Is it Bishop Amat and Claremont or Claremont and Bishop Amat?
While coaches in the San Gabriel Valley may disagree over which of those high schools has the top football team in the area, most agree that they are the best entering the 1985 season, which starts tonight.
Both have outstanding traditions, posted excellent seasons last year and have many key players returning.
They appear to be the best of a strong crop of teams from the valley, with perennial powerhouse Los Altos just a whisker below them.
By any standards, 1984 was an outstanding year for valley football. Claremont, Diamond Bar, Temple City and Baldwin Park reached the finals in their CIF divisions, and Claremont and Diamond Bar won championships.
Claremont defeated Temple City for the Eastern Conference title and Diamond Bar beat Baldwin Park for the Southeastern Conference crown.
Do not be surprised if at least as many valley teams make the finals this season.
Although Bishop Amat, Claremont and Los Altos seem to be slightly ahead of the rest, Muir, Diamond Bar, Rowland, Damien, West Covina, Temple City and Duarte are not far behind.
The Top 10
1--Bishop Amat (Angelus League; Big Five Conference)--Don Markham, first-year coach of the Lancers, has always been an optimist.
Markham, 120-39-1 in 14 years at L.A. Baptist and Colton high schools, expects his teams to win consistently, and usually they do.
With a dozen starters returning from an 8-3-1 team, it is understandable why Markham has a good feeling about the Lancers.
"I can see us having a very good year, but I'm always that way. I think we can win seven or eight games even in a weak year."
This does not look like a weak year.
Bishop Amat, which reached the Big Five quarterfinals last year, should be especially strong on offense with its starting backfield returning. The quarterback is highly regarded senior Rick Carter (6-0, 175), who passed for 1,557 yards and 15 touchdowns last year, and the running backs are junior Eric Bieniemy (5-9, 175) and senior Lee Barrett (5-8, 175).
Bieniemy, who has outstanding speed, rushed for 1,114 yards and 8 touchdowns to become the first sophomore in the school's history to rush for more than 1,000 yards in a season.
Two other key players in Bishop Amat's run-oriented power I attack are tight end Pat Patterson (6-4, 250) and tackle Jack Montes (6-2, 240). The defense is strong in the secondary with the return of Paul Marquez (5-10, 170) and James Pierre (5-10, 170). Another leader is linebacker Ramon Diaz (5-11, 195).
2--Claremont (Baseline League; Eastern Conference)--This may sound difficult to believe but Wolfpack Coach Bob Baiz thinks his team has the potential to be better than last year.
How can the Wolfpack be better than last season when they went 14-0 and easily won the Eastern Conference championship?
"Don't forget that when we won last year it was with mostly juniors," Baiz said. "We have 11 starters returning and that's the most starters we've ever had coming back."
Two are 6-8, 220-pound all-everything quarterback Dan McGwire and wide receiver Travis Watkins (6-2, 175), possibly the best passing combination in the state.
McGwire, a heavily recruited senior who was named to the USA Today and Street & Smith preseason All-America teams, completed 132 of 230 passes for 2,246 yards and 24 touchdowns last year, and Watkins, an honorable mention All-America receiver, caught 51 passes for 876 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Other top players in a powerful offense are linemen Pete Pruitt (6-2, 230), Pete Thum (6-1, 195) and Louis Baiz (5-9, 185), fullback Dean Lambo (6-1, 235) and wide receivers Mike Dotson (6-2, 175) and Brad Kaylor (5-11, 165).
The defense should not be bad with the return of standouts Bobby Warren (6-0, 195) at defensive end, Sean Telish (5-11, 195) at linebacker and Brian Kelley (6-0, 170) and Steve Bayer (6-1, 170) at defensive back.
Bayer, who made five interceptions last season, also is one of the top place-kickers in Southern California, booting 13 of 14 field goal attempts and 49 extra points to lead Claremont in scoring last year. Telish and Warren were among the team's leading tacklers as juniors.
3--Los Altos (Sierra League; Southern Conference)--The Conqueror fortunes suffered a setback when star linebacker and running back Jim Jastrab broke an ankle in an intrasquad game last week; he will miss the season.
Coach Dwayne DeSpain said the loss of Jastrab (6-0, 215), considered one of the top seniors in the valley, may place a damper on the season.
Still, with nine starters returning from a team that finished 8-4 and reached the conference quarterfinals, Los Altos is expected to have one of its best teams in recent years.
"The kids are hungry and they're ready to go," DeSpain said. "They've been a hard-working group through spring ball and the summer and we've very excited about the season."