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FOOTBALL ’88 : Santa Monica Looms as Cream of the Crop Among Preps

Times Staff Writer

If you put much stock in preseason polls, Santa Monica figures to be the best high school football team on the Westside this season.

The Vikings are accorded the No. 1 spot in Division II of the CIF Southern Section’s poll.

But if Santa Monica falters, there are plenty of teams waiting to lay claim to be the best on the Westside. Beverly Hills figures to have a top team as do St. Bernard, Westchester and Dorsey.

Following is an alphabetical listing of each of the Westside high school football teams and their prospects.

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Beverly Hills Normans

CIF-Southern Section, Bay League, (Division II)

COACHES: Bill Stansbury and Dick Billingsley, fifth year as co-coaches.

LAST YEAR: 8-3 overall; 4-1, tied for first with Hawthorne and Santa Monica in Ocean League.

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FIRST GAME: Friday, Westchester, 3 p.m.

Strengths: At wide receiver, where Damon Greene and Michael Moore return and John Song and Michael Glazer are up from sophomore team.

Problems: How to replace running back-linebacker Willie Crawford, now at UCLA. Task at running back goes to Danny Edwards, league champion at 100 meters for the sophomore track team. On defense, letterman Jason Jones will try to make fans forget inside linebacker Crawford. Jones also will play some at fullback where Niles Kirchner, a second-team all-leaguer and also a linebacker, is top choice.

Offensive and defensive lines, where only offensive guard Matt Ellis (6-1, 212) is back. Stansbury said lines are “our major area of concern.”

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Quarterback. Strong-armed Jason Goldberg has graduated and will be replaced by backup John Johnson, who may have tough time matching Goldberg at throwing deep.

Defense. “We’d better be able to play defense, which is our No. 1 priority,” Stansbury said. “I think we can move the ball offensively with some of the kids and speed we have, but we’re going to have to stop other people.”

Offensive and defensive sets: Pro style, multiple sets. Split six, 6-2-3.

Players to watch: Greene is speedster. Stansbury said that Moore will probably play defensive back again as well as wide receiver. He said that Moore, a second-team all-league defensive back last year, “has the most athletic ability on our team.” Up from sophs: Sean Marks, defensive back who ran back four kickoffs for touchdowns last year; tailbacks Darren Smith, also a kick returner, and Greg Holmes.

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Brentwood Eagles

CIF-Southern Section, Delphic League, Eight-Man (Large) Division

COACH: Pat Brown, eighth year.

LAST YEAR: 6-4 overall; 3-1, tied for first with Masada and Faith Baptist in Delphic League.

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FIRST GAME: Saturday, Big Pine, 2:30 p.m.

Strengths: Skill positions. Linebackers. Running back Jay Langan, who rushed for more than 1,000 yards in only four games before breaking a toe and missing rest of season, could get 2,000 if he stays healthy. Backup runners Derek Brown and Derek Agnew will spell Langan. Another Derek, last name Woodard, a top long jumper in track, will return as wide receiver-safety. Agnew also will lead a corps of tough linebackers.

Problem areas: Both lines. Big guys are inexperienced, and experienced guys are not big. Leaders on offense should be center Josh Chetwind and possibly guard Josh Holo, who spent last year in Italy as foreign exchange student.

Offensive and defensive sets: Single-back, receivers in slot. 2-4.

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Players to watch: Langan, an excellent sprinter in track. Woodard has good hands and great leaping ability.

Crenshaw Cougars

City Section, League One, Conference Two, 4-A.

CO-COACHES: Robert Garrett and Terrel Ray, first year.

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LAST YEAR: 3-7 overall; 2-3 tied for fourth with Gardena in Pacific League.

FIRST GAME: Sept. 16, at Kennedy, 8 p.m.

Strengths: The Cougars feature some fine athletes with excellent quickness. But Garrett is modest about his chance of bouncing back from a losing season. “This year we don’t know what to expect,” Garrett said. “Realistically, our goal is to show up, play and be in the ballgame. The strength of the team would have to be our hard work and desire to win. That will take care of and supplement the lack of experience. They are eager to learn and hungry to win.”

