Jeff Barrett, standout quarterback for Santa Monica College in 1989 and last year, broke a lot of passing records in his career, while the Corsairs' massive and talented defensive line broke the hearts of opposing passers and runners.
Barrett and defensive linemen Mark Cottingham, Adrian Brayboy, Lewis Capes and Andre Murray have completed their eligibility, leaving SMC Coach Owen Hahn with enormous holes to fill on offense and defense.
Hahn acknowledges that it will be difficult, if not impossible, to replace Barrett, the state's top-rated community college passer last year, who is attending Brown University. During the 1990 regular season, Barrett passed for 2,648 yards and 26 touchdowns and also rushed for 11 touchdowns. The Corsairs finished with an 8-3 record.
Scott Altenberg, a second-year freshman who redshirted at UCLA last year, and Dion Bergeron, the quarterback at St. Monica High last year, may share time at quarterback this season, and Hahn is confident that both can do a good job.
The SMC coach said Altenberg, whose father, Kurt, was one of Heisman Trophy winner Gary Beban's favorite receivers at UCLA, and Bergeron are both good passers and runners.
The receiving corps should be strong with the return of all-state wide receiver Jason Lucky, who last year had 40 receptions for 829 yards (a 20.7-yard average) and six touchdowns, and Greg Hooks.
Hahn said Lucky "is very tenacious. He gets open, runs patterns well and, at the same time, has terribly sneaky speed. He's a lot faster than people think he is."
Capable new wide receivers include Isaac Bruce, a transfer from West Los Angeles College, and freshmen Chris Johnston, who played for Culver City High last year, and Tharen Todd, who was at Fairfax.
"We certainly have the capacity to throw the ball, (and) we'd be foolish not to because the wide receiver position is so strong," Hahn said.
But he plans to have a balanced offense, and the balance may shift more toward running than passing because the team has a flock of good running backs.
Backfield starters are expected to be sophomores John Haqq, the team's leading rusher last year with 552 yards in 108 carries, and Johnny Mack. But sophomores Tim Holliday and John Williams, and freshmen Mario Mattison from Fairfax High and Brett Washington from Granada Hills High also will see action. Mattison and Washington were named to All-L.A. City Section teams last year.
All is not lost on the defensive line. Returning are part-time starters Kareeb Harbin (6-foot-3, 248 pounds) and Antonio Johnson (6-1, 265). "We'll be relying on a lot of freshmen," Hahn said, and the newcomers may be inexperienced. "But I'm not sure the line will be a weak point."
SMC has a wealth of linebackers, including Tony Gray, an All-Western State Conference Southern Division selection last year; veteran Darren Johnson and Jerry Black, a transfer from East Los Angeles College.
"The linebackers may be our strongest group," the coach said. "I couldn't tell you who's going to start, but as many as 10 are in the hunt."
The offensive line is led by all-state tackle Andre Hewitt (6-7, 266). Other veterans are Julio Diaz (6-6, 290), Nigel Mills (6-2, 255), Chris Taylor (6-2, 275) and Jesus Moreno (6-5, 320), a transfer from Northern Arizona University who graduated from St. Monica High.
"I really like our offensive line," Hahn said. "I have very high hopes for them."
All four starters in the defensive secondary have graduated, but sophomores Derrick Childs, Keith Hawkins and Dexter Burns are back, and they'll get help from David Brown, a transfer from Howard University, and freshmen Derek Stewart, an All-City Section cornerback at Granada Hills High, and Manual Arts graduate Tyrone Trimble.
Four Western State Conference teams were among the top 20 teams in the state in preseason rankings by Cal-Hi Sports magazine: No. 4 Bakersfield, No. 9 Glendale, No. 15 Moorpark and No. 18 SMC.
The Corsairs open the season at 7 p.m. Saturday at Saddleback College, and Hahn said he expects a difficult game.
Saddleback Coach Ken Swearingen has had winning teams for three decades at Saddleback and at El Camino College. Saddleback was 6-4 in 1990.