With cross-town rivals to the left and to the right, Kennedy High never has to wait long for a fight. Granada Hills and San Fernando zero in on the Golden Cougars like stand-up defensive ends crashing into a quarterback.
Half of Kennedy's students live in Granada Hills and half live in Pacoima. So Granada Hills and San Fernando properly consider the Golden Cougars as rivals.
"It's interesting to watch the dynamics," Kennedy Coach Bob Francola said. "Kennedy sits right in the middle, which means we have two big football games."
Ganging up on Kennedy, which lost to both rivals last season and finished 2-2 in league, might seem a trifle unfair in an ordinary year. But this is no ordinary Golden Cougar team. In his first year as coach, Francola has been handed a platter full of raw talent.
"This could be the most talented team the school has ever had," he said.
Francola replaced John Haynes, whocoached Kennedy since the school opened in 1971. Haynes remains as an assistant. While you would expect a former head coach to drop more hints than Heloise, Francola insists that second-guessing will not be a problem.
"John is free to think about the offense," Francola said. "He is a unique individual who can work with someone else and not worry about the power thing."
The most powerful things will be in Kennedy uniforms. Powerful things like linemen Ron Simmons and Akili Calhoun, who each stand 6-4, weigh just under 250 pounds. On offense, quarterback Jeff Newman and wide receiver Dion Lambert will add a liberal dose of passes to a traditionally conservative Kennedy offense.
"John Haynes was called Gen. Patton because he liked to run the ball down people's throat," Francola said. "We'll have a pass-oriented touch to the offense this year."
Another team with a fancy for passing will be Granada Hills, which finished second in league last season with a 3-1 record. Jeremy Leach, a junior transfer from L.A. Baptist, is second-year Coach Darryl Stroh's second straight transfer quarterback. Brent Spurlin transferred from Hart last year.
"Jeremy is a great athlete and is getting there in terms of leadership," Granada Hills assistant coach Tom Harp said. "The kids should rally around him."
At 6-2 and 180 pounds, Leach is larger than most of the Granada Hills linemen, however. The Highlanders are lightweights, and will have trouble controlling the line of scrimmage against Kennedy and San Fernando.
Tom Hernandez, San Fernando's 29-year-old wunderkind coach, hopes the largest line he has had can carry him to his fourth league title in five years. The Tigers were 4-0 in league last season.
"This is a different kind of San Fernando team," Hernandez said.
Thanks in part to a stringent off-season weight program, second-year Cleveland Coach Steve Landress believes he has a strong team.
"We are much improved," said Landress, whose team was 0-4 in league last season. "Last year we were decimated by injuries. I hope the weight work and greater emphasis on conditioning prevents a repeat."
El Camino Real's only victory last season was against Cleveland. The Conquistadores will be lucky to double that number.
"We could use some instant transfers," assistant coach Ralph Stam said. "We only have 38 kids out for football. A lot of guys will have to go both ways."
Kennedy opens league play against Granada Hills and finishes the regular season against San Fernando. A league title should be the reward for turning back both rivals.