SAN DIEGO — It's beginning to sound familiar.
Sweetwater High School, led by a dominating defense and a strong running back, has a great season . . . and then comes back the next season with more of the same.
That's the story this year as well, but the 1987 Red Devils have an opportunity to be much more than the equal of the '86 team.
Sweetwater returns 17 starters from a team that won the Metro-Mesa League title after a tie-breaking system broke a three-team deadlock between the Red Devils, Chula Vista and Montgomery. The '86 Red Devils featured San Diego County's top-ranked defense (4.5 points per game) and the offense averaged 32.8 points per game. Sweetwater became the first school in county history to score 300 points five seasons in a row.
Running back Pierre Jones was the county's leading scorer with 144 points, and his 1,590 yards rushing ranked second in the county, though he played in just nine games.
"It's tough playing against all of that tradition," said Southwest Coach Carl Parrick, whose team is moving up from the 2-A Metro-South Bay League.
Even with Sweetwater's credentials, Montgomery figures to contend as well. And league coaches warn that Chula Vista cannot be counted out, though Coach George Ohnsorgen insists it is a rebuilding year.
Last season's record: 1-3, 4-6
Coach: Jim Wilson
Top returners: Randy Schiewe (5-11, 165, Sr., FS), Chris Thomas (6-5, 240, Sr., OT/DT), Mike Terry (6-0, 170, Sr., OL), Gary Toliwara (5-11, 200, Sr., FB)
Top newcomer: Coy Reeves (5-10, 155, Sr., RB), Art Adrid (5-11, 175, Sr., C)
Outlook: The Barons hope that an emphasis on defense can help improve last year's finish. The success of that defense will depend in large part on Schiewe and Thomas. Schiewe was second on the team in tackles last season (105) and Thomas is a major-college prospect.
The offense is not so certain. The line and backfield are strong, but last year's quarterback, Dave Baumgarten, will be out at least a month because of an enlarged spleen. Sophomore Matt Gibbs and junior Jeff Bagel are competing for the job.
Last season's record: 3-1, 9-1
Coach: George Ohnsorgen
Top returners: Joe Heinz (6-3, 300, Sr., OL), Don Austin (6-4, 210, Sr., C), Shaun Miranda (5-6, 140, Sr., WR), David Gambala (5-10, 185, Sr., DT)
Top newcomer: Anthony Garcia (5-10, 155, Sr., FB)
Outlook: The Spartans return only four starters on offense and four on defense. The quarterback, Paul Geering, threw only six passes last season and none of the linebackers has game experience. On top of that, the Spartans play perennial powerhouses Madison, Granite Hills, Patrick Henry and Helix in nonleague games.
"Last year, we had some standout players," Ohnsorgen said. "There's no standout this year. These guys are green, but they are good athletes. A lot depends on how we coach them."
Last season's record: 3-1, 7-2-1
Coach: Steve Summers
Top returners: Kevin Crawford (5-8, 185, Sr., TB/DB), Greg Sallee (5-10, 185, Sr., FB), Luis Rodriguez (5-11, 215, Sr., LB)
Top newcomer: Mario Hernandez (6-4, 215, Sr., TE/DE)
Outlook: The Aztecs' strong point is their running attack, as Crawford and Sallee figure to be two of the county's best. The questions lie in the offensive line, where only one player with experience returns, and at quarterback, where the apparent starter, senior Jose Diaz, played on the junior varsity last season.
"We have good wide receivers," Summers said. "But we have to get the ball to them or we are going to have problems."
Last season's record: 2-1, 5-5
Finish: Second (2-A Metro-South Bay League)
Coach: Carl Parrick
Top returners: Richard Delano (5-11, 160, Jr., QB), Will Tate (6-0, 145, Jr., WR/DB), Paul Tavares (Sr. K)
Top newcomers: Fernando Villa al Bazo (5-11, 205, So., LB), Victor Vega (6-1, 250, So., OT)
Outlook: Though the Raiders are making the jump from 2-A, the league's coaches think Southwest has a good young team that could challenge for the title sometime soon. The junior varsity won the South Bay League title last season. Parrick has only about 10 seniors on the team, but has discouraged others from coming out so that the younger players can get more time.
"We don't have a lot of size, but we're very strong and very aggressive," Parrick said. "We're jumping from probably the most Mickey Mouse league to the toughest. But we play with the understanding that we are playing to win every game."
Last season's record: 3-1, 9-1
Coach: Gene Alim
Top returners: Pierre Jones (5-9, 180, Sr., RB), David Lively (6-3, 230, Sr., LG), Tony Siragusa (6-3, 205, Sr., LB), James Zarate (6-0, 190, Sr., LB), Scott Catlin (5-9, 160, Sr., DB), Ruben Hernandez (6-3, 195, Sr. RT)
Top newcomers: Perry Vili (5-10, 230, Sr., NG), Steve Napoleon (6-3, 205, Sr., DE)
Outlook: Jones will have one of the best lines in the county in front of him. Lively and Hernandez were all-league. Alim said that although Sweetwater has three running backs playing for major-college teams, Jones may be the school's best yet.
The defense returns three of the four defensive backs that held Fallbrook's Scott Barrick, the county's leading passer, to 140 yards in the playoffs. Catlin, a first-team Times All-County selection last season, had 10 interceptions.
The Red Devils' biggest problem? Playing up to people's expectations.