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Pre-Football ’91 : Top-Ranked Esperanza Is Still OC’s Heavyweight Champ : The teams: Defending Division III champion Aztecs, who have nine starters returning, are No. 1 in the preseason poll.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

It’s likely Esperanza High School football Coach Gary Meek confused his team with its opponents when he described the Aztecs as “scared” going into the 1991 season.

The sight of 236-pound tackle Travis Kirschke and 235-pound guard Matt Izzi leading Esperanza’s favorite running play, “The Buck Sweep” would scare any opposing defender.

But Meek insists that high expectations and the talk of repeating as Southern Section Division III champion is weighing heavily on his team.

“There’s a lot of apprehension,” Meek said. “We have some new players wondering if they’re as good as last year’s seniors.”

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It’s unlikely Esperanza will be able to duplicate last year’s 14-0 record, but nine returning starters are enough to make the Aztecs the No. 1-ranked team in The Times Orange County preseason poll.

Esperanza will continue to mix pro-set and Delaware wing-T offenses to complement the passing of new quarterback Josh Buscaglio and returning running backs Garrick Emry and Marcus Tayui.

Few opponents will run successfully against Esperanza’s beefy defensive line, which averages 227 pounds and is anchored by Kirschke.

“It’s one of our better defensive lines,” Meek said. “It’s pretty close to being our biggest group, and it is definitely our quickest group. We’ve got some big guys who can run.”

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Buscaglio, who backed up starter Keith McDonald last year, will have two talented targets in speedster Jason Long and possession receiver Ryan Corbett.

Chris Weissman gives the Aztecs versatility as a runner or receiver at Z-back in the Wing-T. Weissman, a fierce hitter, is also the team’s “hammer” in the secondary at free safety.

Emry, an all-league fullback who rushed for at least 75 yards in six of the Aztecs’ 10 regular-season games last year, has been hampered by a pulled hamstring but returned to practice this week.

Esperanza’s only weakness may be a lack of depth. Meek has only 50 players and has been forced to play Kirschke, a junior, on both sides of the line. Esperanza’s standout player has been adjusting well to double duty.

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“Travis is the best we’ve had in 16 years, and we’ve had some great linemen here,” Meek said. “I coached the defensive line in the Shrine Game last summer and Travis would have been No. 4 among the five players I had there.”

1. ESPERANZA

1990 Record: 14-0

League: Empire

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Coach: Gary Meek

The county’s best lineman, Kirschke, and the best trio of running backs--Emry, Tayui and Weissman--should add up to another banner year. A lot will depend on the development of Buscaglio at quarterback. “If he does well, we’ll be 7-3 or better,” said assistant Bill Pendleton. “If not, we’re looking at 6-5.” The majority of the newcomers played on a 10-0 sophomore team that was never tested. Esperanza, with a growing enrollment of 3,100, will field two freshmen teams this season.

2. MISSION VIEJO

1990 Record: 11-2

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League: South Coast

Coach: Mike Rush

Mission Viejo has reached the semifinals in the playoffs for seven consecutive seasons but has advanced to only one championship game, losing to Santa Ana, 31-21, in the 1985 Southern Conference title game. This could be the year Mission Viejo wins the elusive title, though Rush insists the Diablos will be spoilers in the South Coast League. Mission Viejo has won three league titles in the past four years and is the favorite this season with seven returning starters. Receivers Eddie Benyo, Anthony Ramirez and Mark McDonough are the fastest trio in the league, but the quarterback position is still undecided with Rush’s stepson, Payon LeMeillieur, and junior Jeff Carr vying for the starting spot.

3. EDISON

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1990 Record: 9-2

League: Sunset

Coach: Dave White

An outstanding team was reduced to a very good team when preseason All-American wide receiver Brandon Jessie decided to skip football and concentrate on basketball in his senior season. White said the Chargers “probably advanced farther as a team over the summer” than any of his previous teams. Running back Travis Balding, cornerback Mike Eidam and tight end Rod Lippincott are returning all-league performers. White compares Lippincott to former all-county tight ends Vic Rakhshani and Mark Boyer. Quarterback John Khamis led Edison to the championship of a 20-team summer passing league tournament at Rancho Santiago College.

