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Passers Blooming in High Desert

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Camy Smith sat down a few months ago and listed his goals for the football season. At the top of the list for the Highland High quarterback was to win the Golden League’s most valuable player award.

His coach’s response was less than encouraging.

“Since when do they give that award to quarterbacks around here?” Bulldog Coach Lin Parker said.

The Golden League is traditionally won or lost on the weather-beaten desert ground, not through the air. Quarterbacks mostly hand off to running backs, they don’t challenge the often fierce Antelope Valley winds.

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Running backs like Aaron Emanuel of Quartz Hill, and Tommie Smith and Jermaine Lewis of Antelope Valley have annually claimed the major awards and Division I scholarships. The league’s best quarterbacks most often end up playing in junior college or considering life after football.

But this season, several of the Golden League’s best athletes are calling the signals, and defensive strategies will center around stopping the quarterback.

No doubt the league MVP could be a quarterback. Which quarterback? That’s another question altogether.

Smith, a senior, passed for a league-high 1,912 yards and 16 touchdowns last season, leading Highland to a share of its first league title and to the Southern Section Division II semifinals.

Senior Justin Mobley of Antelope Valley passed for 969 yards and nine touchdowns for a team that shared the league crown and also advanced to the semifinals. Mobley also plays strong safety and is the team’s best punt returner.

Smith edged Mobley for all-league honors last season but Antelope Valley Coach Brent Newcomb favors his man, an elusive, running quarterback.

“We like Mobley over the other guys not only because of his ability [to run] but also because, unlike the other guys, he never comes off the field,” said Newcomb, whose team has won four of the past five league titles but is picked for third this year.

Palmdale thinks it has an argument for senior Grant Livermont. He showed flashes of greatness the past two seasons, but suffered a concussion as a sophomore and missed the last eight games of last season because of an arm injury that required surgery. He appears healthy for his senior season.

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Only Quartz Hill begins the season without an experienced quarterback. The Rebels will start Eric Holtfreter, brother of last year’s starter, Justin Holtfreter, and league coaches say he is ready to step among the league’s elite.

“I think we’ve got as good a group of quarterbacks as any other league in Division II,” Palmdale Coach Jeff Williams said.

Livermont has received recruiting contacts from Washington, Michigan and UCLA.

Smith recently received a letter from quarterback factory Miami, although the Hurricanes might pursue him as a defensive back.

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The abundance of quality quarterbacks doesn’t mean the Friday-night sky will be filled with footballs.

“Even though we have some very good quarterbacks this year, the philosophy of the coaches out here is still smash-mouth football,” said Lancaster Coach Ray De Shane, whose team enters its first varsity season behind quarterback Kyle Henderson, a junior who passed for only 600 yards and eight touchdowns last season at the junior varsity level but has a 17-1-2 record as a starting quarterback.

Said Highland’s Parker: “I don’t know if we will go out and, as a league, light up the statistics like the Marmonte League. We still have a lot of coaches and teams that like the run.”

Coach Jim Bauer at Littlerock passed only 71 times in 499 plays.

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Quarterback Myles Meeden has proven adept at commanding the Lobos’ running game and Bauer hired former Alemany Coach Pat Degnan as offensive coordinator. Even with standout running back Miguel Fletcher at Alemany last year, Degnan managed to throw about 33% of the time.

The argument over the league’s most important quarterback likely will rage through the season. The torch has definitely been passed, not handed off.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

AT A GLANCE

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* THE PROVEN: Littlerock senior running back Michael Woods leads returning rushers in the league after gaining 1,031 yards last season. Palmdale senior running back Jason Anderson ran for 920 yards. Running back Brandon McElvaine, who gained 822 yards, must take the heat off Highland’s passing attack. Quartz Hill tackle Chris Bishop (6-foot-6 1/2, 291 pounds) may be one of the area’s best. Palmdale defensive end Matt Leonard (6-4, 290) should be the most heavily recruited player in the league. Antelope Valley wide receiver Joe Manning caught 14 passes for 200 yards as a junior and figures to be the Antelopes’ best deep threat.

