Montclair Prep

COACH: George Giannini, 3rd season

LAST SEASON: 12-1; 1st in league, 5-0

PLAYERS TO WATCH: The spotlight will shine primarily on one player in this year’s backfield, but that lone individual should make enough of an impact to ensure a banner season for the Mounties. Tailback Derek Sparks (6-foot-1, 208 pounds) led Valley players in rushing (1,944 yards) and scoring (35 touchdowns) as a junior and is considered one of the country’s top backs this season. To say he is expecting a monster year is an understatement. Eight offensive starters return but some will be in new positions. Junior quarterback Mike Lincavage (6-1, 175) takes the place of senior Leland Sparks (5-10, 170), now a flanker and cornerback. The Mounties promise to pass more this year; last season they threw for but 239 yards. Neimad Durham (6-2, 215), an offensive guard and linebacker last season, moves to fullback (on defense he remains a linebacker) and will be counted on heavily as Sparks’ blocking back. Offensive and defensive tackle Donovan Roy (6-6 1/2, 280) already has been tabbed by Super Prep magazine as a second-team All-West Coast performer. Standout senior Greg Cole (6-0, 170) is back at wide receiver and cornerback after petitioning the Southern Section for another year of eligibility. Free safety Shad Knighten (6-0, 170), last season’s Southern Section leader in interceptions (7), also returns. All told, nine defensive starters return, including linebackers John Goldbaum (6-1, 212) and Dylan Jones (6-1, 190). The kicking game also is proven, with punter Chris Portugal (6-0, 185) and kicker Ed Cibrian (6-2, 190) returning.

OUTLOOK: The Mounties have talent to spare. Stopped two wins shy of the Southern Section Division IX title that had seemed theirs for the taking, they seem determined to make up for it this year. Montclair Prep enters the season a heavy favorite for not only an Alpha League title but also a Southern Section Division X title. “Our last memory of football is a lost game,” assistant coach John Hazelton said. “The bitter taste is still there. We’re practicing hard--like a group that failed its last time out.”

L.A. Baptist

COACH: Mark Bates, 2nd season

LAST SEASON: 7-3; 3rd in league, 3-2

PLAYERS TO WATCH: L.A. Baptist surprised Alpha League watchers with a successful campaign under Bates, who had fewer than 20 players to work with in his first season. This year, he starts with 20, but he feels fortunate that one of them is tailback Colyn Van Buren (5-11, 200), in his view, the team’s best athlete. Van Buren will team in the backfield with Mark Hampsten (6-0, 170), a senior fullback. The quarterback is new--junior Dane Brown (6-3, 205), who threw for 1,800 yards on the junior-varsity team, according to Bates. A mixed offensive attack will include junior tight end Jeff Faller (6-0, 185), junior wide receiver Mike Degl’Innocenti (5-9, 175) and senior tight end Chris Herthel (6-1, 180). Returning linemen include second-team all-league selections Ralph Lycklama (6-3, 200), a guard who also plays middle linebacker, and offensive tackle Gus Hixson (6-2, 190). Another returning all-league choice is defensive lineman Scott Brady (6-0, 185). Junior Randy Neckien (5-11, 195) might be the best athlete on the line, Bates said. Faller, Van Buren, Degl’Innocenti and his brother, Vinnie, figure to also play prominent defensive roles, along with cornerback Matt Guiza (5-9, 165).


OUTLOOK: Last year’s success set up high expectations for the future of the football program under Bates, who recognizes that his team’s ability to stay healthy last season was an important factor. “Last year, we stayed healthy. If we can do that again, then we have a shot at it,” he said.

Village Christian

COACH: Mike Plaisance, 11th season

LAST SEASON: 5-5; 4th in league, 2-3

PLAYERS TO WATCH: Last year was not the kind that Plaisance would like to duplicate. And he says he has a quarterback who will ensure against such a repeat--fiery and competitive senior Mark Vail (5-8, 150). “He’s proven to a lot of coaches that he can throw the ball,” Plaisance said. “He’s got a cockiness and a winning attitude.” Junior tailback Chad Everett (5-4, 150) led the team in rushing in 1989 until he was injured. The rest of the skill-position players also are returnees: senior fullback Rick Nickles (5-11, 190), who led the team in all-purpose rushing, junior running back Jason Gourson (5-7, 165) and flanker Myles Brown (5-10, 180), acclaimed by Plaisance as “the fastest kid in the school.” A surprise in spring practice was sophomore receiver J.B. McCloud (6-0, 180), who is expected to be a key contributor. The large linemen of last year are absent with the exception of Jeff Bell (6-0, 205), a guard-linebacker. Plaisance refers to the other players contending for positions as his “anorexic crew,” and they still are being evaluated. On defense, Brown and Vail will play in the secondary along with returning cornerback Matt Smay (5-10, 175) and senior Josh Abrahams (6-0, 175). Joining Bell in the linebacking corps is senior Geoff Agnor (5-11, 180).

OUTLOOK: The talk is big at Village Christian. Plaisance says that the Crusaders are so eager to put 1989 behind them that they are gearing, quite simply, for a Division X title. Certainly, Montclair Prep stands in the way. But, as Plaisance points out, “We’ve beaten them two of the last three years and we’re ready to make it three of the last four.”