Cream of the Crop: Southern California's Top 22 Football Players

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Dick Lascola, who operates the Fallbrook, Calif.-based Scouting Evaluation Assn., said the prep football talent pool in Southern California last season was disappointing.

"But we strung together five good years in a row," he said. "So I guess we were due for a bad year."

Lascola and other scouts who annually canvas the Southland in search of top college prospects said the talent level is up this season.

"It looks like a pretty good year," says Houston-based super scout Max Emfinger. "There (are) some really good people out there this year."

Lascola said the talent crop is especially deep at defensive back, offensive tackle and running back. It is noticeably thin at quarterback, wide receiver and linebacker.

Among the top-rated players this season are running back Napoleon Kaufman of Lompoc and offensive tackle Robert Loya of Fontana.

In addition to Lascola and Emfinger, national recruiting services such as G & W Recruiting Report of Pennsylvania, Tom Lemming's Prep Football Report of Illinois, SuperPrep magazine of Costa Mesa and the Florida-based Steve Smith's Blue Chip report also determine which Greater Los Angeles and Orange County seniors are rated among the best players.

Fontana and El Toro each have two players on the list.

Here, in no particular order, are the Terrific 22:

Rob Johnson (El Toro, quarterback)--It may be a down year for quarterbacks in the Southland, but Johnson could be the exception. If the name sounds familiar, his brother Bret was starting quarterback at UCLA last season. At 6-foot-4 and 210 pounds, he is bigger than his brother and has a powerful throwing arm. An all-around athlete, Johnson was All-Southern Section in football, baseball and basketball as a junior. Playing sparingly at quarterback last season, he completed 20 of 25 passes for 550 yards and should have little difficulty making the transition from wide receiver.

Napoleon Kaufman (Lompoc, running back)--He was the highest-ranked player on the Terrific 22. One of the swiftest players in the nation, the 5-9, 170-pound Kaufman has speed and moves that one scouting service compared to Notre Dame's Raghib Ismail. He won the 100 and 200 meters at the state track meet in June and runs the 40-yard dash in 4.3 seconds. As a junior, he gained 2,954 all-purpose yards and scored 39 touchdowns and averaged a remarkable 70 yards on kickoff returns. He also played defensive back and had four interceptions last year.

Lamont Warren (Dorsey, running back)--If Kaufman is the best running back in the state, Warren is not far behind. Some scouts rate him higher than Kaufman. At 6-1 and 185, he has more size and speed with a 4.4 time in the 40. He also finished second in the state in the 400 meters in June. A slashing runner, he rushed for 1,350 yards and 25 touchdowns and caught 20 passes for 205 yards. "It is rare when you find a back with all the tools Lamont possesses," said the Lemming report. He also is an excellent defensive back.

Derek Sparks (Mater Dei, running back)--He transferred to Mater Dei after playing his first game of the season at Montclair Prep. As a junior, the 6-1 and 208-pound Sparks produced some impressive rushing figures for the Mounties. His totals of 1,944 yards and 32 touchdowns in 210 carries last year and more than 3,300 yards in two seasons attracted a great deal of attention from colleges. Scouts describe him as a power back with great moves, vision and more-than-adequate 4.5 speed in the 40. He bench presses 320 pounds and also plays linebacker.

Ontiwaun Carter (Granada Hills Kennedy, running back)--In an exceptional year for running backs, Carter joins Sparks as another prized player from the San Fernando Valley. At 5-10 and 175, he does not have outstanding size but makes up for that with speed, strength and durability. He runs the 40 in 4.5 and has bench pressed 350 pounds. Carter has rushed for 2,753 yards and 21 touchdowns in his first two seasons at Kennedy, including 1,563 yards and 11 touchdowns last year. Recruiters also think he could to play cornerback in college.

Leon Neal (Paramount, running back)--Small is big this year in the Southland. Neal, 5-9 and 170 pounds, is another undersized running back who is receiving a look from recruiters. Last season he rushed for 1,729 yards and 23 touchdowns and averaged more than 12 yards a carry. Also a good pass receiver, he combines exceptional quickness with leaping ability and lateral movement. A good all-around athlete and outstanding student, his best moves in college could come at cornerback.