Problem Areas: Garrett mentioned lack of size, depth and experience. Only three starters return to a roster that includes just 32 players. “We have a very, very young team,” Garrett said. “We’re basically in the rebuilding stages. Our premier weakness is depth. We have to stay healthy.”

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Quarterback: Just who will start is up in the air. Garrett said the battle is between junior Derrick Williams (5-9 175) and sophomore Darryl Loper (6-0 180). Williams appears to have the edge. “Derrick has more experience,” Garrett said. “He’s a great leader, a coach on the field. His weakness is probably his throwing ability, and we’re working on that. Darryl has a very strong, accurate arm, but his weakness is a lack of experience.”

Offensive and defensive sets: multiple set offense, 5-2 defense.

Players to watch: Two returnees on offense are senior running back Shon Ellerbe (5-9 175) and senior tackle Russell Neeley (6-2 280). Neeley is quick and may be moved to guard. Ellerbe is a “blue chipper, a breakaway threat.” The Cougars will also have Ellerbe return kicks. Last year he took two kickoffs for TDs. Garrett also expects big plays from his receivers, senior Arnold Stephenson (5-9, 150) and junior Devin Montgomery (5-8, 170).

The lone starter coming back on defense is senior linebacker Ahmed Mortis (6-2, 235) who may be moved from outside linebacker to inside. Garrett is hoping senior Bu’sean Glover can give Mortis help from outside linebacker. Glover (6-3, 210) was academically ineligible last year but played varsity as a 10th-grader.

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Culver City Centaurs

CIF-Southern Section, Ocean League, (Division II)

COACHES: Lou Lichtl, first year; assistants: Steve Shevlin, Kevin Moore, Danny Maye, David Takenson.

LAST YEAR: 0-10 overall, 0-8 in league.

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FIRST GAME: at St. Bernard, Friday, 7:30 p.m.

Strengths: Culver City High alumnus Lichtl hopes to turn the Centaurs around after assisting in various capacities at the school, last year as a sophomore assistant. For now, Lichtl isn’t concerned with winning; he just wants to instill a positive attitude and bring back the winning tradition Culver City once had. The Centaurs were 7-4 and a playoff team just two years ago.

On offense, senior quarterback Darin Dolce (6-1, 185) is the best player. Dolce started five games last year and this year improved in summer drills. “We’ll exploit him as much as possible,” Lichtl said. Senior fullback Damien Sparks (6-1, 180) will block for small but quick tailbacks, junior John Haqq (5-9, 140) and senior Lamarr Rogers (5-9, 160), returning to football after sitting out junior year.

Senior center Demo Davis (5-10, 205) and guard Fernando Jaramillo (5-9, 165), also a senior, return on the offensive line. Senior wide receiver Jason Kim (5-9, 155) has looked good in the El Camino Passing League, Lichtl said.

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The Centaurs’ top defender is junior inside linebacker Tony Marquez ((5-10, 205), Culver City’s leading tackler last season. Senior Eric Graves (5-10, 205) returns on the defensive line. Backup quarterback Troy Dunlap (5-10, 175) will play one cornerback spot.

Problem areas: Lichtl doesn’t inherit much from last year. The Centaurs have only 27 players, and as Lichtl said, “we have absolutely no size.” Culver City also does not have team speed, and Lichtl is still waiting to see if they have heart. Many players will have to play both ways.

Offensive, defensive sets: I--formation pro offense, multiple defense.

Player to watch: Lichtl expects junior fullback Richard Tapia (5-8, 160) to block well.

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Dorsey Dons

City Section, League One, Conference Two, 4-A

CO-COACHES: Paul Knox, Eugene McAdoo, fourth year together at Dorsey.

LAST YEAR: 6-4 overall, 3-2 in Pacific League, tied for second with Banning.

