Preseason predictions are always risky, but going into the high school football season the South Bay has a handful of can't-miss blue-chip college prospects and another handful of probables, according to Dick Lascola, who runs a scouting service that rates players throughout the Southwest.
Because Lascola is scouting for colleges, this list involves only seniors. And because it is based on preseason and junior-year reports, others will emerge during the season. As Lascola said, "Sometimes what they did in junior year doesn't mean bull. So we'll get out and see them all again." He also puts little stock in summer passing league results.
"My theory is until they put on the pads, it doesn't count," he said.
The Bluest Chips
Rocen Keeton, Serra, offensive tackle/linebacker, 6-3 1/2, 232--Keeton plays both ways but Lascola projects him as a linebacker for college. "Great size, great set of wheels--that's usually an unbeatable combination on defense," Lascola said. "He's a dominant force, one of the better players in the state, not just the South Bay. He's just got a hell of a lot of talent--he might be the best player (in the South Bay)."
Brian Brown, Gardena, running back, 5-11, 180--If Keeton is the top defensive player, Brown appears to be the area's best ball carrier. He rushed for 900 yards as a junior and placed third in the state track meet in 200 meters. In the City semifinals last season against Carson, Brown scored two touchdowns on the ground and caught a 65-yard pass.
"One of the better running backs in Southern California," Lascola said. "He's got some tools--speed, the ability to break tackles, moves, a great burst. A dominant player."
Michael Ford, San Pedro, wide receiver/defensive back, 6-3, 205--Another speed burner, Ford fits in at several positions and is an attractive recruit on both offense and defense. He was one of the top sprinters in Los Angeles in track. He also does San Pedro's kicking. "One of the better (offensive) players in Southern California, up with Brown," is Lascola's rating. "Great hands, tremendous speed, and it doesn't hurt to be able to play on both sides of the ball." Another "dominant player."
Earl Saunders, Banning, linebacker, 6-0, 185--Saunders--An all-South Bay selection as a junior, when Coach Chris Ferragamo was already rating him his best middle linebacker ever, Saunders is the latest in a long line of outstanding Pilot linebackers. "Very competitive, tough, a hitter, runs extremely well and comes from a good program," Lascola said.
Jim Tulette, North Torrance, center, 6-3, 250--A two-time all-South Bay lineman, Tulette switches to center this year and will play only on offense. "A good blocker, good-looking kid. And centers with that kind of size are hard to find," Lascola said.
Marc Walters, Carson, quarterback, 6-2, 170--Walters was back-up quarterback and wide receiver last year on Carson's City champion. Coach Gene Vollnogle feels Walters will be "one of the best QBs in the state." Lascola says Walters won't necessarily be a collegiate quarterback but will play somewhere. "Good athlete, leader, does lots of things well," Lascola said. "I like him. He's got some tools."
Leon Otis, Locke, quarterback/defensive back, 5-11, 175--Otis is a dangerous run-and-gunner in Locke's veer as well as a defensive back. He ran for 337 yards and 9 touchdowns and passed for 1,000 yards and 15 TDs as a junior. "He's got a lot of talent, raw talent he needs to mature," Lascola said. "That program puts out some great athletes."
Brian Church, Hawthorne, linebacker, 6-3, 190--From the school that mass produces sprinters the way USC produces running backs comes this speedy outside linebacker with rangy size. Whether he becomes a true blue chip depends on how well he can harness his ability. "Lots of talent. He needs to channel it," Lascola said.
Mark Tucker, Banning, offensive lineman, 6-5, 255--Coach Chris Ferragamo, a standout offensive lineman, regularly turns out good ones, and Tucker rates highly. He also has big-league physical dimensions. "Good size, he's physical, moves pretty good, sets up on blocks well," Lascola said.
Ken Sale, Bishop Montgomery, tight end/linebacker, 6-2, 225--A returning all-leaguer, Sale probably projects as a collegiate linebacker. He's a tough hitter with a nose for the ball and has good size.
Ones to Watch
Eric Marrero, St. Bernard, defensive lineman, 6-5, 254--Marrero was all-South Bay as a junior and has big-league size. Coach Duke Dulgarian predicts all-CIF honors for him. The Vikings have another big one in 6-3, 251-pound center Mark Osborne. "We'll take a look," Lascola said. "They've got the size."
Brian Connors, Palos Verdes, running back, 6-1, 205--Partly because he spent his junior season as a blocking back, Connors isn't ranked with Brown and Ford by scouts. He also doesn't have their burning speed. But Coach Bill Judy calls him "the best running back at P.V. ever" and Lascola said scouts are aware of him.
Eric Strothers, Inglewood, tight end/linebacker, 6-2, 190--Strothers has size and talent--he's projected as a linebacker after high school--but has been hurt by the unstable coaching situation at Inglewood. Lascola calls him "a wait-and-see."