Los Angeles Southwest College football Coach Henry Washington has a tough act to follow this season--his own.
Last year was Southwest's best season. Beginning his ninth year, Washington believes the Cougars have the depth for continued improvement. The team finished second in the Northern Division of the Western State Conference with a 7-2 record (7-3-1 for the season) and played in a bowl game.
But Washington points with pride to what's happened to many of the players who contributed to last year's success.
"For me, winning doesn't just mean victories on the field," he said. "It also means getting kids in position to attend four-year schools. Of our 16 sophomores last year, 13 moved on to four-year colleges and universities and earned scholarships."
Among last year's players who moved on were defensive end Chris Mims and offensive guard Bernard Dafney, both at Tennessee; safety Lorenzo Dixon (Houston); linebacker Joe Kearney (Oregon State) and top receiver Ansell Littlejohn (Texas-El Paso).
While Washington thinks about his team's strong points for 1990, four-year colleges should take note. His Cougars have an experienced backfield led by sophomore quarterback Craig Manigo, running back Damon Whitmore and fullback Eric Gibbs.
They figure to play key roles Saturday, when Southwest opens the season with a 1 p.m. game against visiting Rio Hondo.
Manigo, a former Leuzinger High standout, threw 19 touchdown passes while completing 58% (136 of 235) of his passes for 1,672 yards last season. He also ran for three touchdowns, but had 15 interceptions.
"Manigo is the key offensively for us," Washington said. "He's the glue that will hold our offense together."
Although Southwest depended on Manigo's passing last year, he was able to spearhead a ground game using Whitmore (317 yards in 78 carries) and Gibbs (271 yards in 89 carries). The Cougars' top rusher a year ago, running back William Jarrett (357 yards and three touchdowns in 76 carries), is not returning.
Manigo's top passing target of last year, Littlejohn, is being replaced by a previous Cougar favorite, Jesse Galloway, who last played in 1988 and has recovered from a leg injury that sidelined him in '89.
The Cougars have one other '89 starter coming back, 6-foot-3 offensive lineman Mark Fields.
Top returning defensive players include all-conference free safety David Mack (31 unassisted tackles and four forced fumbles), cornerback Ron Gordon (31 unassisted tackles and two forced fumbles) and defensive lineman Anthony Arley (29 unassisted tackles, two QB sacks and two forced fumbles).
As aggressive a coach and scout as Washington is--"I'm at a local high school game every Friday night during the season"--his team's success in '89 was an invaluable recruiting tool in building the '90 team.
"Putting together a season like we did last year got area high school players to notice," Washington said. "I feel like we've got guys who have potential to be as good as, if not better than, our guys last year. We have some outstanding freshmen on this year's team."
The defense seems strengthened the most, as L.A. City 4-A champion Dorsey High, according to Washington, sent "its entire defensive line" to Southwest, including Jose Vasquez, Demetrius Watts and John Blair. Freshman defensive end Brian Proby (6-foot 6, 260) comes from Banning High, and free safety Robert Avery (6-4, 180) is from Jefferson.
Eighty players reported to the Cougars' first practice Aug. 16, and Washington expects to suit up 65 for the team's opener Saturday. The Cougars open WSC play on Sept. 22 at Harbor at 7:30 p.m.