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FIRST GAME: Friday at Huntington Park, 8 p.m.

Strengths: Three all-league performers from a solid 6-4 team that lost to Banning by one point and had the last 7:50 of a close game with Carson canceled due to a power failure. Knox and McAdoo have finished third twice and tied for second in league in their first three years, and hope to vault in with the Big Two, Banning and Carson, this year.

Knox said senior quarterback Roman Foster (6-2, 185) will lead the offense. Foster passed for more than 1,300 yards and 11 touchdowns last season, earning second-team all-league honors. He’ll throw to junior Kevin Copeland (5-11, 165), a pivotal reserve last year as a sophomore. Senior Beno Bryant (5-10, 165), second-team all-league last year returns at tailback, and will be used as a pass receiver out of the backfield, Knox said. Fullback Derek Armester (6-0, 175), a senior, is an extremely hard worker

Kenneth Fluellen (6-1, 245), a starter at offensive guard since 10th grade, returns for his last year at Dorsey.

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Defensive coach McAdoo will depend on returning all-league player Shawn Miller (6-0, 225) to make transition from strong safety to inside linebacker and lead the young Don defense. Senior outside linebacker Stacey Ford (6-0, 180) is a solid defender. Senior defensive tackle Jason LeBlanc (6-0, 190) returns after starting last year. Senior Sharrief Shaw (6-0, 180) has good size at his safety position.

Problem areas: The schedule poses Dorsey’s biggest problem because they have to face powers Banning and Carson. “Our success depends on whether we can compete with them,” said Knox. The coaches also expressed concern about the defensive secondary.

Offensive, defensive sets: Multiple offense, 40 defense with multiple fronts.

Players to watch: McAdoo is excited about junior defensive tackles Demetrick Watts (6-0, 235) and John Blair (5-11, 260). Watts has never played organized football before, (was too big for Pop Warner) but has loads of raw talent. Blair is another varsity newcomer with little experience but good size.

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Fairfax Lions

CIF-City Section, League One (4-A), Conference One

COACHES: Earl Smith and Ron Price, first year as co-coaches.

LAST YEAR: 3-7 overall; 3-2, tied for second with Hamilton in Crosstown League.

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FIRST GAME: Sept. 16 vs. El Camino Real at Pierce College, 8 p.m.

Strengths: Smith and Price, who coached together at Crenshaw High from 1976 through 1984, take over for Denis Furlong, who is concentrating on teaching after four years as coach.

Price said the Lions, though few in number, should have good people at some skill positions. That will be particularly true if senior Mark Ricks, “probably the best athlete on the team” and who has great speed, has overcome the eligibility problem that kept him from playing last year. If Ricks cannot play, Price said the quarterback would probably be sophomore Milo Bynum, who will otherwise be a safety and wide receiver.

Senior tailback Alex Watson, team’s leading rusher, receiver and scorer, returns, and senior David Timmons, who has also played quarterback, will be a fullback. He’s a runner and blocker.

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Senior linebacker Craig Pringle (6-0, 200) a Times All-Westside selection last year who also played tight end, has led the Lions in tackling in the last two years.

Problem areas: Price said he has no outstanding wide receivers and that this position will be weaker if Bynum has to play quarterback. He said veteran wide receiver Sean Medina “is a possession type with decent hands but not a lot of speed.”

All linemen will play both ways.

Price said he is “not sure that we’ll be able to throw the football. If we can run, we’ll do that. If we can throw, we’ll do that. We’ll probably be a running team, if anything.”

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Offensive and defensive sets: Multiple sets, Oklahoma 50 (pro 3-4).

Players to watch: Price said Ricks, tentative quarterback, has “a decent arm and great wheels” and that Bynum, who may wind up at that position, “isn’t coming off the field” in any event. Pringle has college potential. Two of the better linemen should be center Sam Berman (6-1, 200) and tackle Ehren Tool (6-2, 210).

Hamilton Yankees

CIF-City Section, League One (4-A), Conference One

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COACH: Dave Lertzman, ninth year.

