The City Section's sweeping releaguing plan might result in wide-ranging changes this school year, but the shuffling is not likely to unseat Franklin's two-year reign as a league champion. About the only difference is the name of the league.
Franklin dominated the Freeway League the past two years and now that the Panthers have joined the Northeastern League with Eagle Rock, Verdugo Hills and Wilson, they enter the '88 season as the team to beat.
Franklin has won successive City 3-A Division championships, and 12 starters return from last year's 11-1 team that defeated Palisades, 30-14, in the title game.
Lamar Lovett is a 5-foot, 10-inch, 170-pound junior who will start at both safety and flanker.
"He's a tremendous athlete," said Franklin Coach Armando Gonzalez, who is 50-14-2 in six seasons. "He has incredible leaping and catching ability."
Lovett's brother Lamont is a 6-1, 195-pound senior tailback who rushed for 983 yards last season and is being recruited by each of the Pacific 10 Conference schools. The Panthers also have Chad Infranca, an All-City receiver with 4.6 speed in the 40 who last season caught 63 passes for 1,083 yards, a 17.1 average, and 17 touchdowns.
"We have some very good receivers," Gonzalez said.
Santiago Alvarez, a 5-11, 160-pound junior quarterback, will have a tough time replacing Ronnie Lopez, who threw for 2,073 yards last year and has earned the starting position at Pierce College.
"He's not the type of quarterback we've had the past couple of years," Gonzalez said of Alvarez. "He's inexperienced, but we're hoping the talent of our receivers and tailback will take some pressure off him."
Rival coaches seem to believe Franklin can overcome inexperience at quarterback.
"They have the two Lovett kids and four or five guys on their offensive and defensive lines who weigh about a thousand pounds each," Wilson Coach Ray Avesian said.
Wilson is expected to be Franklin's strongest challenger. The Mules, 5-3 last season, are led by quarterback Feliciano Ramirez and running back Jerry Garcia, who rushed for 700 yards last season. Wilson also expects a big year from Reuben Ruiz, a 6-4, 215-pound tight end who was academically ineligible last season.
"I think we're going to be decent," Avesian said. "We don't have a lot of numbers, but we're fairly good as far as talent is concerned."
Eagle Rock and Verdugo Hills will battle to avoid the cellar. Eagle Rock won the Northern League last season with a 6-0 record and was 6-4 overall. But first-year Coach Dennis Arnette, a Birmingham assistant last season, faces a difficult rebuilding job.
"We'll be strong on the offensive and defensive line, but we're weak in specialty areas," he said.
Tackles Fred Scofield, a 6-3, 210-pound senior, and Keith Black, a 6-3, 205-pound junior, will anchor an inexperienced offensive line.
Bill Novikoff, entering his 17th season at Verdugo Hills, said his team will struggle to improve upon last season's 3-6 record.
"Last year we were an outstanding passing team, but this year we're untested completely, " Novikoff said.
Only seven players return from last year but six are starters. Verdugo Hills is led by Paul Koons, a 6-1, 215-pound all-league guard and linebacker who might be shifted to tight end or fullback.
NORTHEASTERN LEAGUE Predicted Finish
1. Franklin (9-0)
2. Wilson (5-4)
3. Verdugo Hills (3-6)
4. Eagle Rock (1-8)
Predicted record in parentheses.