Super scout Dick Lascola knows all about the cyclical nature of prep football in Southern California.
Last season, for example, it was running-back heaven, with Leonard Russell of Long Beach Poly, George Hemingway of Colton and Eric Bieniemy of Bishop Amat, leading a super crop.
But that was 1986.
"This year we have to find a big tree and shake it pretty hard to find" a good senior running back, said Lascola, who operates the Fallbrook-based Scouting Evaluation Assn.
While the preseason running-back picture may be uninspiring, just the opposite is true at quarterback. There is a veritable gold mine there, with Todd Marinovich of Mission Viejo Capistrano Valley, Bret Johnson of El Toro and Darian Hagan of Los Angeles Locke projected as three of the best seniors in the nation.
National expert Max Emfinger of the Houston-based National High School Football Recruiting Service also says it's a good year for offensive linemen. He placed six from the Los Angeles-Orange County areas in his preseason top 200.
Lascola said that overall the Southland should more than hold its own on the national level. "I don't think it will go down as one of the greatest years (for talent) in Southern California, but it's not the worst, either. It's an above-average year and we have some players who can make a national impact."
In addition to Lascola and Emfinger, The Times turned to national recruiting services, such as Tom Lemming's National Prep Football Report of Illinois, the G & W Recruiting Report of Pennsylvania and Florida-based Bill Buchalter, to determine which Los Angeles and Orange county seniors are receiving the most national puff.
Wilmington Banning, Los Angeles Locke and Santa Ana are the only schools with more than one player named to the list. Here, in no particular order, are The Terrific 22:
Marinovich--He is one of the most widely publicized seniors in Southern California and with justification. In three years as a starting quarterback at Mater Dei and Capistrano Valley, he has passed for 6,769 yards and 56 touchdowns. "He's as experienced as you can get in high school," Lascola said. Considered one of the best drop-back passers in the nation, he has exceptional size (6-4, 195) and a strong arm. His 3.4 grade-point average is also good news for recruiters. Some have questioned his mobility but that has not stopped him from making most preseason All-American teams.
Johnson--If Marinovich is the best drop-back passer in Southern California, Johnson (6-1, 175) may be the most versatile. Said Emfinger: "I think he's a little better than Marinovich because he's more versatile." A good scrambler with quick feet and 4.6-second speed in the 40-yard dash, he has gained a reputation as a rollout passer. He has a strong arm that makes him doubly dangerous for defenses and perfect for a multiple-set college offense. He is accurate, having been intercepted only twice in 203 passes last season. Scouts also like his field leadership.
Hagan--Everyone agrees that Hagan (6-0, 180) is one of the top athletes among this year's seniors. What position he will play in college is open to debate. Emfinger, who likes Hagan's explosive running, has him pegged as an option quarterback. "I think he's the top option quarterback in the country." Hagan, who has brilliant 4.5-second speed, has been compared to Oklahoma's Jamelle Holieway and the Sooners are among the teams recruiting him. But Lascola likes him as a running back. "He's not a quarterback. I see him more as a running back." He also has the speed to play wide receiver or flanker.
Kaleaph Carter (Huntington Beach Edison, running back)--The consensus is that the best running back in the state, maybe the nation, is Encino Crespi's phenomenal junior Russell White. But that hasn't dampened interest in Carter, a 6-1 and 205 fullback with great drive and leg strength. He also has outstanding upper-body strength, finishing second in the shot put in the CIF Southern Section Masters Track Meet. A good blocker with above-average speed, he is especially tough in short-yardage situations.
Robert Lee (Santa Ana, running back)--The strongest, if not the best, running backs seem to be in Orange County this year. Lee certainly fits the mold. A 6-1, 220-pounder, he started his prep career as a halfback but has grown into a full-fledged fullback. Don't let his size deceive you, though. Lee has more than adequate speed, clocking 4.6 in the 40. Emfinger calls him a "definite national-caliber recruit."
Damon Mack (Gardena, wide receiver)--For flat-out speed, you won't find a faster receiver, at least not in Southern California. Mack's 4.45 speed makes him dangerously elusive. What separates the 6-0 and 170-pound Mack from other speed-burners are great hands, superb concentration and excellent eye-hand coordination. Then there's his hard-work ethic that also impresses scouts. It's no wonder that he has appeared on most preseason All-American teams.