Who was Orange County’s best high school quarterback of the past 20 years? If you could choose one running back, would you pick Kerwin Bell, Willie Gittens or Myron White?
Some of the county’s graduates have gone on to compete in the Rose Bowl and Super Bowl. Some are now household names in the professional sports world.
For the past 20 years, the Orange County edition of The Times has extensively covered high school football. And the level of play among high school football players has paralleled the remarkable growth of the county.
Housing tracts and green belts have progressively replaced orange groves and strawberry fields, but Friday nights are still filled with footballs.
Here, for the sake of a good argument or some fond memories, is The Times’ 20th anniversary All-Orange County team:
First team: Bret Johnson.
Statistics are usually used to measure a quarterback. But the bottom line that should be used in rating any quarterback is the number of games his team won during his career.
No other quarterback in county history can match the exploits of El Toro’s Johnson, who graduated in 1988. For two seasons, Johnson didn’t lost a game he started, leading El Toro to two consecutive Southern Conference titles.
Johnson established his reputation as a winner as a sophomore, leading El Toro to the South Coast League title over favored Capistrano Valley and its record-setting quarterback, Scott Stark.
In two highly publicized duels with career national record-holder Todd Marinovich of Capistrano Valley, Johnson and El Toro won both games.
Johnson’s final high school appearance, on a gusty evening in Orange Coast College’s LeBard Stadium, was nothing short of remarkable.
Throwing despite winds estimated at 50 m.p.h., Johnson completed his first 7 passes for 175 yards and 3 touchdowns in a 36-6 victory over Los Alamitos for the Southern Conference title. Johnson’s final statistics show 6,538 yards passing and 63 touchdowns. But his legacy is that of a winner.
Johnson is a reshirt quarterback at UCLA this season.
Second team: George Fraser.
Fraser also ranks as one of the greatest players in county history. He was the first sophomore selected as a first-team All-Southern Section quarterback in 1967 after leading Anaheim to the 4-A division championship game.
After a victory over Santa Barbara in the semifinals, Don Coach Sam Cathcart said, “He’s the greatest sophomore football player I’ve ever seen.”
In three years, Fraser ran for 1,660 yards and passed for 2,901 yards, earning All-Southern Section honors each season.
Some others who deserve mention:
Bobby Acosta led Western to the 4-A championship game in 1970 and 1971. Western had a record of 23-3 with Acosta at quarterback.
Mark Larsen of Kennedy is among county leaders in career and season passing totals. Gary Carter of Sunny Hills rejected a UCLA football scholarship to pursue a major league baseball career.
Marinovich established a career national passing record of 9,165 yards and also threw for 73 touchdowns in 4 seasons.
County schools have produced six professional quarterbacks in the past 20 years: Steve DeBerg (Savanna), Dave Wilson (Katella), Frank Seurer (Edison), Bill Kenney (San Clemente), Turk Schonert (Servite) and Steve Beuerlein (Servite).
First team: Kerwin Bell and Willie Gittens.
There was a feeling of excitement every time tailback Bell carried the football for Edison for one electrifying season in 1979.
“It was as if the crowd was taking a deep breath and waiting for it (touchdown run) to happen,” said Bill Workman, former Edison coach now at Orange Coast College.
Workman said his assistant coaches began to notice a crowd’s expectations each time Bell carried the ball. Once, he turned away from the field, closed his eyes and could feel each time Bell ran with the ball.
“You knew when he was going to run by the crowd’s reaction,” he said. “There was a hush, then a nervous excitement and then a buzz when the play was over. Mickey Cureton (Centennial, 1964-66) was the only other back I’ve seen who compared to Kerwin Bell.”
Bell gained 2,268 yards and scored 26 touchdowns in ’79, and Edison swept to the Big Five Conference championship with a 55-0 victory over Redlands.
Willie Gittens was a marque player for two seasons at Fountain Valley. He once scored 4 touchdowns in his first 5 carries. He averaged 8.4 yards per carry. He scored 53 touchdowns after being elevated to the varsity as a sophomore for the opening of the 1975 playoffs.
“Bruce (Pickford, former Fountain Valley coach) and I were uncertain whether Willie could handle playing varsity football for an entire season as a sophomore,” said Mike Milner, an assistant in 1975 and now head coach.
