Here is a preview of Southeast/Long Beach area high school football teams. The predicted order of finish in each league is based on information supplied by coaches.
Poly High of Long Beach appears to be in a class by itself and should finish on top again. Wilson probably will be the strongest challenger.
1. POLY--The Jackrabbits, expected to be one of the best prep teams in the nation, brim with talent. The defense, led by 6-foot-5, 275-pound all-CIF tackle Marcellous Elder, includes all-league tackle Earl Oliver, all-league linebacker Michael Wall and junior Jason Jones, who Co-Head Coach Jerry Jaso says will be "one of the great free safeties." Three-year starters returning on offense are quarterback Michael Carter and lineman Michael Loyola. Capable of breaking a game open with their speed are wide receiver Troy Jones and running back Andre Green.
2. WILSON--The Bruins, 4-1 in league and 6-4 overall last year, have 11 starters returning. "We hope we can come in second," said John Brennan, who succeeds Al Taylor as coach. Among top players back are defensive standout Wendell Valentine, a 6-3, 225-pound senior end; wingback Patrick Scott, who ran for 1,100 yards last year; offensive guard Lon Grothen; and junior linebacker Jack Holt. A big force will be 6-5, 260-pound tackle Scott Hamby. The quarterback will be Tim Williams, who will pass to sophomore Michael Stewart and senior Nick Smith.
3. MILLIKAN--Uncharacteristically, the Rams were 3-5-1 last season, displeasing Coach Dave Radford. "We're very young and inexperienced but have good, coachable talent," Radford said. For the team record to improve, he said three players must have a great season: center Craig Peterson, fullback/linebacker Chris Kemker and John Fierro, who takes over for graduated Bob Crane at quarterback. "Fierro runs well, throws well and has an attitude of 10," Radford said. Among those coming up from a great sophomore team is running back Jeremy Jones.
4. LAKEWOOD--Tim Miltenberger, who was an assistant at Lakewood High before going to Warren High last year, succeeds Gene Melvin as coach. The Lancers, who have suffered through lean years recently, are inexperienced but aggressive. All-league defensive tackle Chris Sestito returns but will play linebacker as well as offensive guard. Mitch Hammond, a 6-2, 200-pound transfer from Riverside Poly, will play offensive guard and defensive tackle. The Lancers also are counting on tailback Fred Maxwell. The big question: who will play quarterback?
5. JORDAN--Mike Ono's Panthers were 2-7 last year but finished ahead of last-place Compton. The team's strength should be offense, where there is experience with junior quarterback Ted Ramirez, running back Johnny Robinson and tight end Luis Felix. Tackle Chris Thomas and cornerback Marcus Jenkins are the only returning starters on defense.
6. COMPTON--Raymond Denham, a longtime assistant coach at Compton College, takes over the Tarbabes, who were 1-9 in 1987. Denham, who is trying to build discipline and motivation, said, "I want to win now, so that we will bring kids (football players) back into the community who are leaving." Top players are quarterback Terrance Adams, lineman Ernest Webb, wide receiver Willie Billingsley, defensive back Donta Abron and sophomore running back Tony Collins. Denham is also counting on 217-pound running back Eric Thornton and 278-pound tackle Marcus Ayers.
Artesia is a slight favorite over La Mirada, with the rest of the league close behind. Norwalk Coach Phil Vala said: "The haves have always been La Mirada and Artesia with the rest of the league the have-nots. This year, I think the have-nots have closed the gap."
1. ARTESIA--The Pioneers have new co-head coaches Norm Flowers and Scott Sandie. They succeed Vince La Rosa, who stepped down after three great years but will stay on to coach linebackers and offensive linemen. Artesia is picked for first place because of its lines. Returning all-league starters on defense are end Tony Clark (6-1, 195) and tackle David Howey (6-1, 215). The top offensive lineman is tight end Morris Taylor (6-2, 215). The biggest question will be inexperience at running back. With the graduation of tailbacks Tyrone Vickers and Damon Davis, the team will look to juniors Robert Matos and Mike Peters.
2. LA MIRADA--After 33 years of coaching, Ray Mooshagian has retired. New Coach John Mele, who had been the defensive coordinator, has 11 starters returning, seven of them on defense. The top defenders will be 6-4, 275-pound all-league tackle Mickey Jackson and linebacker Chris McHenry. With the loss of quarterback Eric Brooks, Mele is hoping Chad Drown, last year's "super sophomore," can take over. "If we can get an offense, we will be tough," Mele said.