You have to bottom out before you can make a comeback, and the Palisades and Hollywood high school football teams last year reached the point of return, both ending with 1-8 records.
Both may be on the way back this season.
Of the other four Los Angeles City teams, Hamilton and University went to the playoffs last year, and Hamilton Coach Dave Lertzman had his best season as his Yankees finished with a 7-2-1 record. Fairfax had a good year (5-3-1) with a young team under first-year head Coach Dennis Furlong, and Venice had a not-so-good season (3-6) with a young team under veteran Coach Al Dellinger.
Despite the loss of several key players to graduation, Lertzman said he feels Hamilton can maintain its momentum. Furlong, buoyed by the return of many veterans, said he thinks Fairfax could have its best team in a long while. University Coach Joe Sedia said, "We're behind where we were last year." And Dellinger thinks Venice "will definitely be an improved team."
New Coach at Venice
Palisades has a new coach in Jack Epstein, who said he will be "greatly disappointed" if the Dolphins don't do better than last year. Epstein, who succeeds retired Coach Merritt Stanfield, is not new to the Westside; he spent seven years as coach at Hamilton, two years as an assistant at West Los Angeles College and the last seven years as the top man at Narbonne.
His 1973 team at Hamilton was 7-1, led by quarterback Warren Moon, now with the Houston Oilers after great success with the Edmonton Oilers, and Rod Martin, an all-pro linebacker with the Oakland Raiders.
Epstein said that because he is "coming in new" at Palisades, "it takes time to establish your own personality. When I became head coach at Hamilton I had a bunch of good kids, and we were able to win right off the bat.
"I told the Narbonne principal it would take three years to develop a winner." He was true to his word; his third-year Narbonne team was 9-1.
At Palisades, only about 35 players have come out for the varsity, but Epstein said they are "extremely dedicated and, compared to my first team at Narbonne, they are much superior. But they don't know how to be successful; they don't know what it takes to win. The ingredients are there for a fairly good team, if we can stay healthy. But there are no backups; that's the one thing that scares me."
Lean Years at Hollywood
Hollywood Coach Jim McNicholas was scared of a lot of things two years ago when only 17 players turned out for the varsity at the first practice and the school considered dropping football because of the poor turnout. McNicholas eventually rounded up 31 players, but Hollywood was 0-9.
In 1983, Hollywood's player ranks had been thinned to the point of emaciation, not only because the school's many foreign-born students did not know or play the game but also because 14 experienced performers were declared ineligible--either because they did not have C averages or had failed one course in the 1983 spring semester. The tougher academic standards of the Los Angeles Unified School District went into effect that fall.
McNicholas said that only four players were lost this fall because of the C-average, one-F rule, that others who failed courses made them up in summer school under a new school-district policy and that 54 players came out for football, the best turnout in five years.
Only four starters return, but McNicholas said he is encouraged by the fact that many of his newcomers played last year on the B team, which was 7-2 and won the Northern League championship.
When the school district's more stringent standards for extracurricular activities were adopted, McNicholas and other Hollywood coaches strongly opposed them. But he said that the adoption of a make-up policy has changed that stance.
"As long as they give the kids a chance to make it (a failed course) up, we can go with it. If a kid wants to play ball, he will go to summer school and make up his failures. If he doesn't, he doesn't care about football."
Furlong had just 13 seniors on last year's squad and a flock of juniors, and the flock is returning, among them eight of nine juniors on the defense.
At quarterback will be Rodney Dorsett, who threw for 557 yards and three touchdowns as the starter in five games, and the top running back, Michael Hale, returns after missing part of last year with a knee injury. In five games, the fleet Hale rushed for 499 yards and 11 touchdowns, including a 98-yard scoring kickoff return in last year's opener with Belmont.
LaTrelle Barnes, who beefed up from 175 to 186 lifting weights last summer, is back at fullback and at linebacker, where he was the team's top tackler last year. Haamid Wadood, a tailback with Hale last year, has been moved to flanker, and the split end is junior Mark McGroarty, who would have started last year if he hadn't broken an ankle. Furlong said McGroarty is "absolutely excellent" and had "a great summer passing league."