro football that produced undefeated teams on the lower levels last year.”

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Linebacker Tad Weedman is the only returning defensive player, but newcomers Kevin Adams, Dave Cuttrell and Eric McDougall are adequate replacements on the defensive line.

9. Valencia (12-2) The best running back tandem in the county and a veteran secondary is expected to help the Tigers win their sixth Orange League title in eight seasons under Coach Mike Marrujo.

Fullback Keef Leasure gained 1,012 yards in 10 games as a junior. Tailback Randy Roskelly was a steady performer with 900 yards rushing and also intercepted five passes. Tracy Garrett, a backup to graduated Robert Navarette, will start at quarterback.

Linebacker Steve Rangel, an all-Central Conference selection, heads the defense along with free safety Guy Sheppard, who had eight interceptions as a junior. Replacements will come from a junior varsity team that went 10-0 in 1987.

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Valencia has qualified for the postseason playoffs seven straight years under Marrujo and this year should be no exception.

10. Anaheim (10-3-1). Ted Mullen became only the second county coach to reach a Southern Section championship game at three different schools when Anaheim reached the Central Conference final last year in his first season.

Earlier, Mullen won titles at Villa Park and Foothill, and he joined Santa Ana’s Dick Hill as the only county coach to earn the hat trick.

The outlook for 1988 brightened when tailback Johnny Mountain transfered from Foothill to Anaheim last spring. Mountain gained 1,226 yards as a junior at Foothill.

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Mullen has 77 players on the varsity team, including quarterback candidates Dan Pacillas and Robert Aldaz. Jason Gold, a starting linebacker last year, moves to middle linebacker.

Other Teams to Watch: Esperanza (6-4-1), El Modena (6-5), Irvine (5-6), Pacifica (9-3-1), Saddleback (7-5-1), Troy (4-7), Tustin (7-4-1), Villa Park (8-4) and Woodbridge (13-1).


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