Martin Luczaj knows what to do with the artifacts of a losing football program--relegate them to the dumpster of history.
“We don’t talk about the past,” Luczaj said from his office at Buena Park High School. “We don’t deal with the past. We’ve tried to change anything that we possibly, humanly, know how and that’s what we do.”
At Buena Park, where Luczaj is attempting to right his second Freeway League football program in 10 years, there’s a lot of negative history to bury. The Coyotes last qualified for the playoffs in 1981. Until last season, they hadn’t won a league game since 1983.
As he did in 1981 during his first year at Fullerton High, Luczaj has attempted to wipe away reminders of the past.
Needless to say, there’s no talk of the 28 consecutive league losses, a six-season streak that ended last year. The white helmets of years past have been replaced by green ones and new jerseys have been acquired. Luczaj enlisted the players to clear out and wash the weight room “from the roof to the floor” so it could be re-painted.
It’s all a part of Luczaj’s psychological sales job--trying to convince players at a school with little football tradition that they can be successful.
The last time Luczaj took over a struggling Freeway League football program, he led Fullerton to the league championship in 1981, but it might not go so smoothly the second time around.
For one thing, Luczaj isn’t the unknown sophomore team coach he was when he took over at Fullerton. Luczaj may have been out of Freeway League football since he resigned at Fullerton after the 1986 season, but his reputation as a resuscitator of football programs is still strong.
For another, with the players the Coyotes have returning, Buena Park doesn’t figure to challenge the consensus favorites--Sunny Hills and Troy.
Last season, Sunny Hills didn’t lose a game until it met the eventual Division VI champion, Corona del Mar, in the semifinals of the playoffs. And the Lancers likely will be strong again despite losing all-division running back Brian Pizula, who gained 1,226 yards and scored 19 touchdowns during the regular season, and the bulk of their offensive line.
Ken Overby, who gained more than six yards per carry last season, and Mike Sullivan, who gained more than eight per carry as a wingback, should pick up the slack for the Sunny Hills running game.
This may be the season Troy, which has qualified for the playoffs in John Turek’s first six years as coach but has never won a league championship, breaks through. Warrior quarterback Greg Windle was a first-team all-league selection as a junior and his receivers, Steve Friedrich and Chad Hartford, are two of the best in the league.
After Sunny Hills and Troy, the league is difficult to handicap. La Habra missed the playoffs only three times in the ‘80s, but one of those times was last season, and the Highlanders will have to replace their quarterback and two top rushers.
Like Buena Park, Fullerton and Sonora have new coaches this season. Former Chaffey College defensive coordinator Pat Ward takes over at Fullerton, which finished third last season, and former San Gabriel Coach Terry Cox assumes responsibility for Sonora, which finished last.
With D.C. Olsen, a 6-foot-2, 220-pound linebacker, Fullerton has one of the league’s best hitters--he set a county record with 13 home runs and batted .595 for the Fullerton baseball team last season--and his move from the offensive line to fullback likely scares many a defensive coach.
Cox has tried to bolster Sonora, which has only seven returning lettermen, by disbanding the sophomore team and promoting the players to the varsity. Cox said only 23 of the 41 players truly belong on the varsity. Quarterback Ryan Lewis, who missed the league season last year with an injured shoulder, returns and he’ll be protected by two of the bigger linemen in the league, Scott DeBie (6-2, 245) and Robert White (6-5, 270).
Mark Medellin, a part-time starter at quarterback last season, is one of only three experienced offensive players for Buena Park and the Coyotes’ defense is just as green.
“It dawns on me every time I look out at practice that we’re not very big and not very fast,” Luczaj said.
But Luczaj said he is glad to be back coaching football in the Freeway League. He returns after two seasons as baseball coach at Fullerton High and two as an assistant coach for the Fullerton College football team.