“So we brought him up for the playoffs and he scored 3 touchdowns in the first game. He was one of the most gifted athletes I’ve ever seen. He had the ability to break a run on any play.”
Second team: Myron White and Derek Brown.
White was known as “Miracle” when he led Santa Ana Valley to the 3-A division championship in 1974. He gained more than 4,000 yards during 3 memorable seasons.
Brown, of Servite, is the only current player on the 20-year anniversary team. He burst upon the scene as a sophomore, rushing for 338 yards against Mater Dei. He gained 312 yards in a celebrated matchup with Crespi’s Russell White two weeks ago. He has two of the top five single-game rushing marks in county history.
First team: Ken Margerum and Emile Harry.
Margerum and Harry of Fountain Valley were great athletes who routinely made acrobatic catches and often had the courage to catch the ball in heavy traffic.
Margerum, who graduated in 1977, was a free spirit who never met a pass he couldn’t catch. He made the difficult catch appear routine, including a memorable sideline reception against Fontana in the playoffs at Orange Coast College.
He played at Stanford, where he earned All-American honors twice and a reputation for windsurfing under the San Francisco Bay Bridge, skateboarding to class and tossing a Frisbee at 3 a.m. in Stanford Stadium.
He played in Super Bowl XX for the Chicago Bears and ended his professional career with the San Francisco 49ers.
Harry was smooth. He caught 52 passes for 1,141 yards and 12 touchdowns as a senior in 1980. He averaged 24.1 yards per reception and was named the Big Five Conference player of the year. He was also the starting point guard on the No. 1-ranked basketball team.
“It’s tough to make comparisons,” Milner said. “They’re the two best high school receivers I’ve ever seen. Both have incredible athletic ability.”
Second team: Rick Parma and Vin Mulroy.
Parma’s county receiving marks have stood for 13 years. Parma, a 3-year starter at Kennedy from 1973-75, amassed 2,767 receiving yards and scored 34 touchdowns, second only to John McKay of Bishop Amat on the Southern Section’s career lists.
Mulroy was a 2-year standout at Newport Harbor (1973-74) who teamed with quarterback Steve Bukich for a fine junior year. His productivity suffered, however, when Gordon Adams replaced Bukich.
First team: Chris Dressel.
Dressel was the consummate football player at El Dorado.
Defensively, he moved from tackle to nose guard to middle linebacker to strong safety depending upon the opponent and the game situation. Offensively, he doubled as a wide receiver and tight end. He caught 24 passes for 435 yards and 5 touchdowns in his senior year.
He also played center on the basketball team and was a shotputter and discus thrower on the track team. But there was no doubt his future was at tight end.
Second team: Hoby Brenner.
Brenner was a three-sport star at Fullerton in 1976 and signed with USC. He lettered for three seasons at USC and was a third-round draft choice of the New Orleans Saints, where he has played since 1982.
First team: John La Grandeur.
La Grandeur was a two-year starter at Mater Dei who earned all-Southern Section honors in his junior and senior seasons. He was a 220-pound lineman who was an excellent one-on-one drive blocker and pass blocker.
First team: Terry Albritton, Mike Knutson, Duval Love and Keith Van Horne.
Van Horne and Love head a list of impressive offensive linemen.
Van Horne played for Fullerton in 1975 and was a consensus All-American at USC in 1980. He was the No. 1 selection of the Chicago Bears in 1981 and became a starter in the fifth game of his rookie season.
Love helped Fountain Valley advance to the Big Five Conference championship game in 1980 and was one of the most highly recruited players in the county that season. He signed with UCLA where he broke into starting lineup for the final five games of his freshman season.
Love played in two Rose Bowl games and then signed with the Rams, where he is the team’s starting right guard.
Albritton gave up a promising football career to concentrate on track and field. He established a national record for 16-year-olds with a shotput of 65-feet 5-inches and was the Southern Section champion in 1972.
Esperanza led the county in scoring in 1982 with giant tackle Knutson (6-5, 250) anchoring a huge offensive line. Knutson combined size, strength and quickness to become an offensive lineman who rarely played in anonymity.
First team: Pat McInally.
