Montclair Prep football Coach George Giannini mulled the question over for all of a second Tuesday before answering with obvious delight. “Nice backfield, isn’t it?”
Giannini can be forgiven a February reverie about the 1989 football season. The Mounties, who play at the lowest level among Southern Section schools, might have the Valley area’s best pair of running backs next season.
Michael Jones led Southern Section Valley-area rushers last season as a junior with 1,514 yards. Jones, a 6-foot-1, 205-pound tailback, averaged 7.2 yards a carry and scored 17 touchdowns.
But it’s difficult to believe that he might be only the second-best running back on the Van Nuys campus. All-City Section back Derek Sparks transferred from Banning and enrolled at Montclair Prep two weeks ago. Sparks (6-1, 200) was selected Cal-Hi Sports’ sophomore player of the year after rushing for 1,394 yards and 15 touchdowns in helping Banning to the City 4-A Division title game last fall.
Fortunately for Giannini, he doesn’t have to choose between the two: Sparks is a fullback.
“Michael is my tailback and primary ballcarrier and that stays,” Giannini said. “They’ll be on the field at the same time. They’ll complement each other. I’ve made it clear to them they won’t be competing against each other.”
Giannini has never seen Sparks play nor watched him on film. Giannini said they first met three weeks ago when Sparks came to school for an interview. Sparks, who said he transferred from the Wilmington school because he feared gang problems, chose Montclair Prep because of its rigorous academic standards. He also considered Loyola and Crespi last summer when he moved to California from Texas.
“I planned to go to a private school, but the schools were booked so I decided on Banning,” he said. “But there’s a lot of things going on at Banning, things I tried to block out.”
More Sparks: Sparks ran behind a Banning line that featured All-American Bob Whitfield, a 6-7, 275-pound tackle who signed with Stanford. Montclair Prep’s offensive linemen have never been confused with their Banning counterparts, but the Mounties may surprise opponents next season with their size.
Returning is nose guard Don Roy (6-6, 240), who will be moved to offensive tackle. He will be joined by Bill Silletti, a 6-6, 255-pound junior who transferred from Bell-Jeff in the middle of last semester and did not play football.
Sophomore Billy Butler, a 6-5, 230-pound tight end, will be promoted from the junior varsity, joining returning starters Josh Corben (6-2, 195), a sophomore guard, and Greg Jones (6-1, 210), a junior tackle and Michael’s brother.
Last add Montclair Prep: Giannini said the best thing that has happened to the Mountie athletics program was Washington State’s 34-30 win over UCLA last fall. Keying the Cougars’ win were former Mounties Rich Swinton and Tim Stallworth, who between them scored all four of Washington State’s touchdowns.
“Montclair Prep was all over TV and the newspapers the next day,” he said. “That game had a real impact. We’ve got new students looking at the school every day.”
Trivia question: In the 1980s, which is the only school from the eight-team Northwest Valley Conference that has not reached the City Section 4-A Division baseball championship game at Dodger Stadium? Answer below.
Saving the best for last: Mitchell Butler said that when it ended, he wanted it under his terms. Oakwood was eliminated by Southern California Christian, 83-74, in a quarterfinal playoff game last Wednesday and Butler’s high school career came to a close.
But not before one final barrage from Butler, a two-time Small Schools Player of the Year.
Butler, who will attend UCLA in the fall, scored a school-record 55 points and had 25 rebounds. He said that the fourth quarter--his last in high school--was the best he had ever played.
Butler scored 24 points in the fourth quarter, an average of three points a minute. Oakwood scored 33 in the quarter, a school record.
Not worth the weight: Dehydration forced El Camino Real’s Noe Valiente to forfeit his consolation semifinal match to Richard Endow of Granada Hills in the 105-pound division of last weekend’s City Section finals.
Valiente, a sophomore, apparently reduced his caloric intake two days before the meet to stay below the legal weight, then ate too much the morning of competition.
“I ate very little and pigged out this morning,” he said while sitting on a stretcher at Saturday’s meet. “I used all my strength and felt sick.”
Valiente pinned Fred Carretero of Wilson at 1:24 in a preliminary bout before being pinned by Birmingham’s Malik Ismail in a championship semifinal.
Freshman fireball: Freshman point guard Anjanette Dionne averaged 7.8 points a game for the Hart girls’ team, but she is averaging 14 points in three playoff games.
Dionne scored a team-high 20 points in a 78-68 5-A Division semifinal win over Buena on Saturday.
“She’s just gotten better as the season’s gotten longer,” Coach Pam Walker said. “For a freshman to have that kind of poise is pretty impressive.”
Trivia answer: The Taft Toreadors last played for the City championship in 1974.
Kennedy, City champion in 1981 and ’85, and Granada Hills, champion in 1984 and runner-up in ’86, both have made two appearances since 1980.
Cleveland ('82), Chatsworth ('83) and Canoga Park ('87) all were victorious in their only trip to Dodger Stadium. El Camino Real ('84) and San Fernando ('88) lost in their only City championship appearances.
Mike Glaze and staff writers Steve Elling, Vince Kowalick and John Lynch contributed to this notebook.
BASKETBALL TOP 10 Selected by sportswriters of The Times
Rk Team League Record 1 Cleveland North Valley 21-3 2 Rio Mesa Channel 21-5 3 Notre Dame S.F. Valley 17-8 4 Taft North Valley 16-6 5 Camarillo Marmonte 18-7 6 El Camino Real West Valley 11-9 7 North Hollywood Mid-Valley 15-5 8 Burroughs Foothill 17-7 9 Granada Hills North Valley 13-9 10 Kennedy North Valley 12-9