COACH: Carl Thompson, 6th year
LAST SEASON: 6-5; 3rd in league, 4-2
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Somewhere in Camarillo, there is a factory that churns out big offensive linemen. Last season they rounded into form just in time to knock off Westlake, 10-0, in the second-to-last week of the regular season to make the playoffs. And this season, the bulge is back: The offensive line averages 6-4 and 233 pounds. "We're going to be big," Thompson said. "Our strength is definitely in the offensive line." Only one player on offense is a returning starter, however, and that is tackle Brent Heninger (5-11, 205), who will move to the defensive line. Four juniors--tackle Brad Williams (6-5, 225), guard Ken Kibble (6-3, 215), center Sergio Estrada (6-5, 240) and tight end Scott Foster (6-4, 200)--will start up front. Transfers Tony Rivas (6-4, 250) and Kevin Wilson (6-4, 235) will man the right side of the line. The offensive skill positions are largely untested. Seniors Brett Ropes and Wes Nathaniel will battle at quarterback. Sophomore Kris Kirksey (5-11, 185) will be the halfback and Roger Teoli (5-9, 205) will be the fullback. Juniors Tim Cornish and Mark Lindbloom are the leading candidates at wide receiver. As many as five juniors and a sophomore could start on defense. Free safety Zack Akins (5-11, 190), linebacker Chris Johnson (6-1, 190) and Teoli are returning starters. Junior Steve Heidemann (5-9, 250) is strong at nose guard, as are senior Mike Gregson (5-10, 220) at tackle and junior Curtis Hanson at linebacker.
OUTLOOK: Thompson assesses Thousand Oaks and Channel Islands as "a notch above everybody else" but believes that his own team can compete despite its inexperience. That will likely depend on whether he can find anyone to replace the void left by departed seniors Bill Bell and Gil Valencia. Bell rushed for 1,454 yards and Valencia had 41 receptions for 705 yards.
COACH: Joel Gershon, 16th year
LAST SEASON: 11-3; 1st in league, 5-1
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Russell White comparisons aside, this could be the year of John Johnson. It could be the year he makes everyone forget about brother Hilria, who held the Ventura County career rushing record until last year, and Marc Monestime, the Thousand Oaks running back who made everyone remember Hilria and then forget him again. Johnson's explosiveness and ability, and Channel Islands' refocused offense, make Johnson the league's biggest threat and the Raiders the league favorite. Eight offensive starters return, including four of the five linemen who cleared the way for Johnson's 1,672 rushing yards and 9.8-yard average. They are: senior guards Jose Montelongo (5-9, 207) and Larry Pearson (6-0, 205) and senior tackles Gil Coria (6-2, 212) and Russell Edwards (6-2, 200). Senior Rick Eckert (6-0, 195) is the tight end. Senior Vince Medina and junior Mark Contreras again will split time at quarterback. "Both are quick and both handle the ball well," Gershon said. Defensively, inside linebacker Lucio Vera (5-10, 182), cornerback-turned-linebacker Gerald Williams (6-1, 200) and cornerback Rod Jones (5-9, 175) return.
OUTLOOK: Channel Islands won the league title last season but twice came up empty against rival Thousand Oaks, the second time in the Coastal Conference championship game. "Statistically, we were one of the better offensive teams around last year," Gershon said. "And with the majority of our offense coming back, we could be right there again."
COACH: Ken Cook, 14th year
LAST SEASON: 1-8-1; 6th in league, 0-5-1
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Last season, Cook reasoned that the Panthers would go as far as the young arm of quarterback and son Wayne Cook would carry them. One victory and too many sacks later and Cook has changed his tune only a little. Wayne completed 89 of 210 passes for 1,332 yards and 13 touchdowns. He was intercepted nine times. He needed more protection and a sturdier running game, which he may get this year. "We're hoping to be not quite as predictable," Cook said. "In the past, the running game was our staple, but that's going to change." Tackle John Merrill (6-3, 230) and center Brandt Kirk (5-11, 185) will shoulder leadership duties on the offensive line. Guards Rudy Avila (5-7, 185) and Mike Dagan (5-10, 185) also will be counted on to keep defenses away from Cook, the only returning starter in the backfield. Juniors Jason Sands (5-10, 205) and Craig Levy (5-11, 185) are competing at fullback and seniors Kelly Carmack (5-9, 160) and Artie Chisholm (5-9, 175) are vying for the tailback position. Cook also will play free safety. Juniors Jeff Jay (6-1, 210), Trevor Cull (6-1, 240) and Phil Pederson (6-0, 240) will lend size to both lines, but seasoning will come from Carmack at cornerback, Eric Greene (5-10, 160) at defensive back, J.R. Berardinelli (5-10, 170) at linebacker and Avila at nose guard.