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4. CAPISTRANO VALLEY

1990 Record: 12-2

League: South Coast

Coach: Eric Patton

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Capistrano Valley’s passing attack has been grounded with the graduation of quarterback Tony Solliday and wide receiver Dave Poltl. The emphasis this year will be on the running game with rugged 190-pound running back Allan Perlas expected to carry 20-25 times a game. The Cougars’ best returning receiver, Blake Spence, will play tight end, which indicates a more controlled passing game. Coach Patton’s son, Scott, replaces Solliday at quarterback and should be among the county’s best at the position, although he won’t have the talented receivers that Solliday had last season. Patton predicts the South Coast League champion will have at least one loss.

5. VALENCIA

1990 Record: 11-2

League: Orange

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Coach: Mike Marrujo

Ryan Roskelly and Willie Barnes give Valencia the best one-two running back combination in the county. The duo complement each other nicely, with Barnes doing most of the power running inside and Roskelly getting the call for counters, sweeps and misdirection plays. This could be Marrujo’s best offensive team since his 1986 team that lost to Bolsa Grande, 24-7, in the Central Conference title game. Twins Korey and Kevin Alexander give quarterback Marc O’Brien two speedy targets. “Potentially, we could be pretty good, but with only one returning starter on the offensive line, I’m can’t say until we’ve played a game,” Marrujo said. “O’Brien ranks right up there with any quarterback we’ve had here. He’s the toughest kid we’ve ever had at quarterback.”

6. MATER DEI

1990 Record: 7-6

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League: Angelus

Coach: Bruce Rollinson

Quarterback Billy Blanton picked up where he left off last season, passing for 297 yards and five touchdowns in a 34-20 victory over Iolani Saturday in Honolulu’s Aloha Stadium. Last year, Blanton passed for 2,262 yards and 23 touchdowns as Mater Dei advanced to the Division I semifinals. A trio of linebackers--Jason Thies, David Knuff and Parker Gregg--should make Mater Dei a formidable defensive team. The Monarchs’ best defensive lineman is 230-pound junior Nickey Sualua, whose cousins, Kennedy and Albert Pola, played at USC and Penn State, respectively.

7. IRVINE

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1990 Record: 6-4

League: South Coast

Coach: Terry Henigan

The two marquee players in the South Coast League are not returning for perennial powers Mission Viejo, Capistrano Valley and El Toro. They’re at Irvine, a school that has made the playoffs only twice in Coach Terry Henigan’s 10 seasons. Quarterback Jason Minici played in the shadow of El Toro’s Rob Johnson and Capistrano Valley’s Tony Solliday, but he should be the league’s best passer in ’91. Tailback Scott Seal, overshadowed by Mission Viejo’s Marcellus Chrishon and El Toro’s Bret Sanders, is the league’s best returning rusher. “If we had one player who dominated during two-a-days, it was Scott Seal,” Henigan said.

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8. BREA-OLINDA

1990 Record: 8-3-1

League: Orange

Coach: Jon Looney

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When Marco Hernandez kicked a 27-yard field goal with 42 seconds left to give Brea-Olinda a 23-21 victory over Valencia, it marked a new era in the Orange League. It was Brea’s first victory over Valencia since 1981 and propelled the Wildcats to the league championship. Six offensive starters return, including the county’s top-rated quarterback, Jason Luevanos, who passed for 1,385 yards and 10 touchdowns. Luevanos’ favorite receiver, Jamie Baragelia, is also back. Baragelia caught 37 passes for 527 yards in 10 games as a junior.

9. SANTA ANA

1990 Record: 3-7

League: Sunset

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Coach: Dick Hill

A nightmare schedule and a young team spelled a long season for Santa Ana in 1990, but the Saints should rebound. Returning all-league defenders Tommy Gray (tackle) and Terry Annu (safety) are solid players, and two-way starter Kevin Pola is among the toughest in the Sunset League. Sophomore quarterback Mark Fausto is the big question. Hill becomes the county’s winningest coach with his first victory.

10. SUNNY HILLS

1990 Record: 11-3

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League: Freeway

Coach: Tim Devaney

Devaney, never one to overestimate his teams, picked the Lancers to finish fifth in the Freeway League. Granted, Sunny Hills graduated the league’s co-most valuable players, Kenny Overby and Mike Sullivan, but returns the nucleus of a strong defensive unit that allowed an average of only 10 points in four Division VI playoff games. The four returning defensive starters include two of the county’s best players, defensive back Bobby Sunderland and tackle Brian Willmer.


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