SAN DIEGO — Gary Cooper, Mount Miguel football coach, said the Thunder Midgets are gone. It appears that the midgets have grown up.
Last season, the Matadors' defense nicknamed itself the "Thunder Midgets" not only because of the players' lack of height and weight but also because of their underdog status.
"We are no longer the Thunder Midgets," Cooper said. "Our kids have put on some weight."
And they are no longer underdogs after they won the league title and advanced to the semifinals of the San Diego Section playoffs before they lost to eventual champion Fallbrook, 34-27.
Nose guard Eric Parker embodied the spirit of the defense last season. Parker, 5-feet 4-inches tall and weighing 166 pounds, was named the league's defensive player of the year.
Parker returns, along with two other first-team all-league defensive players--linebacker Haywood Mathis and defensive back Adam Wilson.
The three lead a defense that ranked fourth in San Diego County last season by allowing an average of 6.4 points a game.
Defense alone, however, will not win a title in a league that had three of its five teams ranked in the top 10 in defense last season.
But Mount Miguel has Anthony Rivera, who may be the best quarterback in the league. Rivera, a three-year starter, was a first-team all-league player last season.
Last season's record: 2-2, 9-4.
Coach: Paul Wargo.
Top returners: Jason Munoz (6-3, 216, Sr., LB); Troy Lynn (5-10, 168, Sr., DB); Joey Schulmeister (5-9, 163, Sr., CB); Shane Boyd (5-11, 185, Sr., TE).
Top newcomer: Brian Giles (5-9, 167, Jr., RB); Matt Mikolajewski (5-10, 165, Jr., QB).
Outlook: The wishbone is gone, and so is most of last year's offense. Wargo has 19 seniors among the 140 players who tried out for the team. The entire backfield has graduated from the offense, which ranked fourth in the county in scoring with an average of 29.4 points per game and led Granite Hills to the San Diego Section semifinals two years in a row. Wargo installed the wishbone two years ago to take advantage of the talented backfield, but he said this season his team will return to the multiple offense it had used in the past. The only experienced offensive player is Boyd, who was a backup tight end last season. Wargo said he returns a solid nucleus from the defense, which ranked No. 10 in the county last season. Munoz, an all-league selection, leads the defense.
Last season's record: 3-1, 7-3-1.
Coach: Jim Arnaiz.
Top returners: Erik Bliss (6-2, 205, Sr., OL); Chuck Leptich (6-1, 194, Sr., OL); Todd Sheehan (5-10, 167, Sr., TE); Mike Murphy (5-11, 210, Sr., LB); Tim Zeddies (6-2, 190, Sr., QB).
Top newcomers: Spike Mitchell (5-9, 205, FB, Jr.); Brian Hay (6-3, 215, OL, Jr.)
Outlook: Last season was supposed to be a rebuilding time for Helix. Instead, the team finished second in the league and advanced to the playoffs for the 13th time in the last 25 years, and Arnaiz got his 100th victory as a coach. The Highlanders' weak spot was the offense last year, but that should change this season, according to Arnaiz. Returning are four of five starters on the offensive line, two of three wide receivers and the quarterback. Mitchell has moved up from the junior varsity to become the starting fullback. Once again Helix should be tough to score against. Last year the team finished No. 3 in the county's defensive rankings.
Last season's record: 1-3, 5-5.
Coach: Larry Shepard.
Top returners: Alex Rohrke (5-10, 185, Sr., LB); James Fraser (6-0, 170, Sr., WR); Eric Coffey (5-9, 160, Sr., TB); Shawn Owen (6-0, 190, Sr., LB).
Top newcomer: Keith Roberts (6-3, 215, Jr., DL); Brian Paul (5-11, 185, Jr., LB).
Outlook: Monte Vista started strong before sputtering in midseason last year with a young team. The Monarchs have 25 lettermen returning, including 18 starters. Shepard said the defense again will be tough. The biggest question for Monte Vista will be its offense. Fraser, the league's 880-yard champion in track, will be a deep threat at wide receiver, and Coffey again will be the starting tailback.
Last season's record: 4-0, 9-3.
Coach: Gary Cooper.
Top returners: Anthony Rivera (5-11, 160, Sr., QB); Eric Parker (5-4, 189, Sr., DL); Haywood Mathis (6-3, 195, Sr., LB); Adam Wilson (6-0, 198, Sr., DB); Erik Stottlemyer (5-10, 190, Sr., DL).
Top newcomer: Charlie Moss (5-8, 196, Jr., DL); Jeff Chambliss (5-7,160, Jr., S).
Outlook: The Matadors will not be able to sneak up on the league this season. Mount Miguel's biggest hole is at wide receiver, where the Matadors have plenty of speed but no experience. Rivera, a starting guard on the basketball team that advanced to the section semifinals last season, adds a dimension to the offense because of his running ability. Vachel Howard (5-11, 210), who Cooper said was the surprise of spring football, will be at tight end.
Last season's record: 0-4, 1-8.
Coach: Doug Coffin.
Top returners: Bruce Moutaw (5-11, 165, Sr., QB); Tim Barry (6-2, 170, Sr., QB/WR) Scott Fredrickson (6-2, 232, Sr., C).
Top newcomer: David Down (6-2, 272, OL, Jr.); Kenny Collier (6-2, 242, Sr., OL/DL).
Outlook: Coffin takes over a program that has seven victories in the last four years. But, Coffin remembers when Santana used to be one of the top programs in the league. Coffin played for Santana as a senior in 1970, when the team was ranked No. 8 in the county. It has been 10 years since the Sultans made the playoffs. "I think there is some work that has to be done," Coffin said. "I'm just trying to change the attitude." Moutaw has started at quarterback since his sophomore season but is battling Barry for the job. Coffin said the No. 2 quarterback will play wide receiver and defensive back. The offensive line has some experience and, for the first time in several years, bulk.
Saturday: Palomar League