Can there be a less suspenseful league in the CIF's Southern Section than the Tri-Valley?
Carpinteria is more a lock to win this league than Edwin Moses would be running the 400-meter intermediate hurdles against a field of club-footed Pygmies.
The Warriors were 14-0 and Inland Conference champions last season. They were conference runners-up in 1986.
They have outscored league opponents, 473-37, the past two seasons in rolling to consecutive titles. And they are stronger than ever this season.
The Southern Section shuffled teams this year and Carpinteria could have been promoted from the Division 9 Tri-Valley to the Division 8 Frontier League. But Santa Ynez was moved to the Frontier instead, which not only left Carpinteria to barbecue the Tri-teams but deprived the Warriors of their only tough chew.
Carpinteria had defeated Santa Ynez by scores of 21-10 and 48-21 the past two years, not exactly nail biters but the Warriors have beaten the remaining league members by a combined 404-6 the past two years.
Which is not to say that Carpinteria won't be feasting on fresh meat. Four new coaches join the six-team league--Damian Wilkerson at St. Bonaventure; Curtis Garner at Fillmore; Jess Martinez at Bishop Diego; and Rob Dearborn at Moorpark. And while it isn't likely to happen, Dearborn would give his first born to beat Carpinteria, which has defeated Moorpark 47 consecutive times.
So, Carpinteria enjoys the penthouse of the tri-level Tri-Valley. On the second level is Oak Park, which lost to Carpinteria, 48-0, last season but was 7-4 and qualified for the playoffs.
The ground level is more crowded, with Moorpark, St. Bonaventure, Fillmore and Bishop Diego trying not to trip over each other. Moorpark's 3-7 record was the best among those four teams last season.
A look at each Tri-Valley team:
Carpinteria--Coley Candaele, a junior, returns at quarterback for the Warriors, who capped their unbeaten 1987 season with a 27-0 win over Tehachapi for the conference championship. Candaele is fully recovered from off-season foot surgery and, in the spring, placed third in the state in the mile run.
Beto Puita, a speedster who helped the junior varsity to an 8-2 record last season, will start at running back in the Carpinteria veer attack. Senior David Uhler (6 feet, 1 inch, 205 pounds), who has started each of the team's 28 games the past two years, plays fullback and middle linebacker.
Oak Park--Making the playoffs didn't exactly make football the trendy activity at Oak Park: 18 players will suit up opening night. However, one of those will be Jason Stein (6-1, 175), a senior running back who last season rushed for 864 yards, caught 18 passes for 309 yards and scored 18 touchdowns. Fullback Jess Garner (6-1, 185) also returns.
Gary Silverman will play quarterback and throw to Brian Kane, Kevin Kokanis and all-league selection Todd Creason. Linebacker Mike Wootton (5-10, 190) is another returning all-league pick.
Fillmore--Garner, who was an assistant at El Segundo and Culver City highs the past 10 years, takes over a team that last season was 1-9. The Flashes beat only winless Bishop Diego, 7-6, and scored just five touchdowns, never scoring more than seven points in a game. Still, Garner is upbeat, mainly because the junior varsity is coming off an 8-2 season.
"I like what I've seen," he said. "The kids are motivated."
Sophomore tailback Anthony Chessani is the team's best athlete, but several seniors are being counted upon. Brennon Neff returns at running back and safety, and Brad Edmonds returns at wide receiver and defensive back. Ed Reeder (6-1, 235) and Ralph Meza (6-2, 265) are senior two-way tackles.
The quarterback will be junior Chad Van Winkle (6-1, 165). "He's a lanky kid with a strong arm," said Garner, who has implemented a pro-type offense with an emphasis on play-action passes.
St. Bonaventure--Wilkerson is a former Carpinteria assistant who spent the past five years as St. Bonaventure's junior varsity coach, compiling a record of 23-25-2. "We'll use multiple sets and probably throw the ball a lot," he said.
Tailback Chris Gaston (6-1, 185), who led the team last season with 27 receptions for 450 yards and 4 touchdowns, will go in motion or line up as a slot back in the one-back alignment, leaving fullback Paul Rezac alone behind the quarterback. That quarterback will be senior Chris Castro (6-2, 200) or junior Chris Conley (6-1, 175).
Wilkerson calls tackle Brian Bass (6-3, 235) and guard Mike Fowler (6-2, 215) his "senior separators, because we will run right between them." Wayne McPhail (5-10, 165), Andy Hoffman (5-8, 160) and Alvin Ortega (5-8, 155), all seniors, will play wide receiver.
The defense is a question mark and Wilkerson may deviate from the split 6 run by former Coach Paul Spinner, who directed the team to a record of 2-8 last season.
Moorpark--It seems nobody told Dearborn, who coached the Newbury Park junior varsity to a two-year record of 18-2, that he inherited a perennial loser. "There's a lot of talent here," he said. "This looks like a 4-A school." Maybe he means the new campus.
There are some 4-A-sized linemen, to be sure. Tom Emslie is 282 pounds and Jake Sepulveda is 278 pounds. Senior linemen Brian Mele (6-4, 230) and Mark Velador (6-0, 210) will start both ways.
If the Musketeers are on the rise it will be junior quarterback Robert Hernandez who pilots the takeoff.
Bishop Diego--Martinez, who led the junior varsity to a 5-5 record last season, has recruited more than the usual number of players, which is a good sign. Thirty players have suited up, compared to 15 last year.
Junior wide receiver-defensive back Mike Hamilton and two-way lineman Mark Boddicker are the best players.