LAST YEAR: 3-7 overall; 3-2, tied for second with Fairfax in Crosstown League.

FIRST GAME: Friday at Kennedy, 8 p.m.

Strengths: Offensive line could be good. Only returning starter is all-league junior center Bryan Orange (5-10, 240), but Lertzman has bunch of huge but inexperienced players to give Orange help, including junior tackles Tony Torres (6-0, 230) and Johnnie Webster (6-2 1/2, 250), junior guard Charles Gietzen (6-3, 250) and sophomore guard Michael Bryant (6-3 1/2, 225). Senior tackle Shannon Valentin (6-2, 225), a transfer from Los Angeles High, will push for starting time.

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Defensive backs should be tough, led by all-league cornerback Paxton Griffin, who also plays wide receiver, and Eric Shambourger, an all-league punter who also plays safety.

Lertzman thinks he has a capable quarterback in senior Kimakus Johnson, a backup who didn’t play much last year because of injury.

Problem areas: Inexperience of offensive line, but that should be overcome if big linemen become cohesive quickly.

Yankees may be a little thin on defense and have to use Valentin as linebacker and Bryant on defensive line. Senior fullback Kirk Banks (5-10, 210), who returned to Hamilton from a year in New York, will also play linebacker.

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Lertzman said that running back “is a bit up in the air.” Hardy Hicks (5-8, 145), a backup who also played strong safety last year, was trying to regain eligibility in summer school. If Hicks can’t play, Jay Fields (5-5, 145), most valuable player on B team last season, will get the call.

Offensive and defensive sets: Multiple. 4-4-3.

Players to watch: Griffin could be game-breaker on offense or defense. Orange is solid at center. Lertzman said Fields runs with power for 145 pounds.

Hollywood Sheiks

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City Section, League One, Conference Six, 3-A

COACHES: Dave Loera, first year. Assistants: Ernie Mendoza, Art Rennick.

LAST YEAR: 0-9, 0-5 in Northern League, sixth place.

FIRST GAME: Sept. 16 at Hamilton, 3 p.m.

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Strengths: Loera lists heart and ethnic diversity. “We have just about everything here, 35 languages are spoken at Hollywood. The only thing we don’t have is experience.” One of those inexperienced players who will have to develop quickly is junior quarterback Sergio Mendoza, (5-10, 180.) Mendoza has never played quarterback, but Loera thinks he can do the job. Senior tailback Ed Jones (5-11, 180) returns as the top offensive back. Jones rushed for 670 yards and three touchdowns last season and might play quarterback if needed.

Two starters return for the Sheiks on the offensive line: senior guard Jerry Wente (6-1, 190) and senior tackle Aram Naldzhyan (6-0, 190). Wente also plays outside linebacker, where he was a second-team all-league performer last year. Senior Dean Bell (5-9, 195) debuts at center, as does senior Harry Tataryan (5-10, 185) at tight end.

Senior Oscar Ixco (5-11, 170) is the best receiver, but Loera said the rest of the receiving corps lacks experience.

On defense, the Sheiks return only two starters, but both earned postseason honors last year: Wente and senior Vicken Maloumian, who also plays fullback. Loera predicts Maloumian (5-8, 200) will improve on his second--team all-league performance of last year. Senior inside linebacker Matt Thammagnon (5-9, 160) is small but strong.

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The defensive line will be filled with big underclassmen, including sophomore tackle Greg Naldzhyan (6-2, 190), Aram’s brother. Junior Sergio Figueroa (6-2, 195) will also play tackle.

Problem areas: The Sheiks lack experience and depth, making their goal of being a playoff team difficult. “We have kids with heart, but a lot of them just haven’t played football before,” said Loera. Not only do the players out for the team lack experience, there aren’t many of them--only 35 at the beginning of fall drills. Loera and his staff have key positions to fill on offense, defense and special teams. The Sheiks also face tough competition in their league and conference, including Hamilton and Franklin.

