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Returning Talent Boosts Title Hopes of Several Teams : High schools: Garfield, Lincoln and Locke plan to take advantage of experienced starters to contend for the City 4-A championship.


When the 1993 high school football season begins Friday, area teams such as Garfield, Lincoln and Locke will step on to the field as legitimate contenders for the City 4-A title.

Although none of the Central Los Angeles teams won either a City or Southern Section title last year, some teams proved they are one star player or one lucky break away from playing in the championship.

Last season, Garfield upset 1991 finalist Banning, 7-6, in the first round of the City playoffs and reached the semifinals before bowing to eventual champion Sylmar.

Lincoln also threatened to pull off an upset with a fourth-quarter drive that stalled on Carson's seven-yard line. The Colts won, 28-24, but the Tigers gained a measure of respect.

"Here we have been barking all these years about not being able to play with the Bannings, Carsons and Dorseys of the world, and we almost won the biggest game of the year," Lincoln Coach Randy Rodriguez said. "I remember saying that night: 'We finally belong in the 4-A. There are no more excuses.' "

It has been 52 years since an East Los Angeles school won a major division title. Roosevelt did the trick in 1941. But Garfield, one of the top teams in the City 4-A, is now poised to make East L.A. proud.

The Bulldogs return 11 starters, including running back Armando Figueroa, who led the area in rushing with 1,613 yards and 10 touchdowns, tackle Eddie Pasillas and quarterback David Villalobos, who passed for 835 yards and four touchdowns. Figueroa and Pasillas were named to the City Times' all-star first team last season.

"We had a chance last season to experience top-level competition," Garfield Coach John Aguirre said. "Our ultimate goal is a City championship, but there are too many things that have to fall into place for us to go all the way."

The Bulldogs expect to throw more this season and hope that Figueroa does not have to carry the offensive load by himself.

"Garfield has been run-oriented for the last 5,000 years," Rodriguez said. "They're going to bring out the Rust-O-Leum for the quarterback. Garfield has been throwing the ball year-round. They look good. Even Armando is catching passes."

Rodriguez also likes his team's chances with the return of Gerardo Roman, the area's leading passer. In his third season as starting quarterback, Roman holds the school record with 3,778 yards passing. The Tigers also have a veteran offensive line.

"I saw our players put on the pads for the first time, and we look huge," Rodriguez said.

At Locke, quarterback Akili Roberson will vie for the passing yardage title, and the Saints may be the team to beat in the Southeastern Conference. Roberson was the area's third-leading passer with 1,608 yards and 15 touchdowns. Locke has never won a football title at any level since the Watts school opened in 1967.

The Saints, however, humiliated 1991 champion Dorsey, 62-37, in the first round of the playoffs last year. It was their first victory over the three-time champion in eight years. "That was our championship game," Locke Coach E. C. Robinson said. "Once we beat Dorsey, the season was over." The Saints were eliminated the following week by Van Nuys.

Bell, which moves to 4-A this year, and playoff qualifiers Jefferson and South Gate make the Eastern League one of the most competitive in the City Section. Fremont, with quarterback William Yates returning, is the team to beat in the Central League.

Dorsey seems to have its best seasons during odd years, having won 4-A titles in 1989 and 1991. With the return of running back Che Johnson (687 yards and four touchdowns last year) and Norman Ysaguirre, an all-area lineman who was named to the all-state team by Cal-Hi Sports magazine, the Dons continue to have the speed and size to survive in the same league with perennial powers Banning and Carson.

In the Southern Section, Division I runner-up Loyola and Division III runner-up Bell Gardens hope to make a return trip to their respective finals.

"Great teams improve every week," said Loyola Coach Steve Grady, whose Cubs have reached at least the semifinals for the past five years. "If we show improvement, I think we can take another shot at winning a league championship and a (Southern Section) championship."

Last year, Bell Gardens Coach Dave Newell surprised opponents by benching his quarterback after four games. Quarterback Ricky Oropeza, who looks to run first and pass second, took charge and passed for 441 yards. The Lancers also return Francisco (Junior) Samano, the area's second-leading rusher with 1,272 yards and 11 touchdowns. The Lancers, however, have only two other players returning on offense and two on defense.

"We expect to be in the hunt and contend for a league championship," Newell said. "If the right schedule of events takes place and we don't get a key player hurt, we should contend for a title."

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