HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL PREVIEWS : MARMONTE LEAGUE : Some Fine Lines Separate the Favorites From Teams Mired in Middle of Pack

Times Staff Writer

The Thousand Oaks High football team was blissfully practicing early Monday evening when the roof caved in on USC during the fourth quarter of the Trojans' 14-13 loss to Illinois.

Good thing. No sense worrying or drawing parallels the week of the Lancers' first game.

So what if Thousand Oaks' fortunes depend on its brigade of returning defensive starters, just like USC's. So what if Thousand Oaks will send a rookie quarterback onto the field, just like USC.

What could possibly go wrong?

Of course, any Lancer who stayed up to watch highlights on the news witnessed how one weird break--like a pass bouncing off a USC linebacker into the hands of an Illinois receiver--can send a safe, conservative game plan exploding in a team's face.

Still, the Lancers' personnel dictates that a ground-oriented offense and a punishing, opportunistic defense is the script for the 1989 season. Thousand Oaks will put that theory to the test for the first time tonight at 7:30 against visiting San Marcos in a nonleague game.

That script, in fact, could be expanded for just about the entire Marmonte League, which is populated with large, experienced linemen and small, inexperienced ballcarriers.

The rest of the league opens nonleague competition Friday at 7:30. Camarillo plays host to Oxnard; Channel Islands visits Rio Mesa; Newbury Park plays host to Agoura; Royal plays host to Chaminade at Simi Valley High; Simi Valley visits Ventura; and Westlake plays host to Buena at Thousand Oaks High.

A look at each Marmonte League team:

Thousand Oaks: Three Lancer defenders--free safety Steve Rudisill, inside linebacker Lance Martin and cornerback Jimmy Magallanes--might be the best the school has had at their positions, according to Coach Bob Richards.

Rudisill was the league Defensive Player of the Year last season, and he and Martin were Times All-Ventura County choices from a Lancer team that finished second in the league and posted an overall record of 6-4-1.

Defensive linemen Chris Foster, Nick Ochoa and Bassam Kneizeh are returning starters with outstanding quickness and strength. Linebacker Reggie Nelinger, whose brother Gus was an all-county linebacker for the Lancers, is another strong defensive player.

Tailback Mike Lindsay, who rushed for 1,046 yards last season, was expected to carry the offensive load. Lindsay injured a knee during the summer, however, and is out until midseason. Rudisill, a slashing runner lacking in experience, and sophomore Cory Bowen, a quick and tough runner with a low center of gravity, will share time until Lindsay returns.

Foster and sophomore Dave Acosta are solid blockers at fullback and Nelinger gives the Lancers an excellent offensive lineman.

The development of quarterbacks Scott Peterson and David Watts, both inexperienced juniors, will determine whether the Lancers are a dominant team or one that must rely on a stubborn defense.

Channel Islands: The Raiders won their second consecutive league title last year, but have graduated most of their key personnel. If this year follows the recent pattern, Coach Joel Gershon will wave in the next bunch of seniors who will make up in size and talent what they lack in experience.

Size? Frank Umu checks in at 6-foot-5 and 300 pounds. Jim Porter is 6-2 and 230. Frank Ybarra is 6-1 and 240. None, however, started last season.

Quarterback Mark Contreras and wide receiver Shawn Young do give Channel Islands an experienced passing combination. Contreras platooned the past two seasons and Young led the Raiders with 16 catches for 336 yards last year. Young also plays defensive back, as will the other wide receiver, Chris Venturina.

Replacing last year's potent backfield tandem of John Johnson and Jerry Williams will be tailback Renard Carn and fullback Pharoh Milner.

Newbury Park: George Hurley has taken over the coaching reins and he has some big horses to pull the wagon. Joe Smigiel (6-5, 255), Jeff Jay (6-3, 235), Phil Pederson (6-1, 275) and Trevor Cull (5-11, 215) are two-way linemen with experience. Center Pat O'Neill (5-10, 202) will also play inside linebacker.

Quarterback Jai Johnston gained about four games experience last season while playing for the injured Wayne Cook. His receivers should be fine, but the Panthers must establish a running game. They need a tailback to emerge if they are to better last season's 3-6 record.

Westlake: Another first-year coach is Jim Benkert, who was offensive coordinator at Crespi during the Russell White glory years. Quarterback Todd Preston, a junior who passed for 1,149 yards last year, is the top returning quarterback in the league and should offer Benkert the ability to diversify his offense.

Benkert likes tailback Luke Crawford, who rushed for 111 yards in a part-time role last year. As usual, the Warrior line is smaller than that of most teams in the league. Westlake was 2-8 last season and hasn't qualified for the playoffs in six years.

Royal: Gene Uebelhardt got the Highlanders turned about halfway around last season, his first as coach. Royal hasn't made the playoffs since 1983, but nearly qualified with a 4-6 record.

Royal, like several other league teams, will rely on defense. Junior Tim Ross (6-4, 195) is a dominant player in the secondary and lineman Scott O'Neil is back after leading the team with seven sacks last season. Linebacker David Gnesda is also a solid player.

Offensively, an all-senior line will block for inexperienced quarterback Charlie Snyder and a trio of tailback candidates.

Camarillo: Junior running back Kris Kirksey is unable to play because of an injured right knee, so the Scorpions will be in the same defense-oriented boat as most teams in the league.

Camarillo, which squeaked into the playoffs despite a 4-7 overall record, boasts a senior-dominated offensive line that averages about 230 pounds. But to put the team's offensive problems into perspective, consider that senior tight end Scott Foster is the best skill-position player.

Fullback Greg Exler should grind out some yardage and quarterback candidates Matt Brimigion or Corey Tucker could balance the offense.

Simi Valley: The Pioneers were winless last year. But Eric Hale (6-5, 220), a talented athlete who can play quarterback or running back, is expected to provide some offensive punch this season.

Mike Burroughs, Gary Mitsven and Ralph Huerta are returning starters on the offensive line.

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