San Fernando High quarterback Michael Wynn played all summer without an offensive line, but he loved every second of it. In passing-league competition, of course, there are only seven players per side and none are used for blocking. As expected, Wynn played well and even made an all-tournament team as he rolled out, hit the man in the flat and bombed away with nothing in his face but a warm summer breeze.
But might this have been a precursor of 1989? Playing all summer with no line is a lark; nobody can survive the fall without one. Every quarterback knows you can't hit the back in the flat if you're flat on your back.
This helps explains why, upon observing his new offensive line in action for the first time in months and watching it perform well, Wynn wanted to bear-hug a San Fernando assistant coach at a recent practice.
This ought to say something about Wynn's expectations (i.e. rather low).
"I swear," Wynn said, "I walked up to him and these were my exact words: 'Great job.' " Protecting Wynn will be a high-priority assignment. The top passer among Valley-area City Section players in 1988, Wynn passed for 1,614 yards and a school-record 24 touchdowns. Various preseason publications already have ranked Wynn among the top 10 players nationally at his position, and the 6-foot-3, 205-pound senior is expected to make the Tigers a strong contender for the North Valley title, if not the City 4-A Division championship.
Yet, like league rivals Granada Hills, Kennedy and Chatsworth, San Fernando has talented skill-position players but is thin up front. Well, maybe thin isn't exactly the right word for San Fernando. Let's try green.
The Tigers, who advanced to the 4-A semifinals last season, will have five new starters on the offensive line, which could make the early going something of an adventure. With no veterans in the trenches and San Fernando playing a difficult nonleague schedule, might Wynn get winded while running for his life? A big question, but San Fernando coaches believe that they have some big answers.
"We've had some offensive lines in the past that have been pretty small," Coach Tom Hernandez said. "These guys are young, but they're the biggest line we've had in a long time."
Expected to start are guards Sam Arenas (6-0, 230) and Hector Hernandez (6-1, 235), tackles Rene Acosta (6-2, 245) and John Ybarra (6-4, 250) and center Steve Diaz (5-10, 205).
"The biggest thing right now is just to get them some game experience," Hernandez said.
That won't take long because San Fernando's nonleague schedule would make a masochist wince. The Tigers open on the road with powerful Fontana--ranked sixth in the state by Cal-Hi Sports magazine--then visit Crespi and St. Paul. All three are Southern Section Division I teams.
Still, Wynn feels safe. At least for now.
"It's just practice, but I feel comfortable back there so far," Wynn said. "We just need experience. And when you play good teams, you get better later on."
At Granada Hills, one starter and one part-time starter return on the offensive line. As usual, skill players abound and nearly all have a year of experience--a marked change from last season.
Heading into 1988, the Highlanders had to replace starters at quarterback (Jeremy Leach), receiver (Kyle Jan, Darryl Stephenson), tight end (Sean Brown) and tailback (Jamal Farmer). The quintet ranks among the Valley's most potent of the decade; four were offered Division I scholarships.
The Highlanders, in fact, scaled back their passing attack last season, averaging 171 yards rushing and 110 through the air. Yet with quarterback Chris Gadomski (1,158 passing yards), running backs Brett Washington (616 rushing) and Leon Glasgow (372 rushing) and receiver William Moringlane (26 receptions for 466 yards) returning, look for the modus operandi to return to form: from run to gun.
"We'll be able to start at a different level right away this year," said Granada Hills co-Coach Tom Harp, who handles the offense. "Last year, we had new players at basically each (skill) position and it took a while to get started."
Illinois transfer Bryan Martin, a junior, is challenging Gadomski at quarterback and Harp says a starter may not be named until the 11th hour.
"Chris has earned the start," Harp said, "but we have to get the new kid some experience. It's no easy decision. We talk about it every single day."
But can anybody deliver a block for these guys?
Terence Bito (6-1, 224) is the lone returning starter, although Bart Barbuscia (6-1, 240) started several games because of injuries to regulars.
"We have a lot of people and we have good size," Harp said, "we just need to see who can do what with the pads on."
Kennedy, which will build its offense around junior tailback Ontiwaun Carter (1,190 rushing yards last year) has two returning starters on the offensive line, the most in the league.
"Carter is the marquee guy," Kennedy Coach Bob Francola said. "He had a great year as a sophomore, and he's bigger and faster now."