Offensive and defensive sets: Multiple offense, 4--4 stacked defense.

Player to watch: Junior tailback George Sanchez (5-10, 175) is the fastest Sheik, covering 40 yards in 4.8 seconds. Loera said Sanchez, a junior varsity player last fall, will be used extensively, especially if Jones is moved to quarterback.

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Daniel Murphy Nobles

CIF Southern Section, Santa Fe League, Division VIII

COACH: John Finn; fourth year. Assistant P. J. Pascale.

LAST YEAR: 4--6 overall; 2--5 in Camino Real League, tied for fifth with Mary Star and Cantwell.

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FIRST GAME: Friday at Paramount, 7:30 p.m.

Strengths: Finn said the Nobles should benefit by entering the Santa Fe League with schools their size. Daniel Murphy, an all--boys school with an enrollment under 400, has had problems competing with larger schools in the Camino Real League. Finn expects to be “in the thick of things” for the Santa Fe championship, along with El Segundo, Mary Star and Salesian.

On offense, assistant coach P. J. Pascale has tuned the run-and-shoot offense to suit the quick Noble personnel, with senior quarterback Ernie Naranjo (6-2, 180) leading the way. Finn said Naranjo performed well in summer drills and will put junior-year troubles behind him. Naranjo, who threw for more than 800 yards, will toss to speedy receiver Brock Moseley, a senior. Junior Enrique Hernandez (5-10, 200) is one of the Nobles’ biggest players and is the best offensive lineman.

On defense, Murphy will depend heavily on junior middle linebacker Dan Henry (5-10, 200). Henry, a junior varsity standout last year, will also start at offensive guard. Junior Jesus Williams (5-10, 170), in his second varsity year, will play linebacker or safety and will also start at running back. Senior Derek Quinn (5-10, 160) is the top defensive lineman.

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Finn said the Nobles will use trick plays after touchdowns, having converted 11 of 14 fake extra-point tries last year for two points. Daniel Murphy is also deeper this year, with 32 solid players out for the team and very few “non-athletes,” according to Finn.

Problem area: As usual, Murphy will have to rely on quickness and speed rather than size. The inexperienced Nobles will start seven or eight underclassmen. “We’re working hard to turn it around,” said Finn. The weaker Santa Fe League should be a good place for the Nobles to find a U-turn.

Offensive and defensive sets: Run-and-shoot offense, 5--3 defense with multiple looks.

Player to watch: Finn said he is “expecting big things” from senior wide receiver Kawika Brooks, an outstanding basketball player who is in his second year of football.

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Palisades Dolphins

CIF-City Section, League One (4-A), Conference One

COACH: Jack Epstein, fourth year.

LAST YEAR: 9-3 overall; 5-0, first in Crosstown League, 3-A City finalist (lost to Franklin).

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FIRST GAME: Sept. 16, Washington, 3 p.m.

Strengths: Not many. Linebacker is about only position that Epstein has experienced players, and even they did not play much last year. Candidates with some time in trenches are outside backers David Martin (6-2, 185) and Brian Majors (6-2, 180) and inside backer Oscar Mazola (5-10, 190). Kicking game could be strong point. Newcomer to football, Larry Israel, better known as a baseball player, is said to be outstanding at punting and place-kicking. Two-way linemen Archie Howard (6-2, 300) and Bryan McElroy (5-10, 175) may provide some stability for greener teammates.

Problem areas: Lots. Record-setting quarterback Perry Klein transferred to Carson and would have been Epstein’s only returning starter on offense. Three pass catchers who accounted for 2,174 yards have graduated: wide receiver Harold Champion (1,095 yards) and backs Robert Scott (681) and Louis Randall (398). Only wide receiver who has had playing time is Mark Davis. Quarterback is competition between junior varsity’s Tom Martin, who is coming off a knee operation, and Dia Fountain, a basketball player in his first year of organized football. The move up from 3-A to 4-A competition also won’t help Palisades, which has declined in enrollment to about 1,450.

