Players and coaches at Montclair Prep this year need not concern themselves with finding the best restaurant in Tehachapi. And they also can burn those road maps to Carpinteria and Whittier Christian.
Those schools are Division IX schools, stalwarts that have blocked the Mounties’ path to a Southern Section football title in the 1980s. Now, like the just-completed decade, they are part of the past.
Denied a title that had seemed its birthright after being ranked No. 1 in Division IX all last season, Alpha League power Montclair Prep awoke in 1990 to find itself again ranked No. 1--this time in the fledgling Division X.
A lower division. One without the Desert-Inyo Large and Tri-Valley leagues and their aforementioned power brokers, and one that is eminently winnable.
“It looks like the Alpha League is the strongest league in Division X,” Montclair Prep assistant coach John Hazelton said.
With the Southern Section realignment, the Alpha League has defected to this newly created division along with the Arrowhead, Desert-Inyo Small and newly formed Freedom leagues. More important, the Alpha League leaves behind Division IX juggernauts such as Tehachapi, which ended the Mounties’ postseason runs in 1982, 1985 and 1989.
Proof of the Alpha League’s expected dominance lies in the Southern Section Division X preseason poll, in which three Alpha teams are ranked among the top five. The Mounties are ranked No. 1, while fellow Valley schools Village Christian and L. A. Baptist are ranked No. 3 and No. 5.
The prospects, then, of an All-Alpha League final seem rather good.
“On paper, yes,” Village Christian Coach Mike Plaisance said. “Our goal is a Division X championship.”
Three Alpha League teams automatically qualify for the playoffs under the new format, and of the 16 teams that compose the bracket, Alpha representatives figure to be the bullies.
“Whoever comes out of our league should be favored to win it,” L. A. Baptist Coach Mark Bates said.
But don’t condemn this move to a new division as a sign of weakness. According to Plaisance, it was necessary and proper for the Alpha League teams. Just because Montclair Prep has the likes of Times All-Valley Back of the Year Derek Sparks and first-team All-Division IX offensive lineman Donovan Roy (6-foot-6 1/2, 280 pounds) doesn’t mean that the rest of the league does. And the rest of the league was having trouble--numbers-wise--keeping up with the Joneses in Division IX.
Consider the disparity in enrollment: Tehachapi, for example, has an enrollment of 900; L.A. Baptist’s is 460.
“One of the reasons we felt it necessary was the enrollment,” Plaisance said. “It’s not that we’re afraid to play these teams. It’s just that every year we face schools with enrollments near 1,000. There was just no way in the world we could compete with those schools.”
But competing with those schools in the past has left Alpha League coaches and players emotionally and physically tougher. In other words, better prepared for big-time play than schools such as Trona, Hamilton and Twin Pines--the new crop of Division X rivals.
And the comparison between Desert-Inyo Large (Division IX) and Desert-Inyo Small (Division X) leagues is roughly similar to the comparison between Sparks and the average high school tailback. Just last season, Desert High of the Desert-Inyo Large League gave Montclair Prep fits in a playoff opener before falling, 28-14, at Pierce College. And this was the Desert-Inyo Large third -place team.
While Alpha League coaches talk up the toughness of their new Division X colleagues, the truth is that Montclair Prep would rather face a Rosamond in a first-round game than those dreaded Desert Scorpions again. But still, coaches remain diplomatic.
“Everybody says you’re supposed to beat these teams, 65-0, in the playoffs and it just doesn’t work that way,” Hazelton said. “Whether it’s Tehachapi or Boron, they’re there to play, man. You just don’t walk over people in the playoffs.”
Plaisance concedes that the Alpha League appears to be the bully on the Division X block but shares Hazelton’s wariness.
“By no means am I thinking that Village Christian is some awe-inspiring powerhouse,” Plaisance said. “Mammoth (ranked No. 2) is an excellent ballclub. And you can’t overlook Southern California Christian.”
Such reluctance to boast is hiding the fact that the Alpha League sits in a great spot this season. Even Bates, who has only about 20 players, knows the good fortune that awaits this league.
“Division X,” he said, “is great for our league.”
A Southern Section title from one of these Alpha Leaguers would be the ultimate proof.
FINAL 1989 STANDINGS PROJECTED FINISH Montclair Prep 12-1, 5-0 Montclair Prep Western Christian 5-6, 4-1 Village Christian L.A. Baptist 7-3, 3-2 L.A. Baptist Village Christian 5-5, 2-3 Western Christian Marshall Fundamental 1-9, 1-4 Marshall Fundamental Maranatha 1-9, 0-5 Maranatha
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Player School Pos. Ht. Wt. Class Derek Sparks Montclair Prep TB 6-1 208 Sr. Donovan Roy Montclair Prep OL-DL 6-6 1/2 280 Sr. Greg Cole Montclair Prep WR-DB 6-0 170 Sr. Colyn Van Buren L.A. Baptist TB 5-11 200 Sr. Dane Brown L.A. Baptist QB 6-3 205 Jr. Mark Vail Village Christian QB 5-8 155 Sr. Myles Brown Village Christian WR 5-10 180 Jr. Chad Everett Village Christian RB 5-4 150 Jr. Neimad Durham Montclair Prep LB-FB 6-2 215 Sr. Shad Knighton Montclair Prep DB 6-0 170 Sr.