McInally, a gangly 6-4, 154-pound senior, was nicknamed “Stork” by his teammates at Villa Park in 1970. In those days, the Stork could deliver.
McInally set the stage for today’s long-distance kickers with 2 field goals of 49 yards. He turned down numerous scholarship offers to attend Harvard, where he became the school’s first All-American in 34 years.
Second team: Pat Blottiaux.
Blottiaux, of Servite, ranks as the county’s most prolific kicker. As a sophomore, he had field goals of 47, 48 and 52 yards. As a senior in 1987, he had 6 field goals measuring 50 yards or more, including a county-record kick of 56 yards.
First team: Paul Charlton, George Kenlon, Don Gibson and Norm Anderson.
In their respective eras, Kenlon of Servite and Gibson of El Modena dominated play on the line unlike any other linemen.
As a junior in 1976, Kenlon had 13 sacks and followed with 6 sacks as a senior despite being double-teamed most of the time. He was one of six brothers in a talented family who played varsity football.
“George was one of the quickest linemen I ever coached,” said Ken Visser, Servite coach who is now an assistant at Cal State Long Beach.
Gibson played 45 games at El Modena in his 3-year career from 1975-77 and won 40 games, including Southern Conference titles in 1983 and 1984.
“Don was the finest football player I coached at El Modena,” said former Coach Bob Lester. Gibson is now a starter at USC.
Charlton helped Western compile a 23-3 record in 1971-72, and Caldwell, Willie Gittens’ defensive counterpart at Fountain Valley in 1977, graduated to Arizona State and the Dallas Cowboys.
First team: Steve Kenlon, Bill Gompf, Rex Moore and Scott Ross.
It’s difficult to imagine a more aggressive linebacker than Moore at El Modena in 1982, unless it was Ross at El Toro in 1986. Both were wild.
Moore was a cut above most tough kids, using his 6-4, 225-pound frame in a reckless style of play. He once described football as “just a big fight, kind of like cockfights.”
He graduated to USC where his claim to fame was throwing mud into the eyes of Notre Dame quarterback Steve Beuerlein on a rain-soaked Coliseum field before a national television audience.
Ross anchored the defense of a 14-0 El Toro team that ranks among the county’s best. He also went to USC, where he starts at inside linebacker.
Kenlon was a two-time All-Southern Section linebacker at Servite and was selected to play in the Shrine All-Star game. Steve and his younger brother, George, are the only brothers named to the anniversary team.
Gompf doubled as quarterback for a relatively small Laguna Beach squad and also handled the punting and kicking.
First team: Craig Rutledge, Ron Rabune, Garth Wise.
Few players could match the excitement generated by hard-hitting free safety Rutledge of El Dorado in 1980-81. He intercepted 13 passes in 2 seasons and graduated to UCLA, where he started in the Bruins’ Rose Bowl victory in 1987.
Rabune made headlines as a quarterback at Kennedy by teaming with wide receiver Lyle Ota. But Rabune’s play in the secondary earned him a scholarship to South Carolina where he has become a 2-year starter.
Wise earned all-county honors as a junior and senior and is considered the finest to play at Huntington Beach since the school opened in 1916. As a senior tailback, he had 16 runs of 20 yards or more on a team that finished 1-8.
HOW THE TEAM WAS PICKED
Tom Hamilton began reporting on Orange County high school sports for The Times in the fall of 1968, the year the Orange County edition was started. He has covered high schools throughout the county longer than any other newspaper reporter. His selections for this all-county team were based on performances of athletes in the past 20 years, and were based on the athletes’ records in high school, irrespective of collegiate or professional accomplishments.