Players to watch: Fountain is said to have a good arm, which could help if he gets the quarterback job. Epstein said Martin is “heady” quarterback. Israel could be fine as punter-kicker. Davis is said to have good hands and quickness.

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Santa Monica Vikings

CIF-Southern Section, Bay League, Division II

COACH: Tebb Kusserow, 15th year.

LAST YEAR: 10-2 overall; 4-1, tied for first with Beverly Hills and Hawthorne in Ocean League.

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FIRST GAME: Sept. 16, St. Paul, 7:30 p.m.

Strengths: Last year Kusserow was concerned about inexperience of the offensive line. Concern turned out to be unwarranted as big, young linemen cleared a wide path for record-setting tailback Glyn Milburn, who set the state single-season rushing record of 2,718 yards and scored 39 touchdowns. Five of six starters return from now experienced line: All-Southern Section guard Kevin Kelly (6-3, 255), all-league guard John Ziegler (6-2, 220), tackle-linebacker Dan Wagner (6-4, 220), center Eric Banducci (6-2, 235) and tight end-defensive end Steve Blin (6-5, 220), said by Kusserow to be “highly recruitable.” Pete Roney (6-2, 215) and Pat McIntyre (6-4, 240) will vie to replace departed tackle Eric Loysen.

Quarterback should be strong position, with either last year’s starter Steve Macko or Kusserow’s son, Tebb Jr., a senior who transferred last year from Loyola, at the helm. Coach said both can also play wide receiver with John Ellsworth, who has sure hands and is up from sophomore team.

You might expect Kusserow to be concerned about replacing Milburn at tailback, but he doesn’t seem to be and said he has three former soph team players who should be able to provide good yardage: Mark Harper, Terry Beasley, both fleet, and Mike North, son of the late Dick North, the Palisades High football coach for many years. North is regarded as backup and should play mostly at linebacker. Fullbacks Jerry Black and Damian Lunetta will rotate, and Lunetta also will start at inside linebacker.

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Problem areas: Only one returning starter in secondary, strong safety A. D. Williams. Justin Wilson, a part-time starter at defensive back, returns and may play there or at wide receiver, as may Max Doubek.

Defense is relatively inexperienced and may have to play conservatively at first. McIntyre at defensive end is only returning starter on line. Willie Johnson (6-0, 245), a linebacker who transferred from South Carolina, may pull things together and is said to be quick for bulk.

Offensive and defensive sets: Pro-I. 5-2-4.

Players to watch: Offensive guard Kelly has makings of an All-American. Tailbacks Beasley and Harper were on the soph 440-yard relay team that beat Hawthorne, the home of sprinters who can fly. Johnson could be a force at linebacker.

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St. Bernard Vikings

CIF-Southern Section, Camino Real League, Division VII

COACH: Duke Dulgarian, fourth year.

LAST YEAR: 3-7 overall; 0-5, sixth in Angelus League.

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FIRST GAME: Friday, Culver City, 7:30 p.m.

Strengths: Passing attack. Skill positions. Quarterback Danny Ulrich (6-4, 190), who started six games last year, “has got the vision (to see downfield) and a real strong arm,” said Dulgarian. He’ll throw to split end-cornerback Jason Lucky and junior slotback Terence Sullivan, both returning starters. Running back will be Alan Page (5-10, 182), part-time starter last year injured in team’s fourth game and no relation to former Minnesota Viking star defensive lineman of same name.

Move to Camino Real League from Angelus, one of Southern California’s toughest, should give Vikings lift.

Problem areas: Lack of depth, particularly on both lines, where only returning starter is offensive tackle Keith O’Donnell (6-2, 196). Dulgarian has 20 lettermen but only six returning starters.

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Offensive and defensive sets: Run-and-shoot. 3-4.

Players to watch: Ulrich may connect with Lucky and Sullivan for long yardage, making for exciting football.

St. Monica Mariners

CIF Southern Section, Santa Fe League, Division VIII

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COACH: Angelo Jackson, second year.

