COACH: John Albee, 23rd season
LAST SEASON: 6-5; 2nd in league, 4-1
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Plenty of talent and speed returns for Quartz Hill, whose season e h ended last year in a first-round playoff loss to powerful Muir. Leading the way are three tailbacks, including junior Erik Thomas (5-foot-10, 180 pounds), the Golden League 100-meter champion (10.94 seconds) as a sophomore. Thomas ran for 507 yards in 68 carries and will share duty with seniors David Nelson (5-10, 200), who rushed for 409 yards, and Selves Smith (6-0, 205), who ran for 306 yards. “Whoever has the hot hand will get more carries,” Albee said. Two players are vying for the quarterback position: junior Jake Haro (5-8, 150), described by Albee as a winner at the freshman and sophomore levels and a team leader, and senior Richard Pesti (6-1, 192), a converted wide receiver-defensive back. “Were we to start tomorrow, Haro would get it,” Albee said. At fullback is hard-nosed junior Ralph Gutierrez (6-3, 215), who started at defensive tackle last season. The line is big and experienced; junior tackle Randy Clemons (6-3, 246) will draw attention from college scouts as well as opposing coaches, and senior tackle Brian Lasagna (6-2, 175) and senior center Tony Sanders (5-9, 231) also will anchor the line. “We will probably do a bit more running this year,” Albee said. Senior Jesse Oggs (5-9, 147) is a returning all-league wideout and fellow receiver Rob Keller (5-11, 158) was a starter last season. The defense also is loaded: senior Paul Kaplin (5-9, 195) is a two-year starter at nose tackle, Smith is an all-league linebacker and Gutierrez returns at tackle. Other veterans on a strong defense include outside linebackers Josh Patterson (6-1, 205) and Jason Carr (6-0, 192) and defensive back John Sokalski (5-7, 142).
OUTLOOK: Quartz Hill ranks fifth in Division I in the Southern Section preseason poll, higher even than three-time defending league champion Canyon, which is ranked ninth. The Rebels’ experience and talent suggest the team is playoff-bound. “We think we’re going to be solid,” Albee said. A league title? “We’re gearing up that way,” he said.
COACH: Harry Welch, 9th season
LAST SEASON: 8-4-1; 1st in league, 5-0
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Canyon prides itself on exceeding 2,000 yards rushing and 2,000 yards passing every season. This season the passing is expected to be the responsibility of Kevin Bialas, a “good, hard-working, blue-collar kid,” according to Welch. Bialas succeeds Tim Beidle (2,198 yards, 16 touchdowns in 1989). Senior tailback David McDivitt (5-9, 182) suffered a severe concussion in a passing-league game and was playing somewhat tentatively heading into the season. “Before his concussion, I really thought that he was going to be a star,” Welch said. “Now, the jury is out. I still anticipate a good season from him.” But Canyon’s strength is not at the skill positions; the best players include senior linebacker Scott Blade (6-0, 189) and senior defensive back Mark Santos (5-10, 176). They also will carry the ball for Welch but will not start on offense, in line with a Welch rule outlawing double-duty starting. Welch says his offensive line “some time this year will be excellent. That to me is a statement I’m reluctant to make, but I feel that strongly about them.” Heading that crew is senior John Artimovich (5-11, 226), who will be joined by seniors Sean Gloeckner (6-2, 221), John Doherty (6-2, 220), Steve Conley (6-0, 223) and Chris Fellows (6-0, 223). Welch also is high on defensive ends Brad Weaver (6-1, 175), a senior, and junior Chuck Osborne (6-3, 229). Junior inside linebacker Craig Reiter (6-2, 208) will join the team four weeks late because of a leg stress fracture.
OUTLOOK: Canyon came within one game of the Division II final last season but is looking at Division I opposition in this season’s playoffs, assuming the Cowboys get that far. Who wouldn’t, considering Welch’s 39-1 Golden League record over eight seasons? “I think we can contend,” Welch says modestly. Canyon’s league domination in the past eight years backs him up.
