So it's expected to be a good year for prep football teams in the San Gabriel Valley. So what's new?
In a typical year, one or two teams from the valley will win CIF Southern Section championships.
Last year was a little better than average. Muir won the CIF Coastal Conference title, Claremont took the Eastern Conference and Charter Oak captured the Southeastern Conference.
When you also consider that Damien finished second in the Eastern Conference and Diamond Bar was second in the Southeastern, it is easy to understand why the valley is a hotbed of football.
With top contenders in several conferences, 1986 has the makings of another above-average year for valley teams.
That makes the pre-season choice for No. 1 difficult, but traditional powerhouse Bishop Amat gets the nod.
The Lancers were the choice last fall and won their first 11 games before they were upset by Marina of Huntington Beach in the Big 5 Conference quarterfinals.
Traditional powers Muir, Los Altos, Damien and Pasadena are waiting in the wings this fall should the Lancers stumble.
And Rowland, South Hills, Temple City, Claremont, Diamond Bar, Arroyo and Ganesha are expected to battle for CIF championships.
The top teams:
The Top 10 1--Bishop Amat (Angelus League; Big 5 Conference)--For first-year Coach Mark Paredes, coaching the Lancers is the chance of a lifetime.
"It's quite a thrill," admitted Paredes, an assistant coach at Amat for the last six years. "To be able to coach at an institution like Bishop Amat, with its tradition, is really a dream come true."
Bishop Amat has a history of producing major-college prospects, and this year is no exception.
No other team in the valley can put a running back such as Eric Bieniemy (5-10, 190) and a offensive tackle such as Richard Garrick (6-4, 260) on the field at the same time.
Bieniemy, one of the top backs in the state, rushed for 1,824 yards in 304 carries and 28 touchdowns and Garrick was one of his top blockers as the Lancers posted an 11-1 record and were ranked No. 1 in the CIF for much of last season.
But wait, there's more.
Bishop Amat has two other big offensive linemen in center Ken Szalonek (6-0, 255) and tackle Troy Auzenne (6-4, 215). That should give Paredes the muscle for his run-oriented Power I offense.
"We're not not going to get pounded on, I guarantee you," Paredes said.
The Lancers will have speedsters Tom Faranda (5-9, 165) and Mazio Royster (6-1, 180) at running back and a solid wide receiver in Carlos Hernandez (6-1, 185). The quarterback will be Robert Montanez, a senior, or junior J. R. Phillips.
The defense is strong, led by hard-hitting linebacker Charles Fraley (6-2, 210), back Sean Canova (5-11, 170) and end John Hess (6-0, 185).
The Lancers figure to have depth because the freshman, sophomore and junior varsity teams combined lost only one game last fall.
2--Muir (Pacific League; Coastal Conference)--They finished 13-1 and won the Coastal Conference title last year.
They have a 33-4 record over the last three seasons.
They have running back Ricky Ervins, who could be the best in the state.
Sounds like good enough reasons for the Mustangs to be ranked No. 1 in the Coastal Conference again.
So why does Coach Jim Brownfield call the Mustangs "the most overrated team in the CIF"?
"We have seven kids that are dyed-in-the-wool, three-way players (offense, defense and special teams), and I think because of that we're highly overrated. We're just not that good. There's no way."
But Brownfield will have a difficult time finding believers, at least until his teams stop winning 10 or more games a year. And not until he stops producing college prospects such as Ervins (5-9, 185), who rushed for 1,300 yards and 17 touchdowns as a junior and runs the 40-yard dash in a blazing 4.4 seconds. "He's playing better now than he did last year," Brownfield said.
Muir may not have as much depth as last season, but there is an abundance of front-line talent.
The Mustangs have an outstanding passer in senior quarterback Vince Phillips (6-1, 185), who is also one of the premier baseball players in the valley. Muir also has a speedster at safety and wide receiver in senior Marcus Robertson (6-2, 170).
Other players who will probably play offense and defense are lineman Durrell Hightower (6-2, 210), offensive lineman and linebacker Chad Brown (6-3, 180), lineman Anthony Jackson (6-0, 230), offensive and defensive tackle Derrick Watson (6-0, 180), wide receiver and safety Tony Johnson (5-11, 160), fullback and safety Charles Crowther (5-11, 160), defensive back and wide receiver Eric Williams (5-7, 155) and offensive and defensive guard Wes McGarity (6-0, 205).
Said Brownfield: "We will not have a very good football team if we don't find some depth."
Now if he could only find someone who believes him.
3--Los Altos (Sierra League; Eastern Conference)--Dwayne DeSpain, longtime coach of the Conquerors, says there is an aura of excitement surrounding this year's team.
That has to be unsettling for the rest of the conference.