Teams listed in predicted order of finish by Times staff writers. Granada Hills
COACH: Darryl Stroh, third year
LAST SEASON: 9-1-1; 1st in league, 3-0-1
PLAYERS TO WATCH: With All-City quarterback Jeremy Leach, Granada Hills is clearly one of the best teams in the Valley, not just the Valley 4-A League. Leach (6-3, 218) led all Valley-area City Section passers in 1986, throwing for 1,325 yards and 14 touchdowns as a junior. He was intercepted just three times. The bad news for the rest of the league is that Leach now appears even better--the Highlanders were 29-1-1 in off-season passing league competition. All-City tight end Sean Brown (6-3, 220) ranks among the top area prospects at his position. Brown caught 40 passes last year, six for touchdowns. Jamal Farmer (5-11, 195), who will start at running back, caught 19 passes. Farmer also rushed for 309 yards, averaging 7.3 yards per carry. Kyle Jan (6-4, 180) is an intelligent receiver. Transfers Tom Romano (5-11, 170) and Mario Walker (5-10, 220) will probably play in the backfield. With a commodity such as Leach, the offensive line will be a key. Shannon Smith (5-11, 220) and Joe Beauvais (6-1, 230) offer the biggest roadblocks to pass rushers. Brown and Farmer will play in the secondary with Kevin Carmichael (5-11, 170).
OUTLOOK: Stroh--which rhymes with throw--is cautious when assessing a player or team, always taking the middle ground when discussing the Highlanders. This season, however, Stroh sees only one weak spot in the whole lineup, and that could be fixed if Romano and Walker work out in the backfield. If you were filling out a report card, Granada Hills is Grade A.
COACH: Steve Landress, third year
LAST SEASON: 7-3; 3rd in league, 2-2
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Cleveland has to replace standout running back Albert Fann, and Landress thinks he has just the guy. Mark Mooney, a 5-7, 175-pound junior, will start at halfback. Mooney, the league MVP on the B team last season, rushed for 1,100 yards and 14 touchdowns. Senior running back Jeramie Long (5-10, 185) may not play because of a hand injury and academic problems. Denver Ball (5-11, 185) and Lee Gatewood (6-1, 175) will both see time at fullback and in the secondary. The biggest addition could come if Chaminade transfer Sean Burwell, the fourth leading rusher in the Valley last year as a sophomore, is ruled eligible. Burwell won't know until late September. The offensive line could be the team's strength. Three-year starter Jason Silverstein (6-4, 265) leads a group that averages more than 225 pounds. The crew will provide protection for senior quarterbacks Jamie Grossman (6-1, 175) and Mario Hull (6-4, 195), who split time last season. Hull is the team's best athlete, and will probably start in the secondary. "He's the best free safety in the Valley," Landress said.
OUTLOOK: Cleveland improved from 1-7 to 7-3 in Landress' first two seasons, and he thinks the team should keep moving in that direction. "I think you'd have to favor Granada Hills," he said, "But we could be right there with them. Let's just say it wouldn't surprise me if we finished first and it wouldn't surprise me if we finish third. It's a tough league--again."
COACH: Bob Francola, second year
LAST SEASON: 6-4-1; 1st in league, 3-0-1
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Kennedy had some of the best talent around last season--six players received Division I scholarships. Now Francola must replace them. If Kennedy is to challenge, it must find a quarterback. Darreyon Taylor (6-2, 225) and Gino Tagliaferri (5-11, 185) are battling for the starting assignment. Tagliaferri, a Times All-Valley baseball player, is recovering from rotator cuff surgery but is expected to see plenty of playing time. Running the ball shouldn't be a problem with Ron Hardy (6-1, 190), a converted tight end, and Willie Marshall (5-8, 180). The Golden Cougars should have the strength to open some holes. "They tell me it's one of the best lines we've had here," Francola said. Joel Silver (6-5, 260), Dean Schultz (6-5, 242), Albert Richardson (5-11, 240), Steve Yurosek (6-1, 190) and Paul Moody (6-4, 225) make up the line. Defensively, Bill Dykes (6-2, 220) is another Division I prospect at linebacker, Francola says. Kennedy had the Valley's best defense last season.
OUTLOOK: "You don't lose that many Division I players and not feel it," Francola admitted. "One prediction has us last in league, but I think being rated as an underdog is working for us right now. Our kids think that if we play like we can, we'll be going head to head with Granada Hills at the end of the year."
COACH: Tom Hernandez, sixth year
LAST SEASON: 2-8; 4th in league, 1-3