Albert Jones (Westchester, wide receiver)--One of the best all-around athletes on the Terrific 22, Jones is usually mentioned first as a receiver and then as a defensive back, but could easily wind up playing either position in college because of his size and speed. A transfer from St. Monica, he is 6-3 and 190 pounds and runs the 40 in 4.5. As a junior, he caught 32 passes for 606 yards and 10 touchdowns and demonstrated his explosive qualities by returning four punts and two interceptions for scores.

Joel Rosborough (Long Beach Jordan, wide receiver)--An athlete who might be able to pick his sport for college, the 6-3 and 175-pound Rosborough is equally adept in football and basketball. Depending on what scout you believe, he can also play at either wide receiver or defensive back. As a receiver with 4.5 speed, he combines good leaping ability and hands and is considered a big-play threat. On defense, he has the instincts to excel at safety. He also averaged 15 points for the basketball team last season.

Chris Finch (Riverside Ramona, offensive lineman)--As talented as the list of running backs appears to be, the pool of interior linemen is even deeper. One of the most talented is Finch, 6-6 and 265 pounds, who has excelled on both sides of the line for a Ramona squad that has produced several big linemen. G & W Recruiting Report rates him the No. 1 offensive line prospect in the state. He is a fierce blocker with superb technique and more-than-adequate foot speed. The biggest question is his grades, which could stand improvement.

Robert Loya (Fontana, offensive lineman)--For sheer power and determination, you will not find a more dominating lineman than the 6-3 and 280 Loya. Said Lemming's report, "Robert is a fierce competitor who is known for knocking defenders on their backside." Regarded by many scouts as the state's best offensive lineman, he has quick feet with a 5.0 clocking in the 40. He has a dead lift of 565 pounds. He is also solid academically with a 3.6 grade-point average.

Clay Hattabaugh (Fontana, offensive lineman)--With major-college prospects such as Loya and Hattabaugh on the same line, it is no wonder why big things are expected from Fontana again this season. At 6-3 and 265, Hattabaugh is slightly smaller than Loya but a little faster with a 4.9 time in the 40. He also has tremendous strength, having bench pressed 375 pounds. He moves well off a block and is especially strong as a run-blocker. A tackle in high school, he could move to guard for college.

John DiSante (Sherman Oaks Notre Dame, offensive lineman)--In a blue-chip year for offensive linemen in the state, DiSante rates among the best. He has the size (6-4, 270 pounds) and above-average foot speed with a time of 5.0 in the 40. He is a good all-around athlete who also plays nose guard. He also competes in basketball and track and field. He receives high marks for his aggressiveness but what scouts like most about him is his intense work ethic. He is also a good student with a 3.5 GPA.

Donovan Roy (Van Nuys Montclair Prep, offensive lineman)--Roy certainly has the size colleges like (6-6, 280 pounds). He also has outstanding quickness with a 5.0 in the 40 and ample strength having lifted 470 pounds in the squat. Particularly strong as a run-blocker on offense, he is also an imposing force as a tackle on defense, having batted down six passes in 1989.

Mike Cardona (La Mirada, offensive lineman)--Another huge tackle who can play offense and defense, the 6-4 and 280-pound Cardona is not the fastest lineman among the Terrific 22 with a 5.4 clocking in the 40, but he makes up for any shortcomings with his aggressiveness and solid work habits. "He can pull, trap and makes very few mistakes at offensive tackle," said the Lemming report. He also stands out on defense, having recorded eight quarterback sacks in 10 games in earning All-Southern Section honors last season.

Brian Greeley (Riverside La Sierra, offensive lineman)--There are four players from the Inland Empire on the Terrific 22 and all are sizable offensive linemen. Greeley fits the description with his 6-3 and 275-pound frame. He has excelled at tackle on offense and defense. He is one of the quickest linemen on the list with a 4.9 time in the 40 and can bench press 360 pounds. His brother, Keith, plays basketball for USC.

Jeremy Hogue (El Toro, defensive lineman)--The talent supply at El Toro never seems to be lacking and Hogue is another standout for one of the top programs in the Southland. At 6-4 and 255 pounds, he plays offense and defense. Scouts think his future is at defensive tackle. He has good speed with a 5.0 time in the 40, which probably helped him accumulate 12 quarterback sacks last season. Hogue also plays tackle on offense but prefers defense. He is also an exceptional student with a 4.0 grade-point average.

