There is, perhaps, no more challenging a time for John Featherstone.
Surrounded by walls covered with championship memorabilia and wearing a large national title ring, the El Camino College football coach raced across his office searching for answers to several questions earlier this month.
Why had several players missed practice and a preseason All-America candidate refused to ice his sore shins?
People outside the program have questions as well.
Will El Camino be as competitive as it has been the past three seasons? How will ex-UCLA Bruin Willie Crawford fit in at El Camino?
Perhaps never before have the questions so outnumbered the answers, yet a team's potential been so great.
It's true that, with less than two weeks before the season opener against host Ventura College at 7:30 Saturday night, many starting positions were not yet filled. "This could be our biggest challenge," Featherstone said. "We're even more inexperienced than we were in 1988."
But if that sounds like a death threat, relax.
A bad season for El Camino is one in which it wins a conference championship and a bowl game. That was the case in 1988. That season was sandwiched by an 11-0 national championship season in 1987 and a 10-1 finish in 1989.
Since 1987, the Warriors have won one South Coast Conference and two Mission Conference championships. This year, they are ranked No. 2 in the state by Cal-Hi Sports Magazine behind conference-rival Riverside.
That ranking, Featherstone said, is based on past performances. While not unrealistic, it does not reflect the Warriors' lack of experience on the offensive line, new starting quarterback or its freshman majority.
"We don't put a lot of stock in early preseason polls," Featherstone said. "There is too great a turnover. They gave us that ranking based on our reputation and what we did the last three years. It's too early to evaluate this team. It was easy last year. This year we're more freshmen oriented. We have a sprinkling of sophomores who have to be our leaders early."
That group's most notable member is quarterback Rod Harvey, a back-up last season to All-American Frank Dolce. Harvey, a 6-foot-1, 170-pound 20-year-old, started two seasons at Morningside High but passed for a mere 141 yards last season on nine of 15 completions. He was intercepted twice.
Harvey is not only aware of his new high-profile position but is hoping to take advantage of it, as Dolce did by earning a scholarship to the University of Utah.
"Just about every quarterback that comes out of El Camino is an All-American," Harvey said. "I feel I have to bear down and come through for the team.
"If anyone beats us I believe it will make their season. We usually don't lose any football games."
The Warriors' schedule will include games against Ventura, Riverside (No. 1), Rancho Santiago (No. 4), Fullerton (No. 11), Saddleback, Cerritos, Pasadena, Long Beach and Mt. San Antonio. The Warriors will not have a bye until the last week of the season.
"We have got to get off on the right track against Ventura," Featherstone said. "We'll find out who our people are."
The Warriors will be solid offensively with backs Al Savea, Eric Gamble, Tony Da Costa, Anthony Daigle, Ivan Wilson and Mark Harper, who had more than 1,700 yards his junior season at Santa Monica High School but suffered a broken foot last year. Savea is not expected to play until the third game because of a broken leg suffered during the summer.
The wide receiving corps of Shannon Thompson, Marquis Owens, Steve Danzy, Fred Safford and Arizona transfer Bryan Reeves are expected to help keep the Warriors' point totals high. Thompson was an all-conference pick, making 35 catches for 527 yards while Owens had 20 receptions for 243 yards.
El Camino has increased its scoring totals each of the past three seasons, including averages of 24 points in 1987, 31 in '88 and 38 last season.
Featherstone said the offensive line is a question mark except for sophomores Aaron Elliott, David Samperio and Mike Saffell.
Kicking duties will be handled by sophomore punter Scott Peters and second-team All-State place kicker Louis Perez.
The Warriors will rely heavily on their defense, particularly early in the season.
"That's the strength of our team," said inside linebacker Peter Hunt, picked by Cal-Hi Sports to the preseason All-State team. "The defense right now is pretty stacked."
Alongside defensive backs Anthony Cole and William Lackey will be safeties Crawford (UCLA), Eric Nelson (UCLA) and Ruben Moncito (Cal State Long Beach). Hunt, Paul Koons, Henry Bens and Ron Hanze (North Torrance) are the top linebackers.
Andre Howard, Sean Young and Shayne Mihalka have experience at defensive end while Tom Fakourfaur, Dan Hutchens, Alex Martinez and Steve Barker will start on the line.
"We're still trying to find the right combinations," Featherstone said.
Whether they are successful in that endeavor could be determined when El Camino meets Riverside.
Riverside and El Camino met for the national championship last season. Riverside came out on top and ended the season ranked No. 1. The Warriors finished ranked fourth.
"It was the worst feeling of all," Hunt said. "It was unexplainable. Physically we weren't ready for that team."
And this season?
Said Hunt: "I think we're ready."