LAST YEAR: 2-8 overall, 0-7 in Camino Real League, eighth place.

FIRST GAME: Saturday, Whittier Christian, 7 p.m.

Strengths: Like the other Camino Real expatriates, (Cantwell, Mary Star, Daniel Murphy), St. Monica should find competition in the Santas Fe League more palatable. Jackson is licking his chops while he waits to unleash his speed-demon backfield. Senior quarterback Chris Leaton (6-1, 185) will lead the offense. Jackson said Leaton is a Division I college football prospect. Leaton, a baseball player in the spring, runs the 40-yard dash in 4.52 seconds and is being recruited by Oklahoma and Kansas, Jackson said.

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Behind Leaton will be a talented pair of senior running backs, including the leading rusher on last year’s team, Diallo Hall. Hall rushed for 750 yards while earning second-team all-Westside honors, despite playing in only five games because of injury. Joining Hall is Mike Wagner (5-8, 160) who is a breakaway threat with 4.5 speed.

Blocking for the Mariners will be huge Jesus Moreno (6-4 1/2, 285). Jackson said the senior has Division I college talent. Moreno will also start on the defensive line.

On defense, the Mariners will depend on young linemen and linebackers. The only lineman with extensive varsity experience is defensive end-outside linebacker Mike Mumford (6-3 1/2, 200) who should lead the team in sacks for the second straight year. Newcomers Frank Neary and John Henderson are good athletes but “have a lot to learn,” Jackson said.

Problem areas: St. Monica has speed and ability, but there just aren’t that many Mariners. “Our problem has never been speed, it’s been depth,” said Jackson. Last year St. Monica suited up only 19 players for a mid-year game; this year there are 32 on the roster.

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The defensive backfield especially concerns Jackson. Junior defensive back Derek Woods (6-1, 175 ) must do well in summer school courses to remain eligible. He is potentially the best pass defender on the team.

Offensive, defensive sets: Multiple offense, with modified Wing-T; college 4-3 defense.

Player to watch: Junior running back Damon Ewell ran for 2,200 yards on the junior varsity last season and should help out the already strong Mariner backfield.

University Warriors

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L.A. City Section, League Two, Conference One, 3-A.

COACH: Brad Ratcliff, second year.

LAST YEAR: 6-4 overall; 5-2 tied for second with Westchester in Pac-8.

FIRST GAME: Sept. 16, at Birmingham, 8 p.m.

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Strengths: Coach Brad Ratcliff expects his Warriors to stir up some trouble. Thirteen starters return, including eight on offense.

“I see our team as being as talented as any team in the conference,” Ratcliff said. “We have a much better team than last year. We’re much more solid overall. I see us competing for the top spot in our league with Hamilton and Westchester. We’ll be much better starting this year because of experience.”

Ratcliff expects the passing tandem of quarterback J. J. Walker and wide receiver Brian Townsley to carry the offense. The defense is anchored by a solid linebacking corps that Ratcliff calls “the best in the league.”

Problem areas: There are 40 Warriors on the roster but few beyond the starters have played before. “We have to stay healthy, that’s the key to our success,” Ratcliff said.

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Quarterback: Senior J. J. Walker (6-3, 205) will take over the offense. He appeared in just three games last season but has size and a strong arm.

Offensive and defensive sets: Run-shoot offense, 6-1-4 defense.

Players to watch: Walker has a fine target to throw to, senior Brian Townsley, who made 27 catches last season for 420 yards and 4 TDs. Townsley was named all-league and second-team all-Bay Area last year. Walker will get protection from senior right guard David Measer (5-10, 185). Measer will lead the way for quick senior tailback Rynaldo Woodard (5-10, 185).”

Senior middle linebacker Charles Flowers (6-0, 197) is “probably one of the best middle linebackers in the league,” Ratcliff said. Flowers also plays fullback and is “a very aggressive blocker, which our offense needs,” Ratcliff said. At linebacker, Flowers will be joined by Measer and senior Bret Nickerson (6-0, 205).

