COACH: Frank Greminger, 21st season
LAST SEASON: 9-4; 3rd in Frontier League, 3-2
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Senior Sean Fitzgerald (6-foot-4, 190 pounds) must fill the void left by the graduation of quarterback Josh Smaler, a first-team all-league selection. Fitzgerald, a first-team all-league punter, played sparingly at quarterback last season. Seniors Matt Francisco (5-10, 180) and Chris Bluth (5-10, 185) return to the backfield, and transfer Damon Riggins rushed for 660 yards for a weak Calabasas team last year. Steve Manos (5-10, 180), a first-team all-league defensive end last season, leads an inexperienced defense. The linebacker corps includes Pat Fitzgerald (6-0, 185), Mario Renteria (5-10, 175), Brett Dahnes (6-1, 200) and Alabama transfer Rod Christoff (6-0, 190), the son of UCLA assistant A.J. Christoff. Brothers Kevin (6-4, 210) and Chris Corbett (5-11, 210), and Dave Rocco (5-10, 205) will provide help on the defensive line.
OUTLOOK: Agoura is inexperienced on the offensive line, but Sean Fitzgerald could develop into one of the better quarterbacks in the league. “I’m real confident in our quarterback, but I’m worried about our inexperience and lack of depth,” Greminger said. Agoura moves from Division VIII to Division II, but it likely won’t devastate the Chargers. Agoura traditionally has played Marmonte League teams in non-league games and was 2-1 versus Marmonte League teams last season. Agoura is not as deep as most league foes but will be competitive if it can avoid injuries.
COACH: Carl Thompson, 8th season
LAST SEASON: 4-5, 4th in league, 3-3
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Tight end-defensive end Eric Swendemen (6-4, 225) and tackle Eric Jensen (6-3, 220) are attracting interest from NCAA Division I schools. Jensen, an all-league defensive tackle last season, will start both ways. Corey Tucker (5-11, 180), a second-team utility player last season who accounted for nearly 1,000 yards, will start at quarterback and lead an option offense that generated the second-worst production in the league in 1989. Tucker, sophomore tailback Fehel Campbell (5-11, 170) and junior fullback Tag Johnson give Camarillo an explosive backfield. Campbell runs the 40-yard dash in 4.6 seconds and Johnson (5-11, 200) started two games as a sophomore. Junior tackle Eric Bateman (6-5, 245) and junior guard Jeremy Cochrane (6-0, 220) are expected to provide many holes for them. Cochrane, a starter at nose tackle last year, will move to linebacker, becoming a two-way starter. Brian Vellmure (5-11, 170), who led the team with 377 rushing yards and was a second-team all-league back last season, will concentrate on duties at free safety.
OUTLOOK: Only 15 of the Scorpions’ 71 players are seniors, and they have the size, depth, and speed to contend for the league title. Camarillo’s youth might result in a slow start, but the Scorpions could be playing their finest football when playoff time rolls around. “I think we’ll get better each week,” Thompson said.
COACH: Joel Gershon, 18th season
LAST SEASON: 4-5, 5th in league, 2-4
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Channel Islands has a pair of prospective NCAA Division I backs in tailback Renard Carn (6-1, 185) and fullback Pharoh Milner (5-10, 185). Carn, who rushed for 627 yards last season as a fullback, has been timed at 4.45 for 40 yards and 10.7 in the 100 meters. Milner was a second-team all-league back who ran for 440 yards last season. Stan Espinosa (6-0, 195) will attempt to fill the quarterback position vacated when first-team all-league selection Mark Contreras graduated. Running back Jason Richardson (5-11, 175) is a returning letterman. Carn and Milner will have plenty of opportunities to run behind an experienced line that includes all-league center Ryan Laudato (6-1, 195), tackles Matt Gomez (6-1, 245) and Ceasar Morales (6-0, 225), guards John Gallero (5-7, 195) and George Camia (5-9, 210), and tight end Chris Sawlesville (6-0, 180). Wide receivers Ricky Rodriguez (5-7, 145), Mark Lopez (5-10, 170) and Rich Hunt (5-10, 170) are inexperienced but could eventually provide the run-oriented Raiders with a viable passing attack. Lamont Pearson (6-0, 190) will add depth at fullback and outside linebacker. Defensive tackle Arturo Hernandez (6-2, 265) could be the finest defensive lineman in the league. End Max Ortiz (6-0, 205) is expected to add strong defensive help, as are linebackers Espinosa, Ronnie Marin (5-9, 155), Ricky Estrada (5-11, 170), Trevor Lofland (5-10, 175), and Ignacio Lopez (5-6, 155). Carn, Milner, and Richardson also will play in the secondary.
