Teams listed in predicted order of finish by Times staff writers. Antelope Valley
COACH: Brent Newcomb, 10th year
LAST SEASON: 11-2-1; 1st in league, 5-0
THE PLAYERS TO WATCH: Being trounced by Muir, 37-0, in last year's Coastal Conference championship game tainted an otherwise successful season for the league champion. Still, Newcomb's team, with "our nucleus returning," appears to be a league powerhouse. Quarterback Ron Wipple and his favorite receiver, Shon Grimes, are at the center of the attack. As seniors, both have 28 games of varsity experience. "It's a real plus to have Ron pulling the trigger for us," Newcomb said. "And Shon is one of those guys who is always exciting." Senior fullback Byron Russell (5-9, 205) also returns. Junior tight end Tommie Smith is the best athlete in the league, according to Newcomb. "He can go deep, kick and play outside linebacker." Newcomb will start an inexperienced and lean offensive line, headed by seniors Jared Klipfel (6-3, 185), David Keortge (6-1, 205) and Mike Soto (6-2, 185). The secondary is the defense's strong point, Newcomb said.
OUTLOOK: Another league title seems a certainty for Newcomb's improved team. "We see the goal at the other end of the field and we've got a lot of ways to get there," he said.
COACH: John Lowery, first year
LAST SEASON: 7-5; 3rd in league, 3-2
PLAYERS TO WATCH: A third-place finish in the Golden League usually means you're a pretty good team. This year, league coaches expect Palmdale to finish higher with Lowery taking over. Leading the offense is all-league tailback Eric Thomas. "He's also an outstanding cornerback," Lowery said. Fullback Don Turner is also a returning senior. Flanker Travis Collier, a converted running back, is one of the best players in the league. Returning receivers are senior Carnel Culver and junior Tony Frazier. Quarterback Shannon Culver was also a starter last season, giving the offense experience at all the skill positions. Senior Bob Cline and junior Chad Harris, both tight ends, are competing at middle linebacker. Senior Zae Terrin and Turner will play outside linebacker, and Collier and Thomas will anchor the secondary. Lowery's best defensive lineman is senior Jim Neville.
OUTLOOK: Palmdale may get roughed up before going against Antelope Valley and Canyon: The Falcons play Crespi in their second game. "But we think we can play with anybody," Lowery said. "The kids have been working well with the program. It's really been an impressive surprise."
COACH: Harry Welch, sixth year
LAST SEASON: 11-2; 2nd in league, 4-1
PLAYERS TO WATCH: "Color us green," Welch said. And he's not talking about his players' jerseys. This is the most inexperienced team Welch has had. Canyon lost 23 players to graduation, including the passing combination of Ken Sollom and Chad Zeigler and running backs Lance Cross and Paul Chadwell. Still, league opponents aren't expected to write off Canyon, which reached the Coastal Conference semifinals last season. Welch found a quarterback in junior Rod Baltau, but he broke his finger in practice and will miss at least the first three games. Welch's new quarterback Ric Gombos (5-11, 165), an inexperienced junior. Cam Cross (5-9, 163), a junior, is the tailback and sophomore Chris Peery (6-0, 188), who Welch calls "best all-around athlete," will move from tight end to fullback. Peery, however, may switch to linebacker until Kevin Doss (6-0, 170) recovers from a separated shoulder. Senior tight end Ken Holsenbeck (5-11, 182) and sophomore Clint Beauer (6-3, 170) will lead the receiving corps. Canyon's experience is on the offensive line, where four seniors--Dom Spainhower, Willie Starks, Sean Wheeler and Sean Sweetnam--return. A young defense depends heavily on a healthy Doss. Until he returns, responsibility lies with junior linebackers John Beitsch (5-11, 170), Chris Eddy (5-9, 170) and Robert Leary (5-10, 170). Junior Jason Stanley (5-11, 155) is the leader of an inexperienced secondary.
OUTLOOK: This may be pay back time for Canyon opponents. The Cowboys made few friends by going 60-7, including a 46-game winning streak, over the past five years. But Welch doesn't expect his team to turn into a league doormat. "We'll be good in a year, regardless of this year," Welch said. "This year's league is going to be better than last year. Canyon just won't be the dominating team."
COACH: John Albee, 20th year
LAST SEASON: 3-7; 4th in league, 2-3