COACH: Rudy Lugo, 3rd year
LAST SEASON: 6-3; 3rd in league, 3-2
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Lugo knew that losing all-purpose running back Mike Conover (1,262 yards, 114 points scored) would hurt, but when returning quarterback Del Marine--who passed for 843 yards and 6 touchdowns as a junior--transferred to El Camino Real last month, he really felt the pain. "When you spend two years teaching somebody the offense, how to make pass reads, the gives and the terminology and he leaves, that's a lot of lost time," Lugo said. Canoga Park's move from the 3-A Division to 4-A will not be easy. Nine starters from the defense and seven from the offense are gone. One returning player, fullback Doug Lerma (5-10, 180), is the only set starter in the backfield. Dave Erhardt, who started for the B team last year, is the favorite at quarterback. "He has a good arm, but he's in a bigger world now," Lugo said. Greg Knapp (8 receptions) returns at receiver and probably will start with senior transfer Jeff Towndson, who did not play last year.
OUTLOOK: Lugo is realistic in assessing his team's chances: "We're moving around a lot of people, looking to fill a lot of holes. We're going to have to do it as a team." Perhaps the best indication of the Hunters' straits is Jason Mitchell (6-2 1/2, 215). Mitchell, also a baseball player, started at center last year and is now being tried at quarterback. "He has good speed, a good arm and he's quicker than Del."
COACH: Steve Landress, 4th year
LAST SEASON: 5-6; 3rd in league, 2-2
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Last year, the backfield duo of Mark Mooney and Sean Burwell proved disappointing, but so did the team's entire running game, which accounted for only 8 touchdowns. This season, Burwell (5-11, 175) and Mooney (5-8, 185) are back and Landress is trying some new wrinkles that should break the pair loose more often. Cleveland will use the wishbone, the option and play-action offensive sets. Speedy Lee Gatewood (6-1, 180), a starter at strong safety last season, moves to quarterback. "I guess the best way to describe it is as a Nebraska-type set," Landress said. Some husky horses are on the offensive line, including returning seniors Byron Jarrett (6-1, 265) and Vincent Blanks (6-1, 250). Junior Curtis Hudson (6-1, 255), who runs the 40 in 4.9, might be the best prospect. However, Cleveland was huge last year, and in the torrid heat of the early stages of the season, linemen wilted and the running game dried up. "We made sure to schedule all night games this time," Landress quipped.
OUTLOOK: Twenty full or part-time starters return from last year's team, which lost, 55-6, to eventual champion Granada Hills in the second round of the playoffs. Before the playoff loss, however, the Cavs won four in a row. "We shelved most of our defense after about four games," Landress said. "We moved guys all over, changed the philosophy and it worked." Cleveland is hoping the change in offensive strategy also works.
El Camino Real
COACH: Ralph Stam and Mike Maio, 1st year
LAST SEASON: 0-8-2; 4th in league, 0-2-2
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Stam and Maio take over after serving as assistant coaches, and their task is hardly enviable. El Camino Real has not won since the sixth week of the 1985 season. Only Kennedy of Fremont has a longer winless streak (0-34-2) than El Camino Real (0-21-2). The team will again be green. "We're inexperienced, to be sure," said Maio. Steve Smith (6-2, 180), the backup last year, will start at quarterback. Running backs Leo Matsuda (5-6, 140), Bobby Kim (6-1, 195) and Lejon Carr (6-2, 180) are the probable starters. At receiver, Pete Pistoni (5-7, 150) returns as does tight end Erik Hof (6-1, 190). The team has two all-league candidates in offensive linemen Troy Thomas (6-1, 205) and Barron Postmus (6-3, 220). "We're looking to be a balanced team," Maio said. "Run some, throw some."
OUTLOOK: Maio, who coaches the baseball team, said he can only hope to be as successful as the Valley's other double-duty mentor, Darryl Stroh of Granada Hills. "That's some pretty good company," Maio said. "If we get a win or two under our belt early, it'll make a big difference in how the kids play later."
COACH: Tom Stevenson, 4th season
LAST SEASON: 8-3; 1st in league, 4-1
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Taft finished second in the 7-on-7 passing competition of the L.A. Games after passing for a humbling 400 yards and 3 touchdowns all last year. Returning quarterback Rick Cosentino (5-9, 160) took over the position late last season. The Toreadors are first and foremost a running team, however, and should fly high behind Kelvin Byrd (5-10, 165). Byrd was second in the Sunset League in rushing last season (1,168 yards) and scored 11 touchdowns. Cosentino has plenty of experience returning at receiver in wideouts Uda Walker (6-3, 160), Doug Kougher (6-0, 170) and tight end Adam Zutler (6-3, 215).
OUTLOOK: Taft has a legitimate shot at a league title. The Toreadors proved they could move the ball through the air during the summer, and they proved they could run the ball as well as anyone last season (266.5 rushing average).