Imagine waking up to find Moorpark High a football power in the 1990s.
The perennial doormat has become an automatic pick for preseason polls and its seniors are courted by college scouts from Division I schools.
At a booster club meeting at the school to discuss the upcoming football season, parents and alumni are spilling out the doors of the school's gymnasium. The crowd is enthusiastic because Moorpark is the defending league champion and won its first-ever Southern Section championship the previous season.
Amid the discussion and reminiscing about its new-found success, one alum interrupts the meeting to propose that the school make Carpinteria its permanent homecoming game.
He said jokingly: "I hear Carp fans are worried that they'll never beat us again."
The audience howls in approval.
Is this make-believe? A fantasy land for Musketeers? Could Moorpark really overcome years of ineptitude?
Consider these facts:
Moorpark has never won a Southern Section championship in football. It hasn't won a league championship since 1941.
Moorpark has finished with a league record above .500 only once this decade. It has compiled an overall record of 17-61-2, 9-31-1 in league play.
And there is the streak.
Moorpark has not beaten Carpinteria since 1934, enduring 48 consecutive losses. The streak is such a black mark against the community that even non-football fans question whether it will ever end. Second-year Coach Rob Dearborn already has felt the pressure of the streak.
"I can't walk through the community without someone asking whether we'll beat Carp this year," Dearborn said. "In the supermarket. At booster club meetings. First they ask if we'll beat Carp and then they want to know about the team."
But the recent population explosion has provided optimism for Moorpark. City planners and school district officials correctly predicted that Moorpark would outgrow its old high school and constructed new facilities to accommodate more than 1,500 students. The new campus opened its doors last year and already the student population has doubled. Last spring, 183 seniors graduated from the school. This fall, more than 357 freshmen enrolled.
With an estimated 900 students, Moorpark has a larger enrollment than perennial Tri-Valley power Carpinteria (701), more than neighboring Fillmore (770) and almost more than the combined total of St. Bonaventure (530), Oak Park (362) and Bishop Diego (220).
Surprisingly, Carpinteria considers Moorpark a threat to its stronghold on the Tri-Valley League. Carpinteria won its second Southern Section championship in 1987 and was co-champion in 1988 after tying Tehachapi in the title game.
The Warriors have won league titles in 1981, '86, '87 and '88 and have won 15 consecutive league games over the past three seasons.
"One day, Moorpark will be bigger and better than anyone else in the league," Carpinteria Coach Lou Panizzon said. "We said it was going to happen and it's starting to come to pass."
Moorpark almost missed its chance at redemption when the schools from the Northern Area of the Southern Section proposed moving the school from the Tri-Valley to the Frontier League for the 1990-91 school year.
Instead, Fillmore will return to the Frontier after a four-year stay in the Tri-Valley League.
"I can't believe they moved us," Fillmore Coach Curtis Garner said. "We haven't beaten Santa Paula (a Frontier League school) in five years. Moorpark is bigger and Carpinteria has an outstanding football program. There's no sense moving Fillmore. But it's over and done with and I've got to live with it."
That means one less opponent beginning next year to stand in the way of Moorpark and its first crown in nearly half a century. Dearborn, however, said it's too early to predict how soon Moorpark will turn into a winning program.
In his first season as coach, Dearborn saw the Musketeers stumble to a record of 1-9 overall, 0-5 in league play.
Dearborn said the breakdowns occurred on the offensive and defensive lines because his linemen had trouble playing as a unit. He also said some of the upperclassmen shared a defeatist attitude.
"Team size means nothing unless we have some success," Dearborn said. "We need to establish some pride. We have to start beating the Bishop Diegos, the St. Bonaventures and nonleague opponents like Capistrano Valley Christian."
Oak Park demonstrated last season that you don't need a large squad to be successful in the Tri-Valley League. The Eagles, who fielded 15 players, enjoyed their finest season, posting a 10-2 record and reaching the second round of the Southern Section Division IX playoffs.
Oak Park is also experiencing a population boom but it hasn't reached the high school level yet. This season the Eagles are struggling to field 11 healthy players.
Moorpark welcomed 27 players to its first day of practice. Their top returning player, quarterback Robert Hernandez, passed for 615 yards and two touchdowns last year. He has breakaway speed to run the option and has improved his accuracy during summer passing leagues, according to Dearborn. Last season, Hernandez was intercepted nine times and had a completion rate of 37% (56 of 151).
The Musketeers also have some experienced runners in senior fullbacks Jeff Cox (6-foot, 200 pounds) and Tom Uphoff (5-11, 190). Senior tailback Tony Upshaw (5-10, 180) has good speed but saw limited action last season.
Still, rival coaches predict Moorpark will finish third or fourth in league and win at least five games this season.
"In four or five years, I think this school will win a championship," Dearborn said. "It's a mountainous task and it will take a lot of work. I hope to survive that long as coach."
Tomorrow: the Alpha League
FINAL 1988 STANDINGS PROJECTED FINISH Carpinteria 11-2-1, 5-0 Carpinteria Oak Park 10-2, 4-1 Fillmore Fillmore 6-4, 3-2 Moorpark St. Bonaventure 3-7, 2-3 St. Bonaventure Bishop Diego 1-9, 1-4 Oak Park Moorpark 1-9, 0-5 Bishop Diego
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Player School Pos. Ht Wt Class Coley Candaele Carpinteria QB 5-11 165 Sr. Robert Hernandez Moorpark QB 6-2 170 Sr. Jose Hernandez Carpinteria TB 5-9 175 Sr. Chad Van Winkle Fillmore QB 5-8 165 Sr. Kent Richter Oak Park TB 5-9 145 Sr. Chris Conley St. Bonaventure QB 6-1 185 Sr. Ralph Meza Fillmore OL 6-2 270 Sr. Sean Faitel Bishop Diego FB 5-11 170 Sr. Steve Palmer Fillmore TE 6-0 190 Sr. Jeff Cox Moorpark FB 6-0 200 Sr.