Mike Balian (LaVerne Damien, defensive lineman)--Damien always seems to produce at least one major-college prospect on the line and Balian is the latest. A 6-4 and 250-pound nose guard, Balian has the quickness and strength that enable him to control the line of scrimmage. He has a best of 4.9 seconds in the 40 and can bench press 420 pounds. Mostly a defensive player, he has even played a fullback on offense. He is also an outstanding wrestler, which might help to account for his excellent lateral mobility.

Matt Gilmour (Temple City, defensive lineman)--He is not the biggest lineman in the state and that is one reason why Gilmour might eventually play outside linebacker in college. Scouts like his potential. At 6-5 and 220-pounds, he has above-average 4.8 speed in the 40 and a lot of room to fill out. "Matt is a quick-footed youngster who explodes off the ball," the Lemming report said. He also plays tight end on offense and averaged 10 points as forward for the basketball team last season.

Clayvand Thomas (Carson, defensive back)--On the field, there is little doubt about the ability of Thomas. Regarded by most scouts as one of the premier defensive backs in the state, the 6-0 and 175 Thomas returned three interceptions for touchdowns last season. He is especially adept at man-to-man coverage. But there are lingering questions about his physical condition after he broke a knee cap and wrist in an auto accident earlier this year. That is expected to keep him out of action until sometime in October. He has also incurred his share of disciplinary problems.

Derrick Stewart (Granada Hills High, defensive back)--At first glance, it might be a little surprising that Stewart is considered among the top prospects. After all, he didn't produce a lot of impressive statistics as a junior, but there are a lot of things scouts like about the 5-11 and 185-pound Stewart. "He reacts well to the ball and he hits like a ton," one report said. While he didn't have any interceptions as a junior, he did have six quarterback sacks and plays with a lot of emotion. He also plays basketball and baseball.

Tim Ross (Simi Valley Royal, defensive back)--It is unusual for Royal, a school that has never been a CIF Southern Section power, to have a blue-chip prospect, but Ross is an exception. The 6-4 and 205-pound Ross is one of the most versatile players on the Terrific 22. He plays strong safety and intercepted four passes last year, but could develop into an outside linebacker in college. He will also see time at tight end and wide receiver for Royal. Ross runs the 40 in 4.6 seconds, has leaped 6-7 in the high jump and plays basketball.

Reggie Reser (Muir, defensive back)--Reser, at 5-10 and 175 pounds, is not the biggest defensive back around, but he makes up for any size deficiency with his 4.5 speed in the 40. He is also a vicious hitter. "He's the hit man you want for your secondary who is athletic enough to play corner, too," SuperPrep said. Recruiters call him a pure college cornerback. He had four interceptions and forced three fumbles as a junior. He will also play running back this season.

THE TERRIFIC 22

Name School Ht. Wt. Pos. Rob Johnson El Toro 6-4 210 QB Napoleon Kaufman Lompoc 5-91 170 RB Lamont Warren Dorsey 6-1 185 RB Derek Sparks Mater Dei 6-1 208 RB Leon Neal Paramount 5-9 170 RB Ontiwaun Carter Kennedy 5-10 175 RB Albert Jones Westchester 6-3 190 WR Joel Rosborough LB Jordan 6-3 175 WR Chris Finch Ramona 6-6 265 OL Robert Loya Fontana 6-3 280 OL Clay Hattabaugh Fontana 6-3 265 OL John DiSante Notre Dame/S.O. 6-4 265 OL Donovan Roy Montclair Prep 6-6 280 OL Jeremy Hogue El Toro 6-4 255 DL Mike Cardona La Mirada 6-4 280 OL Brian Greeley La Sierra 6-3 275 OL Mike Balian Damien 6-4 250 DL Matt Gilmour Temple City 6-5 220 DL Clayvand Thomas Carson 6-0 175 DB Derrick Stewart Granada Hills 5-11 185 DB Tim Ross Royal 6-4 205 DB Reggie Reser Muir 5-10 175 DB

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