ALL-ORANGE COUNTY TEAM: THE PAST 20 YEARS
FIRST-TEAM OFFENSE Position: Tight end Name: Chris Dressel School: El Dorado Class: 1978 Played at Stanford. Drafted by the Houston Oilers and now a reserve tight end for the Cleveland Browns. Position: Wide receiver Name: Ken Margerum School: Fountain Valley Class: 1976 Two-time All-American at Stanford. Played in Super Bowl XX for the Chicago Bears. Now retired from football and living in Woodside. Position: Wide receiver Name: Emile Harry School: Fountain Valley Class: 1980 Among the career reception leaders at Stanford. Drafted by the Atlanta Falcons and currently a starter for the Kansas City Chiefs. Position: Line Name: Terry Albritton School: Newport Harbor Class: 1971 Gave up football to concentrate on shotputting at Stanford and Hawaii. Currently the strength and conditioning coach at Hawaii. Position: Line Name: Mike Knutson School: Esperanza Class: 1982 An assistant coach at Esperanza, he tried out with the New Orleans Saints but was cut before the season started. Hopes to try out again next season. Position: Line Name: Duval Love School: Fountain Valley Class: 1980 Four-year starter at UCLA, where he played in two Rose Bowl games. Rams starter lives in Mission Viejo. Position: Line Name: Keith Van Horne School: Fullerton Class: 1975 Played four years at USC, an All-American in 1980. No. 1 selection of the Chicago Bears in 1981 draft and has started for seven years. Position: Center Name: John La Grandeur School: Mater Dei Class: 1974 Played at Stanford and is now living in Auburn, Calif. Position: Quarterback Name: Bret Johnson School: El Toro Class: 1987 Named the state’s player of the year by Cal-Hi Sports in his senior year at El Toro. Currently redshirting in his freshman season at UCLA. Position: Running back Name: Kerwin Bell School: Edison Class: 1979 Named the Big Eight Conference freshman of the year in 1980 but serious knee injury set back his career. Currently a part-time assistant at SMU. Position: Running back Name: Willie Gittens School: Fountain Valley Class: 1977 Tore ligaments in his right knee in his final game at Arizona State. Failed in tryouts with the Dallas Cowboys and in Canada. Believed to be living in Tempe. Position: Kicker Name: Pat McInally School: Villa Park Class: 1970 All-American at Harvard University, then spent 11 years with Cinncinati Bengals. Writes a nationally syndicated weekly sports column. FIRST-TEAM DEFENSE Position: Line Name: Paul Charlton School: Western Class: 1972 Signed letter of intent with Washington State but returned to play at Cypress College. Now lives in south Orange County. Position: Line Name: George Kenlon School: Servite Class: 1977 Career at Colorado was hampered by injuries, ended his career at Cal StateFullerton. Now a cable television executive living in Connecticut. Position: Line Name: Don Gibson School: El Modena Class: 1985 After redshirting his freshman year at USC last year, Gibson is starting at nose guard for the Trojans this season. Position: Line Name: Dan Owens School: La Habra Class: 1984 A third-year starter at defensive guard for USC. In two previous seasons had a total of 175 tackles and 18 pass deflections. Position: Linebacker Name: Steve Kenlon School: Servite Class: 1973 Knee and ankle injuries slowed career at USC. Earned MBA from USC and law degree from Universtiy of San Diego, and is a real estate executive living in Irvine. Position: Linebacker Name: Bill Gompf School: Laguna Beach Class: 1977 After playing career at Utah, settled in Corona del Mar, where he sells heavy construction equipment. Position: Linebacker Name: Rex Moore School: El Modena Class: 1982 Two-year starter for USC. Broke leg in senior season. Had an unsuccessful tryout with Dallas Cowboys last year. Now finishing undergraduate degree at USC. Position: Linebacker Name: Scott Ross School: El Toro Class: 1986 Started last five games as a freshman at USC at inside linebacker. Named first-team freshman All-American by Football News. Majoring in business. Position: Back Name: Craig Rutledge School: El Dorado Class: 1981 Played defensive back at UCLA for four seasons, graduating last year. Now an investment broker. Position: Back Name: Ron Rabune School: Kennedy Class: 1983 Starting defensive back for the University of South Carolina, eighth-ranked in this week’s Associated Press poll. Position: Back Name: Garth Wise School: Huntington Beach Class: 1970 Turned down scholarship offers to attend Orange Coast. Injured his knee in his first scrimmage. Attended Colorado but never played. SECOND-TEAM OFFENSE