It's a new season for high school football in the San Gabriel Valley, but in many respects 1987 looks a lot like last year.
The top two teams still figure to be Bishop Amat of La Puente and Muir of Pasadena, among the elite of the CIF Southern Section for years and the best in the valley last season.
Valley teams also appear in good position to win as many championships as last season, when Muir won its second straight Coastal Conference title, Los Altos captured the Eastern Conference and Arroyo took the Southeastern. About the biggest change has come off the field as Muir, Diamond Bar and Temple City named new coaches.
But on the field the results figure to be about the same.
Bishop Amat may be slightly ahead of Muir in the battle for No. 1. The Lancers have won their first 11 games in each of the last two years, only to lose in the Big Five Conference quarterfinals.
If Amat or Muir stumbles, traditional powers Diamond Bar, Los Altos, Pasadena and Damien are waiting to assume the top spot. Northview, Nogales, Temple City and Arroyo--four teams that had good seasons last year--should be among the elite.
Here's a closer look at the Top 10 teams:
1.Bishop Amat (Angelus League; Big Five Conference)--Mark Paredes, coach of the Lancers, cannot understand why his team is listed so high.
"I'm surprised that people would even consider us highly rated because of what we lost," he says.
Paredes was alluding to the fact that Bishop Amat graduated running back Eric Bieniemy and several other All-Southern Section players from last year's 11-1 squad, which won its second straight league title and was ranked No. 1 in the conference most of the season before losing in the playoff quarterfinals.
What the coach forgot to mention is that the Lancers, who return seven starters and 33 lettermen, still have as much talent as any school in the valley.
Granted, there is no Bieniemy--a big loss for any team considering that he rushed for school records of 2,001 yards and 28 touchdowns last year and 4,882 yards and 64 touchdowns for his three-year prep career.
But Bishop Amat does have an excellent replacement in senior Mazio Royster (6-1, 178), a speedster who rushed for 707 yards and three touchdowns as Bieniemy's backup last year. "He's our best running back," Paredes said. "Whether he's at the level of Bieniemy is another question."
The Lancers also figure to have an improved passing attack with the return of quarterback J.R. Phillips (6-0, 175), who passed for 919 yards and 12 touchdowns last year, and breakaway threats Stephon Pace (6-0, 181), who had 17 catches for 236 yards, and Derek Zdarstek (5-11, 155) at wide receivers.
In addition, Bishop Amat still has good size on its offensive line led by big tackle Kevin Szalonek (6-4, 253) and guard Aron Gideon (6-3, 245).
The pair will also be tackles on defense, which has a strong secondary that includes Pace and senior Ruben Duran (5-8, 162). Pace, a Times all-valley selection last year, led the Lancers with six interceptions as a junior.
2.Muir (Pacific League; Coastal Conference)--With the departure of longtime successful Coach Jim Brownfield, who is taking a leave of absence for health reasons after guiding Muir to 24 straight wins over the last two seasons and two straight conference titles, it is the start of a new era for the Mustangs.
However, don't be surprised if the end result is the same under first-year Coach Dwain Thornton.
Despite graduating blue-chip players such as running back Ricky Ervins and quarterback Vince Phillips from last year's 14-0 team, the Mustangs appear to have the talent to challenge for a third straight title.
The Mustangs have nine starters returning, along with their usual supply of outstanding speed in the skill positions. Making matters worse for Mustang opponents is the fact that this will also be one of Muir's biggest teams ever.
With an offensive line that averages 235 pounds, Muir may have the biggest line in the valley. It is led by juniors James Ellison (6-3, 275) at tackle and George Bugarin (6-2, 237) at center, and senior guards Dallas Kearney (6-1, 245) and Wes McGarrity (6-2, 215).
That should make the transition easier for Muir's talented but inexperienced backfield, which will include speedy junior halfback Tim Milton (5-8, 160), fullback Alfred Robinson (6-1, 190) and either Tarrall Amos or Kenton Hampton at quarterback. The Mustangs also have good pass targets in wide receiver Paul Pitts (6-1, 160) and tight end Chad Brown (6-4, 220).
Brown, a senior who is regarded as one of the top outside linebackers in the valley, is also the leader of a big, fast defense. In addition to Brown, Muir's talented linebacker corps includes Anthony Allen (6-6, 230), Eddie Turner (6-0, 170) and McGarrity. The defense also includes big tackles Craig Hudson (6-3, 220) and David Wilkins (6-3, 205) and cornerbacks Carl Norman (6-1, 190) and Jerry Phillips (5-11, 165).