The theme at La Habra High School is "Drive for Five" as the Highlanders' football team prepares for another ride through the Freeway League.
La Habra, under veteran coach Bob Rau, has won an unprecedented four straight league titles, but this season's drive could be a bumpy one in the vicinity of Sunny Hills High, where Coach Tim Devaney says he has his best team in eight years.
The schools shared the league title last season and are traditionally among the Southern Section Central Conference's top-ranked teams. Sunny Hills, with 12 returning starters, was the preseason choice in a poll of coaches to win the conference. La Habra was picked to finish sixth in the conference race.
"They're the class of the league," said John Turek, Troy coach. "Both have a lot of quality players coming back off championship teams. It looks like Sunny Hills and La Habra will battle for first, and the rest of us will be fighting for the third playoff spot."
If that's the case, the league champion won't be crowned until the season's last week when Sunny Hills plays host to La Habra.
Sunny Hills has advanced to the playoffs in five of Devaney's seven seasons, winning the Central Conference title in 1983 and reaching the semifinals three times. Last year, the Lancers were eliminated in the semifinals by Valencia, 17-14, in double overtime in what Devaney called the most frustrating loss of his career.
The Lancers were one of the county's best defensive teams last year. They allowed 10 regular-season opponents an average of 6.4 points per game and posted four shutouts. Look for the Lancers to be equally strong offensively and defensively in '87.
"We're going to score points," Devaney said. "If the defense can hold the opposition down like it did last year, we're going to win."
Rau has made some big changes offensively at La Habra . . . for good reason. Former La Habra defensive coordinators Steve Silberman (Sonora) and Steve Nishimoto (Fullerton) are now rival coaches in the league, so Rau has installed the run-and-shoot offense for third-year quarterback Matt Shackelford.
"When you have to play against two coaches who have been inside your system, it makes it tough," Rau said. "The element of an option attack will add some new wrinkles and force some other people to play us honestly defensively."
Here's a closer look at the Freeway League:
BUENA PARK: 0-5, 0-9-1 (Sixth in league)
The Coyotes haven't won a football game in three years, but that hasn't dampened the enthusiasm of first-year coach Rick Foley, 26, the county's youngest head coach. He begins his fourth year on the Coyote staff with 10 returning starters off a team that managed only a 7-7 tie against Rancho Alamitos in its season opener in '86. Quarterback Dave Baylor, guard/linebacker Kenny Burroughs and second-team, all-league cornerback Mike Lord are part of the reason for Foley's optimism. "Dave Baylor will turn this team around," Foley predicted. "We're going to surprise some people." Mike Reding, a two-time league champion wrestler, will start at defensive end and was voted defensive team captain. Dan Dennerberg is the team's best running back, and Foley claims to have a quality kicker in Lonnie Legg. The Coyotes' offensive line will be one of the league's biggest, averaging 220 pounds. The top newcomer is defensive back Gary Reres, a transfer from New York, who is so aggressive that Foley said, "I'm afraid to let him practice against the team." Foley, on Buena Park's 28-game winless streak: "There hasn't been any continuity since I've been here. The staff has changed every year. This is the first time I can honestly say we've got a good staff assembled in four years."
FULLERTON: 3-2, 7-4 (Third in league)
A new era begins at Fullerton after Martin Luczaj, one of the most successful coaches in the county over the past six years, resigned last March. Steve Nishimoto, defensive coordinator at La Habra for three years, has replaced Luczaj and some big changes are already noticeable. Nishimoto has added the triple option with a sprint-out passing attack. "Defensively, we'll look a lot like La Habra, minus the (Kevin) Capps and (Linton) Weatherspoons," he said. Darrell Corbin, a three-year starter, returns at halfback where he's gained almost 1,500 yards in two seasons. James Ramsay and Steve DePhillips will alternate at fullback, and newcomer Marcus Roberson, sophomore son of former Laker forward Rick Roberson, is a tailback to watch in the future. Four of five starters return on the offensive line, but Nishimoto said the Indians won't have anybody to match former standouts Jeff Bailey or David McKinnon. Guards Collin Milligan and Mike Graham are the team's best linemen. Newcomer Rene Arias and Brent Bice are vying for the quarterback position. "Both will play a lot in the preseason, and then we'll go with the top performer when league starts," Nishimoto said. Wide receiver John Bailey, sophomore brother of Jeff Bailey (now at UCLA), is another top newcomer.