Possibly the best news Moorpark College Coach Jim Bittner has received about the upcoming football season came via Missoula, Mont.
That's where Moorpark picked up two players--Marc Monestime and Mack Humphrey--who are expected to play key roles with the Raiders this season.
The former Thousand Oaks High players, redshirt freshmen last year at the University of Montana, were discontented at the school and elected to forfeit their scholarships.
With the addition of Monestime, who rushed for 4,054 yards in three seasons at Thousand Oaks to become the Ventura County career rushing leader, Bittner expects to have one of the strongest backfields in his 11 years as coach of the Raiders.
"Each of the last four years we have placed running backs at Division I schools and I think this group ranks right up there with the others," Bittner said.
The acquisition of Monestime and Humphrey, an All-Southern Section linebacker who will play strong safety at Moorpark, was not the only good news Bittner received, however. Former Hueneme High running back Freddie Bradley switched to Moorpark after working out with Ventura College earlier this summer.
"With Bradley, we have five excellent running backs who can really run with the ball," Bittner said.
Bradley switched to Moorpark from Ventura after deciding that he was better suited to the Raiders' power-running style of play.
"I'm not going to say anything bad about Ventura, but I think Moorpark is better for me because it is more of a running team than a passing team," Bradley said. "I think I made the best decision by switching."
In addition to Bradley, a fullback, and Monestime at tailback, Moorpark has sophomore running backs Noel Baker and John Brown along with Jeff Ross, a freshman from New York.
Moorpark will need a potent backfield to fill the void left by fullback Larry Roberts, the third leading rusher in the Western State Conference as a sophomore last year.
At quarterback, sophomore Jayson Merrill is returning after helping Moorpark to a berth in the Pony Bowl last season. Merrill completed 63 of 124 passes for 1,137 yards and threw 13 touchdowns as a freshman to lead Moorpark to the Western State Conference Northern Division title and a 9-1 overall record.
Merrill will get competition at quarterback from Kris Dutra, a 5-11, 165-pound freshman from Santa Maria High. Both quarterbacks are expected to get playing time in the Raiders' opener Sept. 16 against East Los Angeles at Moorpark.
"Dutra is almost a duplicate of Merrill," Bittner said. "They're both just about the same height and they run and throw the same. It's nice to have two quarterbacks of such similar skills."
Moorpark is inexperienced on the offensive line after losing four starters--Fernando Hernandez, David Kleschick, Anthony Trueba and Greg Mattes--from last year's team. Center Carlos Hernandez is Moorpark's only returning offensive lineman.
The Raiders have also lost key players on defense. John Goslin, the top defensive player in the Northern Division of the WSC last year, graduated and sophomore defensive tackle Mike Blanton (6-2, 270) is expected to miss the season after rupturing three disks in his back.
Moorpark will get a boost on defense from Vince Plymire, a 6-4, 270-pound defensive tackle. Plymire, a two-time state heavyweight wrestling champion, joined the football team after his wrestling career ended.
Bittner also will have to contend with one of the Raiders' toughest schedules in years.
"If we get through this schedule, we have a legitimate claim at being No. 1 in California," Bittner said.
While Moorpark is looking to defend its division title, Ventura Coach Phil Passno hopes his Pirates just finish above .500 after posting a 5-5 record last year.
"I was disappointed last year because I thought we had the talent to win seven or eight games," Passno said. "But I think we have the talent to do that this year."
Ventura ended up with less talent than Passno expected after losing Bradley. Passno got more bad news after learning that former Channel Islands High tailback John Johnson opted to play baseball instead of football.
Passno's offense was rocked even more when sophomore quarterback Todd Paffhausen broke two bones in his right hand this summer. Paffhausen underwent surgery earlier this month but he is expected to be ready when Ventura plays host to Porterville in its Sept. 9 opener.
Passno expects to use freshman Tim Albrent from Ventura High and freshman Tony Perez, who has missed two weeks of practice with a gashed knee, to back up Paffhausen
"When we get all three guys back together it will be a real good situation because they are all very strong quarterbacks," Passno said.
Despite the loss of Bradley in the backfield, Passno says Ventura will be respectable at running back.
"I don't think one guy makes a team and we are not going to base this entire season on the loss of one guy," Passno said.
Sophomore tailback Ryan Rapoza returns after compiling 1,043 all-purpose yards to lead Ventura in total offense last year. The Pirates also have Paul Rezac, who gained 884 yards in 152 carries for St. Bonaventure last year; Collis Seale-McConnie from London and Shawn Jackson, a 6-3, 225-pound running back from Detroit.
"Shawn flattens people. He's very physical," Passno said.
Ventura also has size and experience on defense.
Passno has nine defensive players returning from last year's team, including David Nunnery a 6-2, 215-pound linebacker who runs the 40-yard dash in 4.6 seconds.
Passno is equally confident in his receivers--sophomore wide receiver Keith Mims (6-4, 215) and sophomore Scott Patchett (6-3, 250) and freshman tight end Aaron Staley (6-5, 280).
"We're loaded with incredible size on this team," Passno said. "We had some problem areas, like running back, but we have ended up with some good people."