Luczaj resigned the Fullerton High football job partly because he couldn’t get any assistant coaches hired as full-time teachers, and he doesn’t have any assistants who aren’t walk-ons this time around. But his assistants, two of whom are Coyotes’ assistants from last year, are experienced, Luczaj said.
Buena Park’s program is in similar shape as Fullerton’s in 1981, Luczaj said, and the players are taking to the system well. But the tradition of losing runs deep at Buena Park, which last won a Freeway League football championship in 1965.
Luczaj, however, believes the school has had enough of that legacy.
“I think that everybody’s to the point that they’re tired of losing,” he said. “Hopefully, we can change things. But I don’t know, I’m not a miracle worker.”
Tomorrow: Garden Grove League.
Coach: Martin Luczaj (first year)
1989 record: 3-7, 1-4
Returning lettermen: 15
Returning starters: Three on offense, three on defense
Top returnees: Mark Medellin, QB, 5-11, 180, Sr.; Mike Kennedy, OT, 6-0, 220, Sr.; Bryan Baylor, TE-DL, 6-2, 215, Jr.; Shane Langenberg, DB, 5-11, 175, Sr.; Albert Trujillo, DB, 5-8, 160, Sr.
Top newcomers: Angel Barrios, RB-LB, 6-2, 215, Jr.; Robert Starks, RB-LB, 5-10, 200, Jr.
Outlook: The Coyotes ended a 28-game league losing streak last season, but they still have only won one league game since 1983 and last made the playoffs in 1981. Without defensive back/running back Malcolm King (Cal State Fullerton) and linemen Jim Perricone (Cal State Fullerton) and Jason James (Fresno State), who earned Division I football scholarships, the Coyotes lose quite a bit of talent, but returning quarterback Medellin and a two young running back/linebackers, Barrios and Starks, give Luczaj reason for optimism.
Coach: Pat Ward (first year)
1989 record: 7-4, 3-2
Returning lettermen: 20
Returning starters: Four on offense, five on defense
Top returnees: D.C. Olsen, LB-FB, 6-1, 220, Sr.; Jimmy Peterson, WR-DB, 5-10, 175, Sr.; Brian Wilber, C-DL, 6-4, 250, Jr.; Ben Iuli, DL-OL, 6-4, 260, Jr.; Daniel Chacon, QB-DB, 5-9, 160, Jr.; David Chacon, RB-DB, 5-9, 165, Jr., Shawn Pearson, OL-LB, 5-9, 190, Jr.; Joey Hernandez, LB-RB, 5-10, 185, Sr.
Top newcomer: Kelle Whitehurst, TE-DE, 6-3, 215, Sr.
Outlook: In his first head coaching position, Ward, the defensive coordinator at Chaffey College the past three years, will be faced with the task of replacing quarterback Rene Arias, a three-year starter and three-sport all-league player. But Ward says junior Daniel Chacon, who played cornerback last year, will be a capable replacement. And of course, the Indians have D.C. Olsen, possibly the league’s best athlete, at linebacker.
Coach: Jack Nicholls (third year)
1989 record: 4-6, 2-3
Returning lettermen: 17
Returning starters: Four on offense, six on defense
Top returnees: Matt Smith, C, 6-1, 185, Sr.; Herman Hernandez, OL, 6-3, 245, Sr.; Mike Mooney, FB-LB, 6-2, 200, Jr.; Frank Saiz, RB-DB, 5-8, 155, Sr.; John Ledieff, OL-DL, 6-1, 205, Jr.; Don Anderson, DL-FB, 6-0, 180, Sr.; Pat Gleason, LB, 5-11, 220, Sr.; Greg Mitchell, QB, 6-2, 190, Sr.;
Top newcomers: Steve Busch, WR, 5-8, 140, So.; Matt Moreno, RB-DB, 5-10, 150, Jr.; Jason Johnson, RB-DB, 5-9, 160, Jr.
