ALPHA LEAGUE : Montclair Prep Shaping Up as Bully on Block
In this the era of the much-emphasized SAT score, what better way to start the Alpha League football season than with some multiple-choice questions?
Sharpen those No. 2 pencils, students of Division IX football, and take a crack at the following questions under the category of logic:
What do you get when you take senior tailback Michael Jones, a Division I prospect who rushed for 1,514 yards last season; junior fullback Derek Sparks, last season’s state sophomore player of the year at Banning High; and junior quarterback Leland Sparks, a swift and talented transfer from Texas, and put them all in the same backfield?
A) Countless rushing plays.
B) Gobs of yardage on the ground.
C) A slobbering coach.
D) All of the above.
OK, so that was easy--'D’ is the obvious choice. But there’s more to this test:
What do you get if you take that same trio and put them in the royal blue uniform of Montclair Prep and tell them to run wild on the apparently overmatched schools of the Alpha League?
A) Angry rival coaches.
B) Defiant rival coaches.
C) Retreating rival coaches.
D) A league race that could be over before it starts.
E) All of the above.
Fill in the bubble by ‘E’ and then take pity on the coaches at Village Christian, L.A. Baptist, Marshall Fundamental, Western Christian and Maranatha who must face the mighty Mounties this year. Montclair Prep is ranked No. 1 by the Southern Section in Division IX and features what California Football magazine argues is perhaps “the best backfield in any small school in state history.”
So the toughest questions of all might not have an answer: How does a team defend against Montclair Prep? Is it possible, given the limited human resources of most Alpha League football teams, to contain those legs and beat the Mounties?
And, following that logic, does this mean that rumors of the death of the league race are not greatly exaggerated?
“Ideally, no,” L.A. Baptist Coach Mark Bates said. “Realistically, yes.”
“On paper,” Maranatha Coach David Hogan said, “the competition is for second place.”
It might seem like conquering the Mounties this year will be an uphill climb, but not all league coaches are waving the white flag.
“We’re going to get on the bus and show up,” Western Christian Coach Bob Casper said. “And if Montclair Prep doesn’t play their best, we’re going to be right there. We’re not going to concede anything.”
Which is just fine with Montclair Prep Coach George Giannini.
“As far as I’m concerned, the Alpha League is up for grabs,” Giannini said.
“Up for grabs” might be a bit of an overstatement. It would take more than a little bad fortune for the Mounties to stumble this year. Not only do they feature the much-ballyhooed backfield, but they also can count on a large and talented offensive line anchored by Donovan Roy (6-6, 260) and Bill Silletti (6-5, 260).
Some coaches may look at those numbers and turn white at the thought of tangling with the Mounties. Others turn red with anger.
“As far as I’m concerned, Montclair Prep is the best team money can buy,” Village Christian Coach Mike Plaisance said. “Year in and year out, 10 to 12 athletes show up that weren’t there before. It kind of bugs me that these guys show up.”
Giannini shrugs off such talk, saying that the school has established a tradition of sending athletes to college and professional prominence--Rich Swinton and Tim Stallworth at Washington State and Toi Cook of the New Orleans Saints. As a result, he says, enrollment (400) is higher than ever; in recent years enrollment has averaged 350.
“If I had a kid who was a concert violinist, and I knew of a school in the San Fernando Valley that sent more kids to Juilliard than any other school in the Valley, I’d send him there,” Giannini said. “The kids here get great educations and go on to college athletics, so parents send their kids here.”
And the football team benefits. Derek Sparks’ mother wanted her son to be in a different environment from the one that surrounded him at Banning, so he transferred to Montclair Prep. He liked it there, and coaxed his cousin, Leland, to transfer from Texas.
Meanwhile, Alpha League schools brace for the onslaught--rather bravely in some areas, such as Sun Valley where Plaisance has turned the trick of taming Montclair Prep two years running.
“Our kids, for some reason, get real up to play Montclair,” he said. “Our kids know that there’s a 95 to 98% chance that they won’t be playing college athletics. Montclair sells that as a recruiting tool.
“So it’s like our kids’ last hurrah.”
At Maranatha, where last year the team suffered through an 0-10 season, Hogan believes that the Mountie offense can be picked apart on paper. On the field, it’s another matter.
“They are predictable,” he said. “If you can interfere with their blocking scheme, you’re all right. Your linebackers have to read the blocking, get in position and disrupt the flow of the blocking scheme. If you can hold Mike Jones to 100 yards, you’ve got a good chance.”
The new wrinkle in that line of thinking is Derek Sparks. Hogan realizes that, too.
“I would assume they’re going to change the offense to incorporate him more,” Hogan said. “He’s going to be tough.”
Hogan’s tone of resignation is not shared at L. A. Baptist where the Knights’ first-year coach thinks history, a lurking Mountie adversary, may prove harmful to Montclair Prep.
The Mounties were 6-5 last year and were forced to settle for a share of the league championship with Marshall Fundamental. Bates thinks a similar disappointment may await the Mounties.
“If you go by history, they always seem to fall,” Bates said. “They always seem to get knocked off by somebody.”
Giannini isn’t ready to argue just yet.
“Yes, we’re a good team,” he said. “But you have to remember that we’re coming off a 6-5 year. Yes, we do have two great running backs, but there’s a lot more to a good team than running backs. There’s some excellent coaching in this league and there are some very stable football programs.”
But “a very stable program,” most of Giannini’s opponents would agree, may not be enough this fall in the Alpha League.
Sunday: City Section previews begin.
FINAL 1988 STANDINGS PROJECTED FINISH Marshall Fundamental 4-1, 7-4 Montclair Prep Montclair Prep 4-1, 6-5 Village Christian Village Christian 3-2, 8-2 Western Christian Western Christian 3-2, 6-4 Marshall Fundamental L.A. Baptist 1-4, 4-6 L.A. Baptist Maranatha 0-5, 0-10 Maranatha
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Player School Pos. Ht Wt Class Frank Castellucci Village Christian OL 5-11 185 Sr. Hix Cortes Western Christian RB/LB 6-0 200 Sr. Jix Cortes Western Christian RB/LB 6-0 200 Sr. Michael Jones Montclair Prep TB 6-2 205 Sr. Andy Kaminski Village Christian OL 5-10 255 Sr. Chris Robinson L.A. Baptist QB 5-10 170 Sr. Donovan Roy Montclair Prep OL 6-6 260 Jr. Derek Sparks Montclair Prep FB 6-2 210 Jr. Leland Sparks Montclair Prep QB/S 5-10 180 Jr. Colyn Van Buren L.A. Baptist TB 5-9 180 Sr.