SAN DIEGO — There was a time when Sweetwater High School had the best high school football team in San Diego County, and it had San Diego Section 3-A titles to prove it in 1983 and 1984.
But in 1986, teams from the North County overshadowed Sweetwater. After the graduation of Terry Rodgers, The Times' All-County back of the year in 1985, Sweetwater slipped into relative obscurity and Vista and Fallbrook got all the attention.
It shouldn't have been that way. Sweetwater had the county's best defense, which allowed only 4.5 points per game, and it had running back Pierre Jones, who gained nearly 1,600 yards and scored 144 points.
But at Vista, All-American running back Tommy Booker was shaping up as one of the top college recruits in the nation. And Fallbrook's Scott Barrick was passing for more yards in a season than any high school quarterback in state history (3,503), leading Fallbrook to the 3-A championship.
Sweetwater was lost in the shuffle.
But now Booker and Barrick have graduated, and Sweetwater is back in the limelight.
Sweetwater will be difficult to stop, with Jones running behind the same line as he did last season. If that isn't enough, much of the team's defense returns as well.
Here is a look at The Times' preseason top 10 high school football teams:
1. SWEETWATER (9-1)--The Red Devils have 17 starters returning from a team that featured San Diego County's top-ranked defense. Meanwhile, the offense, by scoring 328 points, helped Sweetwater become the first school in county history to score 300 points in five consecutive years. Senior Pierre Jones rushed for 1,590 yards (176.7 yards per game) and was the county's leading scorer with 144 points, although he played only nine games. Defensive back Scott Catlin had 10 interceptions last year and made The Times' San Diego All-County first team. Most of the secondary also returns.
2. VISTA (9-1)--Some skeptics figured that when All-American running back Tommy Booker graduated, Vista would be knocked off its perch. But Dick Haines, in his 18 years as coach, has developed such a solid program, one player could not have that much an impact. Stepping in at tailback is Marc Jones, who rushed for nearly 1,000 yards last season while playing in Booker's shadow. Speedy quarterback Billy Faraimo returns and is also a threat on the ground. Vista's offense will be difficult to stop with guard Clarence Loa (6-2, 240), the only junior on The Times' All-County offense last year, and tackle Tamasi Amituani (6-3, 275) up front.
3. LINCOLN (9-1)--Vic Player returns only five starters from last year's 2-A championship team but that doesn't mean the Hornets won't have talent. Darrin Wagner transferred from University City at midseason last year and he'll lead a talented offensive backfield. Quarter Freddie Stokes got experience as backup last season. As usual, Lincoln will have the good speed to help make up for any mistakes it makes on defense. The Hornets have won two straight titles and a third isn't out of the question.
4. MOUNT MIGUEL (8-2)--Anthony Rivera, considered one of the top quarterbacks in the county this season, missed the first five games of 1986 because of a shoulder injury. Still, he guided the Matadors to the 3-A playoffs before losing to champion Fallbrook. Running back Anthony Williams averaged six yards a carry before breaking his arm in the Matadors' sixth game of the season. Defense will be the key, though, with three first-team all-leaguers returning: nose guard Eric Parker, linebacker Haywood Mathis and defensive back Adam Wilson.
5. MORSE (6-3-1)--The Tigers won their final three games last year and nearly surprised San Dieguito in the first round of the playoffs. Coach John Shacklett's team has 16 starters returning from a 6-3-1 team and most are at key positions. Lincoln Kennedy is one of the best linemen in the county and Ty Morrison is among the best backs. Morse rolled over Nanakuli High School, 37-6, last Saturday in Hawaii.
6. MADISON (7--3)--Madison returns most of its starters from the City Eastern League's best defense from a year ago. The question is how well Madison's offense will do. It is led by quarterback Brad Eaddy, who played on the junior varsity a year ago. Coach Steve Miner has designed a passing offense for Eaddy. The Warhawks improved last year, but were blown out, 55-8, by Fallbrook in the playoffs.
7. FALLBROOK (7-2-1)--As with Vista, Coach Tom Pack's offense moves the ball, no matter who is running it. In the past six years, the county's top quarterbacks (Steve Blair, Jaime Miramontes and Scott Barrick) have played at Fallbrook. Pack seems confident that senior Mike Turiace will make a name for himself, too. Turiace's primary target is all-league wide receiver Darrow Nelson, considered by several coaches to be a top college prospect. Defensively, five starters return, including all-league safety Greg Frinell.