Position: Tight end Name: Hoby Brenner School: 1976 Class: 1970 A three-year letterman at USC and All-Pac-10 selection in 1979. Currently starts for the New Orleans Saints and has 172 receptions in 7 NFL seasons. Position: Wide receiver Name: Rick Parma School: Kennedy Class: 1975 A wide receiver for San Jose State, he caught a school-record 3 touchdown passes against Pacific in 1978. A salesman for a sporting goods company. Position: Wide receiver Name: Vin Mulroy School: Newport Harbor Class: 1974 Graduated from Stanford, attended Harvard Business School. Named director of the NCAA’s Volunteers for Youth program. Real estate developer in Menlo Park. Position: Line Name: Andy Sinclair School: Edison Class: 1983 Starting his fourth season at Stanford where he made several preseason All-American teams. Already has earned his degree; awaiting the NFL draft. Position: Line Name: James Rae School: Esperanza Class: 1986 Redshirted his freshman season at UCLA and is currently a backup at offensive guard. Hampered by injuries to his hand. Position: Line Name: Jim Hawn School: El Dorado Class: 1978 Played at Arizona State. Tried out for several NFL teams, inlcuding the Rams, but never caught on. Position: Line Name: Grant Gelker School: Newport Harbor Class: 1970 Attended Colorado on a football scholarship. Position: Center Name: Norm Katnik School: Foothill Class: 1975 Played two years at Saddleback College and transferred to the University of Arizona. Currently an attorney in Santa Ana. Position: Quarterback Name: George Fraser School: Anaheim Class: 1969 Signed a letter of intent with California, but never played for the Golden Bears. Now a warehouse worker in La Habra and assistant coach at Anaheim. Position: Running back Name: Derek Brown School: Servite Class: 1988 Close to becoming one of few county running backs to gain 1,000 yards 3 consecutive seasons. Holds 2 of the top 5 county single-game rushing marks. Position: Running back Name: Myron White School: Santa Ana Valley Class: 1974 Signed with Dodgers but released after seven seasons in the minors. Tore ligaments in his knee playing football at Hawaii. Currently living in Anaheim. Position: Kicker Name: Pat Blottiaux School: Servite Class: 1987 Kicked 6 field goals of 50 yards or more, including county record of 56. A freshman at Colorado, he is third-string kicker who has made 2 conversions. SECOND-TEAM DEFENSE Position: Line Name: John Lopker School: Anaheim Class: 1973 Signed a letter of intent with UCLA but was injured and never played again. Now an attorney in Newport Beach. Position: Line Name: Jim Main School: Los Alamitos Class: 1974 Was the starting center at UCLA. Now works for a pharmaceutical company based in Orange County. Position: Line Name: Bryan Caldwell School: Fountain Valley Class: 1977 Played at the Arizona State and was a draft choice of the Dallas Cowboys. Played for the Cowboys, Eagles and Giants. Currently working construction in Phoenix. Position: Line Name: Randy Sheets School: Western Class: 1984 Played two years at Cal State Northridge. Now an offensive and defensive line coach at Western and attends Cal State Long Beach. Position: Linebacker Name: Mark Fata School: Garden Grove Class: 1975 Played four years at Cal State Long Beach and a All-PCAA selection in 1977 and 1978. Now works for the Coca-Cola Co. in Garden Grove. Position: Linebacker Name: Bo Boxold School: Fountain Valley Class: 1976 Played at Stanford and is currently working for a land development company in San Jose. Position: Linebacker Name: Brian Noble School: Anaheim Class: 1979 Played two years at Fullerton College and two at Arizona State. A JC All-American in 1982. Now plays for the Green Bay Packers. Position: Linebacker Name: Rick DiBernardo School: Edison Class: 1981 Played at Notre Dame and was drafted by Tampa Bay. Played for the Buccaneers, Cardinals and Rams. Now in the furniture moving business with his father. Position: Back Name: Dennis Duncanson School: Sunny Hills Class: 1974 Played at Fullerton College and Weber State and was a Division I-AA All-American in 1978. Now sells medical supplies in Tucson, Ariz. Position: Back Name: Garry Templeton School: Santa Ana Valley Class: 1973 Drafted in 1974 by St. Louis (baseball) Cardinals, traded to San Diego Padres in 1982 (in exchange for Ozzie Smith). Currently playing shortstop for the Padres. Position: Back Name: Noble Franklin School: Santa Ana Valley Class: 1974 Played at Santa Ana College and Oregon State. Failed in a tryout with the Chargers. Now coaching track and cross-country at Rancho Santiago.