COACH: Brent Newcomb, 13th season
LAST SEASON: 3-7; 4th in league, 2-3
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Five juniors who started in 1989 will form the core of a team that is trying to rebound from an atypical losing season. Leading the way is Mike Fossati (6-0, 175), who will play quarterback as well as cornerback, his position last season. Newcomb described defensive lineman Carl Taylor (6-0, 280) as “maybe the best athlete on the team.” Certainly the team’s fastest player is safety-tailback Freddie Edwards (6-0, 165), who returned a punt and an interception for touchdowns last season and, said Newcomb, “might be the guy you have to stop.” Another speedster is outside linebacker-wide receiver Eugene Dreher, one of the top track athletes in the Golden League who played defensive line last season. The fifth junior returning starter is kicker Peter Holt, who will perform punting and kicking duties. “I’ve been blessed with some good kickers in the past,” Newcomb said, “and (Holt) has real, real good range.” One senior who will garner much attention is tackle-defensive lineman Rick Nichols (6-2, 255), an all-league player being recruited by NCAA Division I schools.
OUTLOOK: Considering that Antelope Valley won a Southern Section title in 1988, its record last season startled many. This year’s record might not be much better, even though the team will be; the Antelopes’ preleague schedule--including Hawthorne, West Bakersfield, Redlands, Loyola and El Toro--could very well be among the toughest in California. “We’re gonna have to learn fast,” Newcomb said. “And you learn from playing the good teams.” The Golden League will qualify three playoff teams, and Antelope Valley is planning to be among them. “We’ve got youth,” Newcomb said. “But we’d like to sneak in there at the end. Our goal is the playoffs, but we’re going to have to upset somebody to do it.”
COACH: Kent Bothwell, 2nd season
LAST SEASON: 3-8; 3rd in league, 2-3
PLAYERS TO WATCH: The offense features three NCAA Division I prospects, including speedy quarterback Rodney Williams (6-0, 180), who also plays defensive back and returns punts. “Physically, he has the talent,” Bothwell said. “If he plays up to potential, he could play some good football.” The other two notable offensive weapons are running back Vashon LeCesne (6-3, 215), who is being recruited as an outside linebacker, and running back Kalonji Watts (6-2, 210), who doubles at free safety and is “another one of those big and strong kids that can run,” according to Bothwell. Senior running back-defensive back-kick returner Anthony Ortega (5-9, 170) provides additional speed. The offensive and defensive lines are loaded too; the big prize is junior offensive lineman Esaul Viramontes (6-3, 272), up from the junior varsity. Senior linemen Joe Gonzales (6-3, 240) and Ken Sneed (6-3, 230) will play on offense and defense, as will senior guard-middle linebacker Zeke Wertz (6-2, 200), senior tackle Mike Bowe (6-3, 210) and junior wide receiver-defensive back Tervelle Spears (6-0, 180).
OUTLOOK: With Quartz Hill and Canyon seriously contending for two of the league’s automatic playoff berths, Palmdale might vie with Antelope Valley for the third. Then again, if all the talent and size and speed pan out the way Bothwell hopes, Quartz Hill and Canyon had better watch out. “Palmdale will compete with everyone it plays,” Bothwell said. “We’ll be exciting and explosive.”
COACH: Dick Flaherty, 4th season
LAST SEASON: 4-6; 5th in league, 1-4.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Flaherty thinks he has his best team in four seasons and experience is largely the reason. Quarterback Jeff Hickman (6-0, 185) threw for 1,007 yards as a junior and has smart returning senior receivers in Bill Dolan (5-10, 140), Rob Davidson (5-8, 145) and Orlando Martinez (5-6, 130) and quick junior receivers in Alex Flores (5-8, 135) and Jason Bobby (5-10, 150). Louie Casper (6-1, 205), noted for his upper-body strength, has moved from linebacker to fullback for his senior season. The tailback has yet to be determined; leading candidates include senior Tyrone McKellor (5-6, 140) and junior David Doyle (5-11, 160). Flaherty likes what he sees on defense. The team’s strong points, according to the coach, include junior nose guard John Lupata (5-10, 185) and defensive end Dan Carruthers (6-2, 200). Flaherty is high on two linebackers--junior Jeff Menta (5-10, 175) and senior Brian Allen (5-10, 190). But the prize of the defense is returning all-league safety Shane Anderson (5-10, 170), a senior. Flaherty also feels that junior kicker Rob Chilton (5-8, 145) is a Division I prospect.
OUTLOOK: In a tough league, Saugus is hoping to squeeze into third place. “Everybody’s talking Canyon and Quartz Hill,” Flaherty said. “But we’ll be somewhere in the middle.”