What's the old saying about the more things change, the more they stay the same?
So it is in the Century League for the 1986 season. The league's content and personality have changed dramatically, yet the coaches' picks still find the regulars--Foothill, Santa Ana, and El Modena high schools--battling it out for the title.
First, the changes. Orange and Tustin have moved on to other leagues, dropping the Century League from eight teams to six. And the league's most dominant personality, Bob Lester, has hung up his El Modena coach's whistle in favor of a fishing pole.
And, as if all that weren't enough, Foothill Coach Ted Mullen even said that he's going to pass the ball this year.
Balancing all of this is the knowledge that the league regulars, led by Foothill and Santa Ana, will battle it out for the title along with El Modena, which has an outside shot.
Foothill (8-2, 7-0) returns to defend its title behind the running of John Fischbeck and the passing of Chris Fergus. Long known for his pride in the rushing attack, Mullen has let it be known that he won't be afraid to let Fergus put the ball in the air this season.
"Fergus has a great arm," Mullen said. "He'll give us an added dimension. He throws with confidence from anywhere on the field."
With Lester gone, the Bob & Ted Show, featuring the needling of those two longtime rival coaches, has gone with it, leaving Mullen alone to handle the one-liners--and offensive lines, so to speak.
Said Mullen: "I'm not going to miss him. I'm glad he's gone. Oh, something might be missing for me when we play El Mo, but it's still the big rival for the kids and that'll never change, regardless of who's coaching either team."
Taking over the Vanguards is longtime Lester assistant Bill Backstrom, who doesn't see much problem in the transition.
"Bob was a coach's coach," he said. "He always gave his assistants a lot of freedom to run things independently. Hopefully, we can just continue to run the program he established."
The challenge to the established Foothill-El Modena power base clearly comes from Santa Ana, which finished third in league play last season yet wound up as the Southern Conference champion behind the rushing of Robert Lee.
Lee and Fischbeck figure to be the premier rushers in the league, if not the entire county.
By losing two schools, the six-team league now has five nonconference games to get ready for league play.
One more item of note: El Modena's Backstrom says that those new lights should be in place at Fred Kelly Stadium before the first game of the season, meaning that Century League fans will actually get to see their teams playing on that field this year.
Here's a closer look at the Century League:
CANYON: Key Personnel--Ray Schull (5-11, 185), SB; Matt Waddell (5-10, 175), WR; Jason Wilborn (6-4, 240), LB; Glenn Van Dyke (5-8, 165), LB; Mike Boto (6-4, 195), DE; Ken Gominsky (6-0, 205), DT, and Earl Whetstone (6-0, 185), FB.
Top Newcomers--John Bardon (6-6, 265), DT; Chris Laasch (6-3, 260), OT/DT; Dale LaRue (6-2, 180), SB, and Darren Beltran (6-0, 175), QB/OLB.
Outlook--Canyon Coach Rod Hust must replace the graduated Todd French, his prolific passer from last season, but having two excellent receivers in Ray Schull and Matt Waddell will surely help the transition. Schull caught 43 passes while playing running back and flanker. Waddell has been working out at both receiver and quarterback this season. Darren Beltran is the other quarterback candidate. In 240-pound Jason Wilborn, 265-pound John Bardon, and 260-pound Chris Laasch, the Comanches have the linemen they need to help establish a running attack to complement their respected passing game.
EL MODENA: Key Personnel--Ross Bauer (5-10, 170), RB/LB; John Thompson (6-1, 190), FL/LB; Matt Alcauter (6-1, 250), OT; David Johnson (6-0, 200), RB, and Todd Hively (5-10, 170), RB/FS.
Top Newcomers--Gabe Torres (5-10, 170), QB/CB; Frank Gentry (5-11, 185), LB; Jeremy Deckert (5-11, 190), FB/LB, and John Sharp (5-9, 170), RB/CB.
Outlook--The Vanguards figure to be built around Ross Bauer, a running back who might also see some action at quarterback. A hard-nosed type who can give a hit as well as take it, Bauer will also start at linebacker. "He made me write that into his contract," El Modena Coach Bill Backstrom joked. "He said that he'd play anywhere we want him to on offense as long as he could still play defense." Bauer has a good arm and occasionally threw halfback passes last season. Blocking will be led by 250-pound tackle Matt Alcauter, another in a seemingly endless stream of giant Vanguard linemen. El Modena offers one of the toughest nonleague schedules around: Edison, Esperanza, Pacifica, El Toro, and San Diego Patrick Henry, meaning that this season's young team will have to mature in a hurry.