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Venice Gondoliers

CIF-City Section, League Two (3-A), Conference One

COACH: Al Dellinger, 13th year.

LAST YEAR: 1-7 overall; 0-7, eighth in Pac-8 League.

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FIRST GAME: Friday, San Pedro, 8 p.m.

Strengths: Dellinger’s teams have generally been outweighed, outmanned but seldom overmatched. Last year, plagued by injuries, Gondoliers were all three; this year should be better. Seven starters are back on offense, and the strength of offense should be the line, which is small but experienced, quick and strong.

Eddie Soto returns as quarterback and should be much improved, and tight end Steve Lopez, who may also play defensive end, should also be better. T. J. Henderson (5-10, 225), the team’s best lineman last year, moves to fullback to capitalize on blocking ability and will rotate there with Chuck Lopez (6-0, 185); both will also play linebacker.

Junior Louis Jones, a starter at defensive back, may also be the best receiver, and will get support from sophomore wide receiver Rafer Watts and split end Kurt Sanchez, top receiver from B team.

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Problem areas: Dellinger said the biggest question mark is at tailback, where one player quit school, another is ineligible and a third was trying to make up a class in summer school.

Only four starters are back on defense. Mo Suliman (5-11, 220) and Julio Diaz (6-4, 210), two-way linemen without much experience, will help the defensive line if they deliver.

Players to watch: Connoisseurs of offensive line play will want to watch “The Sandblasters”: center Joey Nawa (5-8, 175), guards Jesse Ramirez (5-9, 190) and Bobby Nakamura (5-5, 185), tackle Eric Kim (5-9, 195) and tackles Suliman and Diaz.

Westchester Comets

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City Section, 2A, Pac-8 League, Conference One

COACH: Larry Wein (pronounced Wine). Assistant Sean Hanagan.

LAST YEAR: 10-2, 5-2 in Pac-8 League, tied for second with University, City 2--A champion.

FIRST GAME: Friday, Beverly Hills, 3 p.m.

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Strengths: The Comets will look to continue the momentum they built at the end of last season when they won the City championship after two league losses, but after losing many players to graduation, the Comets may be on the down side of their championship orbit.

This year Wein has a small group of seniors with experience and sophomore newcomers that should challenge for the Pac-8 championship. Many of the seniors helped the Comets with their late-season heroics, including qurterback Damien Smith (6-2, 185). Smith passed for two touchdowns in the 2-A championship game. "(Smith) improved quite a bit at the end of last year,” said Wein.

A fine pair of running backs team with Smith to form what Wein predicts will be an “exciting rushing offense.” Junior tailback Tim Holiday (6-1, 170) was one of the top rushers in the South Bay as a sophomore last year and returns a little bigger and stronger. Senior guard Mario Gooins (5-10, 200) returns on the offensive line and is an all-star candidate. Gooins, described as a powerful drive blocker on running plays, is the only returning starter on the offensive line. When the Comets are close to the goal but can’t score a touchdown, they can depend on senior place-kicker Steve Raack.

Defensively, Westchester returns three hard-hitting senior linebackers. Inside linebackers Butch Hahn (6-0, 190) and Darren Johnson (6-0, 180) will plug the middle, while outside linebacker Tim Powledge (6-1, 185) will roam the flanks. Offensive guard Gooins will jump to the other side of the ball to help the defensive line. Senior cornerback-safety Vince Bonner (6-0, 180) has size and is one of the few defensive backs with experience.

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Problem areas: The Comets must replace championship players. Wein’s main concerns are the defensive line and secondary, where several underclassmen may have to start, and even some sophomores, since there are few juniors on the team. Westchester’s receivers do not match the ability of quarterback Smith, Wein said, and must develop quickly.

Offensive, defensive sets: Multiple, option oriented offense; 5-2 Oklahoma defense.

Staff Writers Gregory Gonzalez and Todd Jones also contributed to this Story.


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