To beat favored Oxnard High this year, Channel League opponents are going to have to tackle the elusive Johnel Turner. But first they have to find him.
Turner, best known for his exploits as quarterback in the Yellowjackets' wishbone formation, will also play wingback, tailback and fullback in various sets.
Last Friday against Camarillo, Turner spent several series as the fullback in an I formation that also included Bryant Taylor at tailback and Mitch Watkins at quarterback. In the wishbone, which Oxnard ran almost exclusively last year, Taylor is the fullback and Watkins plays right halfback.
"We're going to try some things this year," Coach Jack Davis said in his usual understated manner.
A team must be committed to the wishbone to run it well because the option plays require instantaneous decisions by the quarterback and impeccable timing among the four backs. But Oxnard, apparently, is willing to risk a less-than-sharp wishbone in an effort to diversify the offense.
It worked in the season opener, a 27-0 runaway over Camarillo.
Turner and Taylor, both of whom rushed for more than 1,000 yards last year, would appear to have more than 1,000 assignments to learn. Especially considering they both play defense as well. Oh, yes, and Turner is the kicker.
At least they shouldn't be bored.
Oxnard is not the only team returning top skill position players. Buena and Santa Barbara, the other serious contenders for the league title, have nearly their entire backfields back intact.
Quarterback Jason Isaacs, tailback Tony Williams and fullback Richard Harris demonstrated their explosiveness in a 35-30 season-opening victory over Westlake. Isaacs passed for 177 yards and two touchdowns, Williams rushed for 141 yards and Harris delivered crunching blocks as well as rushing for 77 yards and two touchdowns.
Santa Barbara's experience was evident early on as well. The Dons scored on their first six possessions in a 34-12 win over Sweetwater. Quarterback Pancho Renteria, a returning starter, completed his first six passes for 124 yards and two touchdowns. Fullback Chris Sanchez, a dominant two-way player, scored three touchdowns.
A look at the Ventura County teams in the Channel League:
Oxnard--Turner, Taylor and Watkins are not the only three-year varsity players. Center Tom Dowler and right guard Alex Soriano are also beginning their third seasons, giving the Yellowjackets an experienced offense.
The left halfback in the wishbone, Kenyon Lewis, lacks experience but not much else. The 6-foot-3, 190-pound junior is fast and has Division I potential, according to Davis. Lewis will often be the tailback in the I formation, which Oxnard will turn to primarily inside the 20-yard line.
Besides Dowler and Soriano, the line consists of senior tackle Steve Heiney, junior tackle Raul Lopez, sophomore guard John Smith and senior tight end Ryan Milborne. Neal Isherwood and J.J. Alvarez alternate at split end.
The Yellowjackets, who were 8-2 and missed the playoffs last season after winning their first eight games, are also experienced on defense. Watkins (who had three interceptions in the opener), Taylor, Turner and Lewis form an excellent secondary.
Senior outside linebackers Eric Satterwhite and Richard Haser are returning starters, although Haser has moved from cornerback. The middle linebacker is Brian Waits, a 6-1, 185-pound senior.
Jeremy Alley, a 6-2, 215-pound junior and second-year varsity player, and Quincy Johnson, a 6-3, 215-pound senior, are the defensive ends. Junior Jose Garcia (5-10, 255) and senior Joe Torres (5-11, 225) are the defensive tackles.
Buena--The continuing maturation of quarterback Jason Isaacs, who set a school record with 2,281 yards passing last year, makes the Bulldogs a team that can score any time from anywhere on the field.
Stocky tailback Tony Williams is a returning starter who gives Buena a multiple weapon--he rushed for 141 yards and one touchdown and caught eight passes for 82 yards and two touchdowns. Fullback Richard Harris, who is the team's best defensive player, is a ferocious blocker and hard runner.
Receivers James Craft, the Channel League 200-meter champion in track, and Jeff Coyner, who caught 17 passes last year, must have productive seasons.
The offensive line is largely untested but played well in the opener. The guards are Scott Sueiven (5-10, 180) and Terry Hall (6-4, 240), both seniors who played in spots last year. Junior tackle Phil Kurta (6-3, 240) is the best prospect. Senior tackle Alan Mattox (6-3, 225) was a diligent worker during the summer.
Defensively, Buena is full of question marks, not many of which were answered after giving up 30 points to a less-than powerful Westlake team. This unit must improve if the Bulldogs are to match last season's 10-3 mark.