Lancaster High begins the football season with its first senior class and more beef than the state of Texas.
It's a combination that has caught the attention of rival coaches in the rugged Golden League.
"They have some guys who can really tilt the field," Antelope Valley Coach Brent Newcomb said of the league's biggest team.
But it remains to be seen whether Lancaster can tilt the balance of power in the league.
"We still have a lot to prove," said Lancaster Coach Ray DeShane, whose team was 3-6-1 overall and 0-4-1 in league play last year while fielding a lineup void of seniors. "Going from worst to first in the Golden League isn't exactly easy."
Not when the league includes Antelope Valley, which has advanced at least to the Southern Section semifinals in each of the last five seasons.
Newcomb's Antelopes have more speed than anyone in the region and are favored to win the league title, but they would be wise not to overlook Littlerock and Lancaster, beginning its second season of varsity competition.
Lancaster senior Nick Koufos (6 feet 2, 280 pounds) was the top lineman during a recent scouting combine, and is among the region's elite.
Rene Rubira (6-2, 261) and Denis Sabalvarro (6-0, 280) also will pose sizable problems for opponents.
"If we had to run a track meet, we'd probably lose,' DeShane said. "But we'd probably win the field events."
The large line should open holes for one of the league's smallest running backs, Danny Pagnella (5-7 1/2, 165). Pagnella rushed for 1,044 yards and eight touchdowns as a junior, more than any returning player in the league.
Jason Jacobs, Lancaster's fastest player, will start at quarterback.
Few teams in the Southern Section will be able to match the overall speed of Antelope Valley.
The Antelopes have a trio of backs who would likely be the featured backs at any other school.
Senior Bruce Molock rushed for 525 yards during an injury-plagued junior season, but rushed for more than 100 yards in each of the Antelopes' three playoff games.
Juniors Jermaine Norman, who rushed for 246 yards last year, and Jermaine Marshall, who ran for 1,405 yards last season at Kilpatrick, also are breakaway threats.
Add senior defensive backs Chasio Gaines and Ronnell Tyars, and Antelope Valley appears ready for a world-class relay competition.
The Antelopes' only question marks are at quarterback, where junior Michael Place will replace Justin Mobley, now at New Mexico, and an inexperienced offensive line.
Littlerock is the only team in the league that can challenge Antelope Valley's speed. The Lobos have eight starters returning on a defense that allowed 233 yards a game in 1997.
"The lead to our team is provided by our linebackers and our defense," Coach Jim Bauer said.
Linebackers Adam Fabela and Mike Arvizo each set school records for tackles last season. Senior safety Billie Lawrence and junior linebacker/defensive back Keon Montgomery will also play major roles.
Offensively, Littlerock might have the league's most exciting newcomer in Marcus Raines.
The sophomore tailback is the defending league champion in the 300-meter hurdles and gained more than 1,000 yards on the freshman football team.
He will share time in the backfield with juniors Rodney Woods and Keith Williams, all-league selections last year.
Two-time defending league champion Palmdale lost 10 defensive starters to graduation, as well as its entire starting backfield, but the Falcons are looking to senior Johnathan Thompson.
In an effort to showcase its quick, elusive quarterback, Palmdale has scrapped its I-formation in favor of the veer.
Thompson will have fullback Anthony Diggs and halfback Marquis Murray, both seniors, as options on the pitch, and senior receiver Shane Johnson as a primary passing target.
Senior linebacker Mark Hendricks, the only returner on defense, could be one of the region's most dominant defenders.
Highland also is making a drastic offensive change.
The Bulldogs, the league's top passing team the last two years, will put much of the load on senior running back Brandon McElvaine.
McElvaine rushed for 822 yards as a sophomore, when Highland shared the league title with Palmdale and Antelope Valley, but was hampered by an ankle injury last year and rushed for only 392 yards.
