COACH: Chick Epstein, 9th year
LAST SEASON: 2-7; tied for 3rd in league, 2-5
PLAYERS TO WATCH: "As our quarterback goes, we'll go," says Epstein of the Braves. That places a lot of responsibility on the left arm of senior Danny Larson (6-2, 185), a returning all-league performer who threw for more than 1,300 yards last year. Who will shoulder the load with Larson is another matter. Grant transfer Jake Brescher (6-3, 170) has impressed Epstein at wide receiver, and sophomore running back Daryl Moore, the son of former NFL player Manfred Moore, will start. Up front, Epstein expects good things out of junior center Jason Mansfield (6-3, 180), a second-team all-league selection who will play a role in the frequent deployment of the shotgun offense. Mansfield is just part of an inexperienced offensive line that includes Shaw Rast (5-11, 190), Donnell Grey (6-0, 230) and Robert Taracevich (6-0, 210), all starters last season. On defense, Epstein is unsure about a defensive line that will be composed almost entirely of newcomers. At linebacker, though, is junior Jon Zuccaro, an honorable mention all-league selection who also might play fullback. Also returning at linebacker is Anthony McComb (6-2, 200). In the secondary, Larson, who was an all-league safety as a sophomore, will team with Moore.
OUTLOOK: "We have a lot of inexperience and a lot of kids who will play both ways," Epstein said. Larson should have a big year, but Reseda and Monroe are major obstacles in the league. "I hope we can--and should--do better than last year," Epstein said. "We played well in the summer passing league, but that doesn't mean anything."
COACH: Dave Lertzman, 1st year
LAST SEASON: 9-2; 1st in league, 7-0
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Like league rival Birmingham, Monroe's fortunes will rest heavily on a returning all-league quarterback. The Vikings' man will be senior Jesse Wallace (5-11, 195) who, unfortunately for Lertzman, will have trouble finding experienced targets. One receiver Lertzman does like is Gerrit Maxwell, who broke his collarbone last season. Monroe's only returning offensive lineman is senior Gerrard Taft (5-9, 195), who Lertzman calls "the hardest hitter on the team." Junior Jason St. John (6-0, 200), a linebacker, also will play center. Lertzman will also take a chance at tackle, using sophomore man-child Paul Pedroza (6-4 1/2, 290), who has never played before. Another big but inexperienced lineman is senior Casey Dugan (6-5, 250). The running game has large shoes to fill with the graduation of Curtis Scott (1,943 yards). Lertzman will look to second-team all-league linebacker Jim Rose (5-9, 170) to add the tailback position to his chores. Junior Fabian Speights (6-0, 200) will round out the backfield. On defense, many of the same names appear. Wallace will play cornerback and Maxwell will play safety. Rose, St. John and Speights will play linebacker. The line will be anchored by senior Tom Taylor (6-0, 200), a 4.0 student who bench presses 330 pounds. Scott Christenson (6-0, 180), a senior who didn't play last year, also will play on the line along with candidates Dugan, Pedroza or junior Darnell Lowe (6-3, 200).
OUTLOOK: Monroe went unbeaten in Valley Pac-8 Conference play last year, but a repeat performance will be difficult. Still, with Wallace, the Vikings have a shot at winning another title. "We appear to have good athletes. If we go in thinking we have a chance, then we'll be competitive," Lertzman said.
COACH: Joel Schaeffer, 12th year
LAST SEASON: 9-2; 2nd in league, 6-1
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Schaeffer appears to have another solid if inexperienced team, with its strength lying mainly in its linemen. Division I recruit Jason Kiederling (6-5, 265), a senior, will keep opposing defensive lines on edge at offensive tackle, and senior center Arturo Rodriguez (6-0, 195) also could be a force. Guards Edgar Fernandez and Michael Green are Schaeffer's "clones" at tackle: Both are 5-10, 190-pound juniors. Reseda is green at the skill positions. Schaeffer has tabbed Andre Jackson (5-9, 170) at quarterback. Jackson backed up graduated Coley Kyman last year and has no experience starting. The Regents will move tight end Donald Johnson (6-1, 205) to fullback, but the tailback situation remains uncertain. Joey Tushnet (5-9, 170) and Steven Culp (5-10, 170) are the two candidates fighting for the job. Schaeffer has confidence in the defense, though, which traditionally is strong. Rodriguez and Johnson form a tough tandem at inside linebacker, and Schaeffer is high on junior defensive end Marco Mendoza (5-11, 190). Jackson enjoys playing outside linebacker "He doesn't want to play quarterback unless I let him play defense," Schaeffer said. In the defensive secondary, Rocky Tribble (6-3, 200) will play cornerback and wide receiver Herman Williams (6-1, 180) will play safety.