THE PLAYERS TO WATCH: The bad news for the Eagles: Only six lettermen are returning. The good news: All are starters. The top two offensive players are Serge Delus, a wing back, and Thomas De La Torre, an offensive tackle. Delus (5-6, 147 pounds), a senior who also runs track, will also play defensive back. De La Torre (5-10, 240) is a two-year letterman. "I really expect those two players to shine," Underwood said. "Of course, the new kids should do pretty good, too." Two of the new players, Layne Perry and Alvin Rhodes, are competing for the quarterback. Perry is a 5-6, 140-pound senior, while Rhodes is a 6-0, 145-pound sophomore. "The option is the strength of both of them," Underwood said. The Eagles should be strongest in the secondary--three players are returning. "We have a young squad," Underwood said, "and we may have to go with a lot of 10th and 11th graders. The good part is that we should be pretty good down the road if we keep the kids." Despite the youth, Underwood thinks his team can contend for the league title.
OUTLOOK: Marshall led Montclair Prep, 13-0, last season before losing, 25-13. The loss showed Underwood that his team could play with the mighty Mounties. "They should be the top team," he said. "But the rest of us will be there, fighting for the playoffs."
COACH: John Hazelton, 4th year
LAST SEASON: 9-3 overall, Alpha League champions, 7-0
THE PLAYERS TO WATCH: Hazelton won't duck the obvious--the Mounties are loaded with talent. "Barring injury, if we don't reach the conference finals, it'll fall on my head. I'll be the one to blame," he said. Eighteen of 22 starters return from a team that lost in the quarterfinals last season. Where to begin? Try the offensive line. At tackle are seniors Todd Bowser and Troy Banks. Both are being recruited by major colleges and both are massive. Bowser is 6-7, 275; Banks is 6-6, 260. The guards are Junior Ron Walker (6-2, 265) and Bill Huston (6-2, 235). The center is Josh Berger, a 5-11, 190-pound sophomore. Riche Swinton, who has gained nearly 2,000 yards rushing in his career, returns at running back. Swinton is being recruited by several Pacific 10 schools. Reggie Smith Jr., another highly recruited player, will start at fullback. Cliff Sullivan, who split time at quarterback with Smith last season, and Jason Radovan, last season's junior varsity starter, are competing for the quarterback spot. The winner will throw to a pair of receivers who transferred from El Camino Real, Anthony Pack and John DeRouen.
OUTLOOK: "The kids are expecting to go a long, long way," Hazelton said. "They feel they are contenders for the championship. So do I." In the Southern Section's preseason rankings, Montclair Prep was rated No. 2 in the 35-team Inland Conference behind Whittier Christian.
COACH: Mike Plaisance, 4th year
LAST SEASON: 7-4 overall; tied for third in Alpha League, 4-3
THE PLAYERS TO WATCH: Damon Zavala, the Crusaders' starting quarterback the past two seasons, is moving to fullback this season. The reason: "Chris Johnson is too good to be on the bench," Plaisance said. Johnson, a 6-1 1/2, 190-pound junior, showed promise in the summer league, so Plaisance will let him start. "He has a rifle arm," Plaisance said. Steve Girard, the leading rusher on last season's junior varsity, moves up to the varsity. The junior has run the 40 in 4.8 seconds. Plaisance also thinks receivers Brad Hersh (6-4, 180) and Brian Blankenship (5-10, 150) have improved. "Brian is a major-college prospect," Plaisance said. "He has very, very good hands." Village Christian will use two tight ends, Geoff Lloyd and Brian Bovee. Lloyd will also be the punter. Last season, he had a JV school-record punt of 76 yards. Defense should again be a focal point for the Eagles. They had six shutouts last season. Brendon Bradley was a second-team all-league performer last season at cornerback. Tyler Victor led the team in interceptions last season as a junior and returns at cornerback. Tad Benson (5-10, 185) is back at guard.
OUTLOOK: Plaisance is looking for a return to the playoffs, as well as a league title. "The winner of the Oct. 19 game between us and Montclair Prep will be the league champion," he said.
COACH: Tim Kistler, 1st year
LAST SEASON: 7-3 overall; tied for third in Alpha League, 4-3