* THE PROMISING: Lancaster’s entire team. After a 10-0 junior varsity season and a league championship, the Eagles begin their first varsity season without a senior class. Sophomore running back Kevin Morris scored 33 touchdowns last season on Highland’s freshman team. Quartz Hill defensive tackle Clinton Mayer (6-3, 290) has looked impressive since transferring from Paraclete during the off-season. Sophomore running back Ron Miller, most valuable player on Palmdale’s freshman team, transferred to Antelope Valley last week. Sophomore running back Jermaine Norman is a former Punt, Pass and Kick regional champion.

* FAST FACT: Antelope Valley, which has won four of the past five league titles and at least a share of the past three, is a consensus pick for third place this season.

* 1996 STANDINGS: 1. (tie) Highland 3-1 (league), 9-4 (overall) and Palmdale 3-1, 9-3 and Antelope Valley 3-1, 9-3; 4. Littlerock 1-3, 6-4; 5. Quartz Hill 0-4, 3-7.

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Golden League Schedules

All games 7:30 p.m. unless noted. Sites and times subject to change.

ANTELOPE VALLEY

Sept. 12--at Las Vegas Western, 7 p.m.

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Sept. 19--Barstow

Sept. 26--Sylmar

Oct. 3--Dominguez

Oct. 17--*at Quartz Hill

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Oct. 25--*at Littlerock

Oct. 31--*Palmdale

Nov. 7--*Highland

Nov. 14--*Lancaster at Quartz Hill High

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Home Site: Antelope Valley High

HIGHLAND

Sept. 12--Valencia

Sept. 19--Canyon

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Sept. 26--at Victor Valley

Oct. 3--at Stockdale

Oct. 10--at Burroughs

Oct. 17--*Littlerock

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Oct. 25--*at Lancaster

Oct. 31----*Quartz Hill

Nov. 7--*at Antelope Valley

Nov. 14--*Palmdale

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Home Site: Highland High

LANCASTER

Sept. 12--Victor Valley, 1:30

Sept. 19--at Sultana

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Sept. 26--at Crespi

Oct. 3--Silverado at Quartz Hill

Oct. 10--at Redlands East

Oct. 17--*at Palmdale

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Oct. 25--*Highland

Nov. 1--*at Littlerock, 1:30

Nov. 7--*at Quartz Hill

Nov. 15--*Antelope Valley, 1:30

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Home Site: To be determined between Lancaster High/Quartz Hill High

LITTLEROCK

Sept. 12--at Palm Springs

Sept. 20--Hesperia

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Sept. 26--Barstow

Oct. 3--at Paramount

Oct. 11--Sultana, 1:30

Oct. 17--*at Highland

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Oct. 25--*Antelope Valley

Nov. 1--*Lancaster, 1:30

Nov. 7--*at Palmdale

Nov. 14--*Quartz Hill

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Home Site: Littlerock High

PALMDALE

Sept. 12--Ridgecrest Burroughs

Sept. 19--Saugus at College of the Canyons

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Sept. 26--Verbum Dei

Oct. 3--Hart

Oct. 9--at Canyon

Oct. 17--*Lancaster

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Oct. 24--*at Quartz Hill

Oct. 31--*at Antelope Valley

Nov. 7--*Littlerock

Nov. 14--*at Highland

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Home Site: Palmdale High

QUARTZ HILL

Sept. 12--L.A. Baptist

Sept. 19--at Crespi

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Sept. 26--Hesperia

Oct. 3--at Saugus

Oct. 10--at Valencia

Oct. 17--*Antelope Valley

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Oct. 24--*Palmdale

Oct. 31--*at Highland

Nov. 7--*Lancaster

Nov. 14--*at Littlerock

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Home Site: Quartz Hill High

*League games


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