The coaches in the Century League agree: with the return of all-league running back Robert Lee from a team that was 12-2 overall and runner-up in the Southern Conference last season, the Saints of Santa Ana High School look as if they will be the league's repeat champions.
That is, if Santa Ana's cards hold up. Their report cards, to be exact. Two top players, quarterback Richard Fanti and wide receiver Bobby Joyce, are academically ineligible and off the field for at least the first six weeks.
Assuming the Saints continue their success, the race for second place could be wide open, especially between the three teams--Foothill, Canyon and El Modena--that tied for second last season.
Santa Ana Valley and Villa Park, which were at the bottom, expect great improvements in their teams. In fact, Villa Park, despite finishing 0-5 in the league and 2-8 overall last season, is aiming for the top.
Coach Pat Mahoney said, "We're going to compete with Santa Ana, I hope. Our goals are to win the league, go to the playoffs and have a good time."
Confidence and faith, it seems, are dominant themes this season. But who could have more faith than Saints?
CANYON: 3-2, 5-6 (Tied for second)
Coach Rod Hust, in his 11th year, is enjoying Canyon's change from a three-year to a four-year school. That will no doubt help the Comanche future, but what about the present? Senior quarterback Joe Furukawa has only backup varsity experience, but Hust is confident that his intelligence (4.0 grade-point average) and leadership abilities are what Canyon needs to increase its 1986 scoring average of 14 points a game. Furukawa will be looking for Dave Lara, who has as much potential as any wide receiver Canyon has ever had, according to Hust. Running back Eddie Washington will help the offense, too. And the offense will need help. Canyon was shut out three times last year (Loara, 21-0; Santa Ana, 37-0; El Toro, 35-0).
On defense, four starters from the line are back. Defensive end Chris Rodwick, who was sidelined for most of 1986 with a strained knee ligament, tops off Canyon's height/weight chart at 6 feet 3 inches and 190 pounds. His team isn't big, but Hust says there's plenty of speed and mobility on both sides to make up for it.
Other key personnel: center Jeff Brandt, offensive tackle Randy Spraldin, fullback Dale LaRue, inside linebackers Pete Perry and Dan Ford.
Top newcomers: offensive guard Darren Beltran, wide receiver Mike Paroske, running back Tony DaCosta, outside linebacker Matt Almanza.
EL MODENA: 3-2, 5-5 (Tied for second)
Last year was dismal for the Vanguards. They were shut out in their first two games (Edison, 35-0; Esperanza, 28-0); downed by Canyon (18-7) for the first time in school history; and despite a 10-7 win over rival Foothill, lost a playoff berth to the Knights on a coin flip. Ugh. Until then, El Modena hadn't missed a Southern Conference semifinal in eight years, nor the playoffs since 1973.
Despite all this, second-year Coach Bill Backstrom says he couldn't be happier to get 1987 going. Quarterback Trey Frank, a sophomore backup last year, passed for 545 yards, 4 touchdowns and 5 interceptions.
With the graduation of tailback Ross Bauer, a second-team, all-county selection, several running backs are ready to trace his steps. Returners John Sharpe and Marcus Esposito will share tailback duties with transfers Pat Leborio (Mater Dei) and Steve McClaskey (Servite). Five defensive starters are returning including top Vanguard linebacker Eric Rodriquez.
Other key personnel: fullback Phebes Rhyne.
Top newcomers: linebacker Jeremy Deckert, defensive linemen Billy Hahn and Craig Gibson. FOOTHILL: 3-2, 7-5 (Tied for second)
The big news with the Knights is the departure of Coach Ted Mullen, who was 59-15-2 in six seasons at Foothill. He has left for Anaheim; and Dr. Jerry Howell, who had a 1-25-3 in three years at Eastern Oregon State, takes his place. Howell attributes his record in Oregon to coaching "a non-scholarship school in a full-scholarship conference." Howell said he's looking to tap back into Foothill's winning tradition.
A solid defense includes tackle Frank Busalacchi (6-6, 250), linebackers Adam Hairston and Mike Horton, strong safety Brett Bloom, and free safety Greg Johnson. Together, they helped hold their opponents to an average of 12 points last year and shut out Los Alamitos, which was fourth-seeded in Southern Conference last year, 21-0 in the playoffs' first round.
The Knight offense will center on junior tailback Johnny Mountain. Quarterback Tommy Hawkins, who started just two games last season, hopes to put the ball in the air, but who will catch it? Nobody knows. Howell admits he isn't sure who will start among his young corps.
Other key personnel: offensive guard Mike Shepard, tight end Jason Constantine, offensive tackle Dave Gesler.
Top newcomers: linebacker Steve Quinn, defensive guard Jason Anselmo, tight end Glenn Nicol, offensive tackle Derek Fritts. SANTA ANA: 5-0, 12-2 (First in league)