Let's dispense with the formalities. If we're talking Los Angeles City high school football, we're talking Carson and Banning--the winners of the last 10 City 4-A titles.
This year should be no different, and there are a few added ingredients: Carson Coach Gene Vollnogle is boasting his best running-back tandem ever, while Banning Coach Chris Ferragamo believes he has his strongest defense to date.
If Carson's backfield or Banning's defense truly reach new heights, it could dictate another City title.
Banning won the title last year--its seventh in nine seasons--after losing in league play to a strong Carson team that was favored in the finals.
"Last season we were technically a JV team," Ferragamo said. "This year Banning should be the best around on defense. We feel that experience, size, agility and strength should be our strengths."
If there's a fly in the ointment, it is producing a consistent offense. Banning never did last year. "Our offense is the key to this season," Ferragamo said. "We feel confident but will wait and see how we progress."
Conversely, Carson Coach Vollnogle isn't worried about scoring points. Defense is the question mark.
"We've got the best backfield in Southern California and a good line to go along with the backs," Vollnogle said. "We also have good receivers. Offense should be the strong point. The defense is young. If they develop we will have an outstanding team."
Early games aren't necessarily an indication if things to come in December, but both teams' pre-season schedules are worth noting.
Banning opens Friday at CIF power Fontana. Two weeks later the Pilots take on local rival Long Beach Poly, which beat them last year and has the nation's most highly sought recruit this season in running back Leonard Russell. "That's a revenge game," Ferragamo noted this summer. "The kids will be fired up for that one."
Carson debuts Friday against Lynwood, then plays St. Paul--which won their match-up last year--Bishop Montgomery and San Fernando before starting league action.
Meanwhile, Gardena will have a new look under young first-year Coach Dale Hirayama, San Pedro is out to defend its Freeway League title against Locke in a competitive 3-A battle, Narbonne is hoping to shake off the doldrums of the last two seasons and Westchester will again display some of the best athletes in the Southland.
Here are how the area's teams and league races shape up:
Banning--Just talking about his defense makes Chris Ferragamo bubble. The Banning coach is often quick to pass out the superlatives, but he can back it up here.
Defensive back Marvin Pollard was named to Street & Smith Football Yearbook's top 50 in the nation, and linemen Terrance Powe and Tyrone Rogers made the national list of "ones to watch." Powe is considered one of the top 20 players in Southern California by an informal Times poll of college recruiters and scouts. The 6-3 Pollard, at free safety, is a superior athlete who was a starter at point guard on the basketball team.
The entire secondary is 6-2 or taller and Ferragamo says all four--Pollard, 6-4 strong safety Marlon Primous, 6-3 corner Ken Franklin and 6-2 corner Ted Presley--are stars in their own right.
The linebackers, McCann Utu, Calvin Spears and Jimmy De los Santos, are all returners and standouts. Ferragamo is trumpeting Spears, the latest in a long line of terrific middle backers, as the school's best ever.
The line includes Powe (6-4, 260), Rodgers (6-5, 250), Louis Woolridge (6-2, 210) and Eric Dozier (6-3, 230), all experienced seniors.
"Our defensive backs, linebackers and down linemen all run 4.8 or better in the 40," Ferragamo said. "Incredible, but true. Eleven of the toughest players."
The offense may be less settled but there is a lot more experience than last year, when it was made up mostly of juniors. Ed Kapu returns at quarterback, three of the linemen are returning starters and Archie Jean is a burner at wide receiver. If Kapu can get him the ball it will open up the option offense. He may also run out of the option. Ferragamo said Jean "is our main man. He's the fastest man on the team, 4.3 in the 40."
The line returns center Dan Gunderson (6-3, 235), billed by Ferragamo as Banning's best ever at his position, and guards Mike Padilla (6-2, 240) and Ed Lalau (5-11, 220).
As for facing Fontana and Poly in the first three weeks, Ferragamo said this summer, "That could be our season right there. Let us pray . . . "
On paper, it looks like most of Banning's prayers are already answered.
Carson--With Carson and Banning not scheduled to meet until the last league game on Nov. 15, the two neighborhood rivals could end up playing each other twice within four weeks. The two have played for the City championship six times since 1979.
By the time they meet this year, Carson's "Alvin 'n' Calvin Show" may well have rewritten much of Carson's record book. (In case you don't think this is a big-time program, Carson publishes a 40-page record book.)