The big story last season in Los Angeles City high school football on the Westside was Fairfax High with its 12-0 record and its 3-A championship.
A master at writing happy endings couldn't have concocted a much better plot for Fairfax Coach Denis Furlong and his Lions. The title game was the school's first in football, and Fairfax won the championship by shutting out Chatsworth, 27-0, in Furlong's second year as head coach.
There may be another storybook ending to Westside football this season, but probably not for Fairfax, a team composed largely of seniors last year. The protagonists this year may be the Venice Gondoliers and Coach Al Dellinger, whose 1985 team was made up mostly of juniors.
The Gondoliers were 9-2 overall and 7-0 in the 2-A Pac 8 League. Their season ended with a 14-7 loss to City champion Roosevelt in the 2-A semifinals.
Last year Furlong, whose 1984 team was 5-3-1, had a veteran team coming off a fine season. This year Dellinger does. Before last season, Furlong, who spent seven years as an assistant, said that his 1985 team might turn out to be the best since he came to the school. He was right.
This year Dellinger isn't as confident as he thought he'd be. "I don't think we're as good as we could be," he said. "We all thought '86 would be our year, but we're not as good on defense (as last year) by a long, long way."
The defense is lacking stalwart ends Paul Nikcevic and Bob Tomaselli, defensive backs Kevin Riven and Dwayne Lortie and linebacker David Gonzalez, all graduated.
And that's not the only problem. Dellinger thinks that several strong Pac 8 teams from last year should be stronger. And that opinion is shared by other coaches in the league. Instead of a happy ending for Venice, it could come to Westchester, University, Reseda or Sylmar, coaches say.
A report on the Westside's seven City teams:
Coach Larry Wein's Comets were only two points weaker than Venice last year, losing their Pac 8 League game to the Gondoliers, 10-8, and finishing 6-1 in league and 9-2 overall. Westchester lost in the semis to finalist Bell.
Linebacker-running back Keith Bowen (6-1, 205) is widely regarded as one of the nation's top college prospects among seniors. College scouts apparently like him at linebacker, but Wein also likes him at running back, where his mate will be junior Kevin Owens (5-9, 160).
Quarterback is set with the return of senior Steve Kristy, whom Wein expects to be one of the league's best at that spot.
Wein lost top wide receiver David Brantley to graduation and the University of Hawaii, but he does have senior wide receiver-punter Jeff Lanley, a starter last year.
The offensive line, mostly juniors, has some size and returning starters in senior tight end Troy Lane (6-3, 215), who also plays defensive tackle, and center Chris Brandon (6-1, 185). Juniors who need experience--but not more weight--are tackle Kevin Johnson (6-2, 265) and guard Fred Rogers (6-0, 255). The other tackle is junior Brian Smith (6-1, 185).
"We're a young group, but I think we'll be OK as the season goes along," said Wein, adding that Venice should be challenged not only by the Comets but also by University, Reseda and Sylmar.
In Friday's opener, Jefferson is at Westchester at 8 p.m.
Coach Dellinger may be trying to plug holes on defense, but his team should have little trouble scoring once he unplugs the offense, led by senior quarterback Ernie Soto, Pac-8 League player of the year as a junior.
Last year Soto passed for about 1,200 yards, completing 52% of his attempts with but seven interceptions, and he accounted for 12 touchdowns, three by rushing. His chief targets will be senior speedsters Eric Crawford, a flanker-cornerback, and split end-safety Roger Serafin, who also runs back punts. Soto and Crawford will figure in the ground attack along with senior running back Sheldon Turner and fullback Chico Garcia (5-7, 190), who moves on defense from tackle to middle linebacker.
Dellinger has some big linemen, who may divide time between offense and defense. They are led by seniors Jimmy Ito (5-10, 235) and Marcos Buenabad (5-10, 240) and junior C. C. McCowen (6-4, 260).
Opener: Hamilton at Venice at 8 p.m. Friday.
Coach Joe Sedia lost star passer Jonn Moomaw to graduation and is trying to rebuild his lines. Seniors who were expected to be line replacements, Noel Fournier (5-8, 165) at guard and Richard Horito ((5-11, 205) at tackle, are nursing injuries that may keep them out of action for a while.
Returning starters on the line are seniors Chris Chavez (5-9, 175), a guard and defensive tackle, and Dana Vatanpour, tackle and defensive end.
Sedia has a lot of offense to unleash if he can find people to block. "The skill kids we have are as good or better than any in the league," he said.
The skill kids include senior Daryl Hobbs, who will start at quarterback and was the backup there last year. Hobbs will also play some at free safety, where he was the starter last season.