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City West Football Preview : Balanced League to Make University City Repeat Difficult

Watch for an amazing balancing act that City Western League football teams likely will be performing for the next 10 weeks.

The league has a history of going late into the season with two teams in contention. But with a diversity of talent this year, it could be, should be different.

“It’s too early to tell,” said Ron Hamamoto, University of San Diego High coach, “but it looks real balanced. Clairemont was down and Mission Bay didn’t do well last year, but this year, it should be a six-team race.”

Said Willie Matson, the third-year Kearny coach: “Generally, this is a two-tiered league in football, but it may be a little different this year. It’s pretty even. There should be some great matchups.”

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Point Loma, now in the City Eastern League, was the last team to repeat as champion in 1981 and ’82. No one in the current league has won titles back-to-back, and defending champion University City knows it will be difficult to break the cycle.

“USDHS and Kearny are favored,” said University City Coach Steve Vukojevich. “After them, it’s us, La Jolla and Clairemont. Mission Bay was very thin and had to go both ways last year, but they may be a dark horse.”

Gene Edwards, beginning his 22nd year as La Jolla’s coach, doesn’t foresee any perfect finishes. “There’s a great possibility no one will go undefeated,” he said. “A 3-2 record may win it. That’s what kind of league it is.”

THE RACE

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Top contenders: USDHS (8-4), Kearny (4-7, including two forfeits).

Surprise potential: University City (7-2), Mission Bay (4-6), La Jolla (7-3).

Hoping for improvement: Clairemont (2-8).

Game of the year: Kearny vs. USDHS at Mesa College, Oct. 13. The favorites meet early, but leave Oct. 27 open: That’s when University City and USDHS--whose 1988 showdown went to the final three seconds--meet at UC.

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THE PLAYERS

The man: Kearny quarterback Tommy Rawlins, just ahead of University City’s Anthony Hill and USDHS’s Bryan DuPlessis.

Rawlins (6-feet-3, 195), a third-year starter and all-league selection, is any coach’s dream. In two seasons, he has passed for 3,100 yards. With 1,759 last year, he was the sixth-leading passer in the county. “He just doesn’t get rattled,” Hamamoto said. “He’s real poised. Anytime you have an experienced quarterback, especially Rawlins, he’ll take you a long way.”

Coaches agreed that with his natural leadership, throwing efficiency and eye for reading defenses, Kearny will be in the thick of the league race.

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Who will fill the Taylors’ (Erik and Darnes) shoes? The Taylors (no relation), who helped University City win the title last year, have moved on. Offensive tackle Erik, a Times All-County first-team selection, opened holes for running back Darnes, a Times second-team pick who rushed for 1,251 yards (fourth best in the county) during the regular season.

Junior Garrett Sand and senior Steve Cannon, who saw limited action behind Darnes, will share UC running duties. Linemen Mark Hittinger (6-1, 230) and Kris Holm (6-2, 210) will open the way; both play defense as well.

Others to watch on offense: Senior Jerome Price (6-0, 160), of slam dunk and long jump fame, hasn’t played a down of organized football since Pop Warner but will be a wide receiver for University City. Coaches already seem convinced that Price in any uniform means trouble for the opposition. Besides, a guy’s got to have a hobby, right?

USDHS lost quarterback Anthony Massa, the county’s second-leading passer (231.5-yard average) but has talented Jeff Desjardins (5-9, 160) stepping in. Desjardins was an all-league defensive back and second in the county in interceptions last season (six in 10 games).

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Mission Bay’s biggest problem is depth; 11 players go both ways. But it has plenty of running backs in seniors Caprece Pressley, Schearon Stewert and Pat Betancourt and junior Marlon Gardinera. Betancourt (6-0, 180) also is a menacing defensive back.

Junior tailback Antione Henry (6-0, 180) is one of three returning starters for Clairemont, which is mostly a junior varsity turned varsity. La Jolla junior quarterback Craig Woodall got some attention as a backup last year, and receiver Steve Huff (6-3, 170) can catch for Kearny.

Others to watch on defense: La Jolla has only four returning starters and just one on defense, but he’s a gem. Senior defensive back Mike Wollaeger (6-0, 175) led the county in interceptions with seven in 10 games last year.

Kearny linebackers Alex Robinson (6-0, 175), Eric Diato (5-10, 185) and Bernard Hamilton (6-2, 195) are all back. “Defense was our strength last year, especially our linebackers, and they’re all returning,” Matson said. "(Defensive coordinator) Tom Barnett does a good job with them.”

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Anyone who gets past Matt Miller, USDHS’s all-state lineman, will run into trouble from linebackers Bobby Tubbs and senior Chris LeTourneau (6-3, 210). Steve Cannon (5-7, 145) and Marcus Griffin (5-9, 170) are back in UC’s backfield.

THE INTANGIBLES

Third time’s a charm: Third-year starters fill the league, and there are some good ones. A stress fracture curtailed the progress of USDHS senior tailback Bryan DuPlessis (6-3, 190) last year, but he was one of the county’s best backs as a sophomore. USDHS also has Miller (6-4, 230), a second-team section defensive lineman last year, back for the third time.

Rawlins isn’t the only three-time quarterback in the league. No one has overlooked UC’s Anthony Hill (6-0, 170). “He’s a good one, one of the top 10 in the county,” Vukojevich said. “He’s very fast and quick, he’ll scramble a lot. We want to feature Hill, build on him.”

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Defensive lineman Dareke Fleming (6-4, 230), another three-timer, is, according to Mission Bay Coach Dennis Pugh, “the perfect player. He has good speed and excellent size for his position. If we lose him, we’re in big trouble.” Every coach in the league referred to Fleming as a concern.

Kearny may throw the ball a lot this year, but with two years of experience, running back Tosh Huguley (5-10, 190) will collect yardage.

A courtin’ we will go: All the experienced talent has drawn the attention of college scouts.

All the Pac-10 schools have been recruiting Miller and DuPlessis,” Hamamoto said.

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Fleming’s admirers haven’t been a bit bashful either. Said Pugh: “Everyone on the West Coast has recruited him. He’s the most recruited athlete I’ve had since I’ve been here.”

UC’s Hill has letters from interested schools piled high. “He’s receiving the most literature,” Vukojevich said, “from everybody and anybody.”

Waiting for a star to fall: Standouts notwithstanding, the league still doesn’t have a player who weakens the opposition’s knees by mere mention.

“Kearny has Rawlins and Huguley, USDHS has Desjardins and DuPlessis and UC has Hill,” Pugh said, “but I don’t think any one team with one particular player will win.”

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Said Matson: “There are lots of standouts. USDHS has three or four, they’re loaded. Mission Bay has Fleming and Betancourt, La Jolla has Woodall and UC has Hill. Everyone has some excellent players this year, but there’s no one who’s especially dominant.”


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