OUTLOOK: Channel Islands is big, fast, deep, and talented, and the Raiders have the potential to return to their championship form of 1987 and 1988. Carn is an Eric Dickerson-type runner who is being heavily recruited by major colleges. He and Milner could run amok behind a line that averages 210 pounds. The biggest, and perhaps only, question mark is at quarterback, where Espinosa is a converted linebacker. Twenty-two letterman return and it could be a big year at Raiders Way, where Channel Islands will play its home games for the first time in 26 years.
COACH: George Hurley, 2nd season
LAST SEASON: 7-3-2; second in league, 4-1-1
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Senior tailback Walter Thomas (5-6, 150) led the team with 647 yards in 139 carries last season and senior fullback Jeff Buchanan (6-2, 200) carried 69 times for 315 yards. But they will run behind an inexperienced offensive line that has only one returning starter--guard Brandt Pile (5-10, 220). Quarterback Zak Sutton (5-7, 140), a junior who played sparingly at the position on the sophomore team, showed promise in summer passing-league games. Jason Smith (5-6, 150), a free safety, is the lone returning defensive starter and also will play wide receiver. Nose tackle Todd Bisacchi (5-10, 195) and linebacker Mike Kelley (6-1, 200) are expected to add defensive help. Senior John Obringer (6-0, 195), junior Jeff Epstein (6-3, 220) and junior Sean McKeown (6-3, 220) will steady the line. Buchanan (linebacker) and Thomas (cornerback) also will play defense.
OUTLOOK: A strong defensive unit enabled the Panthers to reach the second round of the Southern Section Division II playoffs last season, and it will again play an important role in the team’s success. Offensively, there are numerous question marks: The line is inexperienced, Thomas is often injured, and Sutton has no varsity experience. But the defense should be strong early and overshadow the offensive weaknesses. And the offense might develop in time for another playoff berth.
COACH: Gene Uebelhardt, 3rd season
LAST SEASON: 3-7; tied for 6th in league, 1-5
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Tim Ross (6-4, 205), a two-time all-league safety, is considered one of the top prospects in the Far West by Super Prep magazine. Linebacker Matt Tomasewski (6-1, 205), strong safety John Clarke (5-11, 180), and cornerback Chris Escobar (6-0, 180) are expected to provide strong defensive help. Quarterback Ryan Fien (6-4, 185) is a junior who was a first-team all-league selection as a sophomore. Fien will throw often, and targets include receivers Jeff Creed (6-2, 175), Tony Liming (5-9, 195) and tight end Carlos Gonzalez (6-1, 195). Creed is an NCAA Division I prospect with reliable hands who led league players with 44 receptions last year, and Liming has run 40 yards in 4.55. Royal’s large offensive line is led by tackles Jason Evans (6-2, 256) and Eric Droll (6-4, 225), guards David Wilson (6-1, 235) and Mark Hodge (6-1, 225), and center David Charron (6-2, 216). Running back Robbie Smith (5-7, 160) led the team with 344 yards last season and will be joined by junior Damian Gied (6-0, 195), the MVP of the sophomore team a season ago. Punter-kicker Rich Naranjo (5-7, 160) can hit field goals from 45 yards and averages more than 40 yards a punt.
OUTLOOK: Sixteen starters return for Royal, which could be on course toward its first playoff berth since 1983. “We’ve gone to war with a lot less,” Uebelhardt said. The Fien-to-Creed connection, which could be lethal behind that big and experienced offensive line, will be complemented by Liming’s speed. Ross will lead a strong defense. “A lot of people talk about the strength of our offense, but our defense may be even stronger,” Uebelhardt said. Royal led at halftime in five of the Highlanders’ losses last year. “I think we lost more than we were beaten last year,” he said. This year, that scenario could easily be reversed.