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AT A GLANCE
* THE PROVEN: Senior RB Brandon McElvaine (6-1, 220) of Highland gained 822 yards as a sophomore. Senior WR Kevin Morris is a top WR. Senior LBs Adam Fabela (6-0, 205) and Mike Arvizo (6-0, 205) both broke Littlerock records last year for tackles in a season. Senior OL Ben Smith (6-1, 250), junior RB/CB Rodney Woods (5-10, 170) and junior WR/CB Keith Williams (5-7, 175) each earned all-league honors for Littlerock. With RBs Bruce Molock (5-11, 190), a senior, and Jermaine Norman (5-9, 190), a junior, Antelope Valley has one of the region's fastest backfields. Antelope senior DBs Chasio Gaines (5-8, 152) and Ronnell Tyars (5-8, 159) and junior LBs Jon Molock (6-2, 185) and Ron Miller (5-9, 165) form the nucleus of a strong defense. Elusive QB Johnathan (Thompson (5-10, 175) will run the veer at Palmdale, where FB Anthony Diggs (6-1, 205) will serve as his main option. LB Mark Hendricks (5-11, 205) is one of the region's best. WR/DB Shane Johnson (6-2, 215) can be an impact player on both sides of the ball. Senior OL/DL Nick Koufos (6-2, 280) and Rene Rubira (6-1, 250) should open huge holes for senior RB Danny Pagnella (5-8, 160), who gained 1,044 yards last year, and senior QB Jason Jacobs (6-2, 185). Senior WR/DB Mike Brown could be Jacobs' primary target. Senior RB Kevin Williams (6-1, 185) will handle much of the ball-carrying load for Quartz Hill.
* THE PROMISING: Littlerock sophomore TB Marcus Raines (6-2, 180) was the league 300-meter hurdle champion as a freshman, gained more than 1,000 on the freshman team and lifted 280 pounds in the clean and jerk. Senior SS Billie Lawrence (5-11, 2-5) and junior RB/DB Keon Montgomery (5-11, 175) will play key roles for Littlerock's defense. Senior FB/LB James Pratt (6-2, 205), a transfer from Antelope Valley Christian, should help Lancaster immediately. Junior RB Jermaine Marshall (5-9, 192) gained 1,405 yards last season at Kilpatrick. The Antelopes replace QB Justin Mobley, now at New Mexico, with junior Michael Place (6-0, 170), up from the junior varsity. Anthony Herrera will start at QB for Highland. Quartz Hill was impressive during passing leagues with Clifton Herbert (5-8, 160) at QB. Palmdale has three promising receivers in sophomore Tyrone Culver (6-0, 170), junior Travis Morse (5-10, 160) and Darryle Murphy (5-11, 165).
* FAST FACT: Antelope Valley has advanced to at least the Southern Section semifinals each of the last five seasons.
* 1997 STANDINGS: 1. Palmdale 9-3, 5-0; 2. Antelope Valley 8-4, 4-1; 3. Littlerock 7-4, 3-2; 4. Highland 5-5, 2-3; 5t. Lancaster 3-6-1, 0-4-1; 5t. Quartz Hill 3-6-1, 0-4-1.
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Golden League schedules
Games start at 7:30 p.m. unless noted. Dates and sites subject to change. *-League games
Sept. 18--at Sylmar
Sept. 25--at Bishop Amat
Oct. 2--at Dominguez
Oct. 9--at Bishop Montgomery
Oct. 16--*Quartz Hill
Oct. 30--*at Palmdale
Nov. 6--*at Highland
Home Site: Antelope Valley High
Sept. 11--vs. Valencia at Canyon High, 7
Sept. 18--at Canyon
Sept. 25--Victor Valley
Oct. 2--at Clovis West (Fresno)
Oct. 16--*at Littlerock
Oct. 30--*at Quartz Hill
Nov. 6--*Antelope Valley
Nov. 13--*at Palmdale
Home Site: Highland High
Sept. 11--at Victor Valley
Oct. 2--at Muir, 7
Oct. 9--Redlands East Valley
Oct. 23--*at Highland
Nov. 6--*Quartz Hill
Nov. 13--*at Antelope Valley
Home Site: Lancaster High
Sept. 18--vs. Hesperia at Sultana High
Sept. 25--at Barstow
Oct. 9--Capistrano Valley, 7
Oct. 23--*at Antelope Valley
Oct. 30--*at Lancaster
Nov. 13--*at Quartz Hill
Home Site: Littlerock High
Sept. 18--at Kennedy, 7
Sept. 25--vs. Verbum Dei at Pius X-St. Matthias High
Oct. 2--vs. Hart at Canyons
Oct. 9--Bakersfield Ridgeview
Oct. 16--*at Lancaster
Oct. 23--*Quartz Hill
Oct. 30--*Antelope Valley
Nov. 6--*at Littlerock
Home Site: Palmdale High
Sept. 18--at Crespi
Sept. 25--vs. Hesperia at Sultana High
Oct. 16--*at Antelope Valley
Oct. 23--*at Palmdale
Nov. 6--*at Lancaster
Home Site: Quartz Hill High