Outlook: The Highlanders missed the playoffs last season for the first time since they forfeited two league games in 1987. Greg Mitchell, starting free safety and backup quarterback last season, takes over at quarterback for Mark Moreno. Whether they can return to playoffs probably depends more on the young runners who replace Mark Brown and Jeff Besinaiz, who gained more than 1,300 yards between them last season.
Coach: Terry Cox (first year)
1989 record: 2-8, 0-5
Returning lettermen: Seven
Returning starters: Three on offense, two on defense
Top returnees: Ryan Lewis, QB-DB, 6-0, 195, Sr.; Scott DeBie, C-DL, 6-2, 245, Jr.; Robert White, OL-DL, 6-5, 270, Sr.
Top newcomers: Deron Drake, RB, 5-10, 170, Jr.; Danny White, LB, 5-10, 175, Jr.; Scott Spears, LB, 6-1, 195, Jr.; Tim Gorman, LB, 5-7, 165, Jr.; Todd Fletcher, DL, 6-2, 185, Jr.; Kurtis Lucero, DB-WR, 5-10, 165, Jr.
Outlook: Cox is faced with a task that humbled five coaches during the 1980s--turning around Sonora’s football program. Cox, the former San Gabriel coach, replaces Larry Allen, who resigned after winning one league game in two years. Cox says attitudes have improved. Among those who should contribute are quarterback Lewis, who injured his shoulder and missed the league games last year, and Drake, who gained more than 2,000 yards in two years for lower-level teams.
Coach: Tim Devaney (11th year)
1989 record: 12-1, 5-0
Returning lettermen: 21
Returning starters: Six on offense, three on defense
Top returnees: Ken Overby, RB-LB, 5-11, 195, Sr.; Mike Sullivan, RB-DB, 5-11, 185, Sr.; Steve Choe, DB-WR, 5-9, 175, Sr.; Brian Gluhak, LB, 5-10, 175, Sr.; David Wilde, DB-WR, 5-8, 170, Sr.
Top newcomer: Marlon Womack, RB, 6-2, 195, Jr.
Outlook: Leading rusher Brian Pizula has graduated. But with Overby and Sullivan, who each averaged more than six yards a carry last season, returning to the backfield, the defending league champs’ ground game shouldn’t suffer despite the loss of linemen Robert Sung (6-1, 235), Darren Correll (6-2, 255) and Pat Marshall (6-1, 230). On defense, where the Lancers shut out six opponents last season, the situation on the line is unclear. But Devaney is confident in the linebacker corps, headed by Overby, and the secondary, which includes Sullivan and Choe, a three-year starter.
Coach: John Turek (seventh year)
1989 record: 7-4, 4-1
Returning lettermen: 20
Returning starters: Nine on offense, six on defense
Top returnees: Greg Windle, QB, 6-1, 185, Sr.; Steve Friedrich, WR-DB, 5-11, 170, Sr.; Chad Hartford, TE-DB, 6-0, 170, Sr.; Chad Brasington, RB, 6-1, 195, Sr.; Jeff Dorsz, OL, 6-5, 255, Sr.; Robert Blankmeyer, OL, 5-10, 200, Sr.; Bodie Berg, C, 6-1, 195, Jr.; Ryan Russell, WR, 5-8, 145, Sr.; Marty Gomez, DE, 5-10, 175, Jr.; Robert Long, DT, 6-1, 190, Sr.; Bryan Ferguson, LB, 6-1, 180, Sr.
Top newcomers: Jim Falletta, TE-LB, 6-4, 205, Jr.; Roger Cruz, DL, 6-2, 220, Sr.; Brent Coon, DB-RB, 6-1, 185, Jr.
Outlook: With Windle (the league’s top quarterback), Friedrich (one of the top receivers), tight end Hartford and flanker Russell (both second-team all-league receivers), running back Brasington and all but two of the offensive line returning, Troy might have the firepower to challenge Sunny Hills, the defending champions.