COACH: Stan Quina, 1st season
LAST SEASON: 1-9; tied for 6th in league, 1-5
PLAYERS TO WATCH: The Pioneer defense will be led by senior Ron Anderson (5-10, 165), a two-year starter in the secondary. Brian Balleweg (5-9, 165), who also plays soccer, has kicked 50-yard field goals in practice. Senior Ed Gonzalez (5-9, 175-80) will start at running back. Adam Guzzo (5-9, 190) might start beside Gonzalez, but Quina would prefer to use him more at linebacker. Tim Kirksey (6-0, 170), a junior transfer from Camarillo, will start at quarterback. “We’re looking for big things from him,” Quina said. Tim Martin (6-0, 200) and Carlos Ordonez (6-0, 210) will be heavily relied upon both on defense and offense. Abel Ortega will join Anderson in the secondary. Junior tackle Kirk Robertson (6-5, 280), a starter as a sophomore, will control the offensive line. Dave Romines (5-9, 165), a speedy junior, will be Kirksey’s primary target.
OUTLOOK: Quina inherits a program that has won only one game the past two seasons. “As far as we’re concerned, we’re starting from scratch and going forward,” he said. Although Quina promises a balanced mix of running and throwing, he was an assistant at Royal during the Highlanders’ passing-fancy era of the early 1980s, and his offensive coordinator is Ken Lutz, who threw for more than 2,500 yards at Royal. Simi Valley’s wide-open attack should earn some much-needed respect, and the Pioneers will play hard for Quina and his enthusiastic staff. But it likely won’t result immediately in victories.
COACH: Bob Richards, 8th season
LAST SEASON: 11-1-1; 1st in league, 6-0
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Jason Ybarra (6-0, 190), Matt Buchanan (5-8, 175) and Dave Acosta (6-0, 240) will lead the Lancer linebackers. Acosta was a second-team all-league defensive tackle last year and will play rover this season in place of the graduated Lance Martin, the league’s defensive player of the year. Dave Watts (6-1, 175), Dan Fitzgerald (6-0, 165), and Kenny O’Connor (5-7, 165) will patrol the defensive secondary. Quarterback Scott Peterson (6-0, 170) is one of only three returning starters on offense. Jeff Watts (6-1, 175) and O’Connor will be Peterson’s primary targets. Jim Sewell (6-1, 195) and Bryce Elliott (6-2, 200), a second-team all-star last year, will lead an inexperienced line that includes juniors Tom Magallanes (6-1, 210), Matt Hansen (6-1, 210), Paul Yerman (6-3, 218), and Shane Graham (6-5, 210). Ybarra (6-0, 190), a first-team kicker last year, also will play wide receiver. Mike Ciandella (5-10, 185) will play center and defensive end. Speedy tailback Cory Bowen (5-7, 175) rushed for 377 yards last season.
OUTLOOK: Traditionally, Thousand Oaks’ stingy defense has overshadowed its less-than-explosive offense. This year, however, that might change. Eight starters graduated from last year’s league-leading defense. The run-oriented offense will throw more than usual because of Peterson’s ability. Inexperience might result in early struggles, but expect the powerhouse Lancers to contend for the title in the talent-rich league.
COACH: Jim Benkert, 2nd season
LAST SEASON: 5-6-1; 3rd in league, 3-2-1
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Todd Preston (6-3, 180) has thrown for 3,100 yards in two years and is one of the top quarterback prospects in Southern California. Seamus Gibbons (5-10, 170), who led the team with 573 yards receiving last year, looms as Westlake’s multipurpose offensive threat--much like Luke Crawford (more than 1,000 yards) a year ago. Gibbons, recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery, will line up at either wide receiver, tailback, or wingback. Erik Holcomb (6-0, 155), second on the team with 463 receiving yards as a sophomore, will provide Preston with another target. Holcomb, who has 4.5 speed in the 40-yard dash, also returned four kickoffs for touchdowns before being sidelined by a deep thigh bruise last season. Tight end Dave Monheim (6-3, 210), in only his second year of organized football, caught 39 passes his first season. Tackles Matt Volk (6-3, 210) and James Gillespie (6-3, 215) and nose guard Eric Pacheco (5-10, 225) are returning starters. Monheim doubles as a linebacker with Jim McCrossan (5-10, 190) and Vince Bruno (6-3, 200). Gibbons will play in the secondary, along with Holcomb and perhaps Preston.
OUTLOOK: Skill players such as Preston, Gibbons, Holcomb and Monheim provide Westlake with the ablity to score on any snap. But the Warriors’ weaknesses lie in their inexperienced linemen and porous defense of a year ago. Westlake also cannot afford to rely on its one-dimensional offense, evident in a league-high 2,156 passing yards and league-low 884 rushing yards last season. The defense, allowed the least yardage and fewest points in the league last season, must improve if the Warriors are to unseat Thousand Oaks.