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FOOTBALL '93 : Inexperienced Team, Challenging Schedule Have El Camino Worried

September 05, 1993|MITCH POLIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Since the 1985 arrival of John Featherstone as coach, winning has become second nature to the El Camino College football team.

Featherstone has a 62-22-1 record and has guided the Warriors to five bowl games in the past six seasons.

But 1993 may be Featherstone's most challenging season. Only three starters return from an 8-3 squad that played in the Southern California Bowl.

"In the nine years we've been together here, this is the most raw and inexperienced group we've had," Featherstone said. "We are talented, and that's important. There are just a lot of question marks with this team."

The biggest concern is defense, or lack of it.

"Defense is such a key at this level and the best teams we've had here have been built around defense," Featherstone said. "They still have a lot to learn, but I only see them getting better and better each week."

El Camino's secondary, with sophomore cornerbacks Jermaine Ferguson and Alex Hairston and sophomore roverback Shannon Henry, appears to be the backbone.

"I don't think there's a better pair of cornerbacks than Ferguson and Hairston," co-defensive coordinator Walt Justice said. "We put a lot of emphasis on the corners because we go with man-to-man coverage a lot. So those two guys are very important to us."

The Warriors have depth on their defensive front, which includes sophomores Derrick Berry and David Haemker at end and freshmen Shawn Bard and Craig Zimmermann at tackle. Bard played at Leuzinger High and Zimmermann at Mira Costa.

"The defensive line is a good mix of youth and experience," Justice said. "That's what's going to make this defense go."

There is uncertainty at linebacker, where Justice said the Warriors "will have to have somebody step up." The most likely candidates are sophomore inside linebackers Manny Gonzalez and Frank Padilla.

Offensively, El Camino appears to have plenty of punch, although Featherstone is wrestling with who will start at quarterback. Sophomore Larry Roberts and freshmen Steve Sarkisian and Chris Keldorf are competing for the job.

Roberts, a reserve in 1992, has been listed as the starter, but Sarkisian has been closing the gap.

"It has been the most competitive position on this team," Featherstone said. "I can't tell you who is going to be the starter, but I know that whoever it is will be a leader the players can build around."

The line includes sophomores Erik Donnelly (6-foot-3, 275 pounds) at guard, Kyle Houck (6-6, 290) at tackle and Steve Hallett (6-1, 240) at center. Freshman Tevette Usu (6-3, 320), a tackle from Leuzinger, is challenging for a job.

The running backs include freshmen Morell Ollis from Hawthorne and Kenny Fredieu from Serra and sophomores Kendall Alexander, a transfer from Cerritos College, and Jon Hogrelius.

Perhaps the deepest position is wide receiver, where Tony Knox returns. Knox, from Carson, is coveted by Division I schools. Featherstone also added several talented freshmen, including Leandrew Childs from Inglewood, Dameon Porter from Culver City and Antoris Coleman from Torrance.

"I've got as fine a group of wide receivers as I've ever had," Featherstone said.

Tight end Damon Terrell was named to the preseason state team by Cal-Hi Sports News.

"We're really excited about this team as a staff," Featherstone said. "Even though we don't have the experience, we think it's going to be very good team. It could turn into a monster if they jell early on in the season."

El Camino is ranked 12th in the Cal-Hi Sports preseason poll, but the schedule could be considered daunting. It includes top-ranked Palomar, which is gunning for a national title behind standout quarterback Tommy Luginbill, No. 7 Orange Coast, No. 9 Pasadena and No. 20 Long Beach.

But Featherstone and his players have grown accustomed to top-flight competition in the powerful Mission Conference.

Donnelly said the Warriors, who open at Golden West at 7 p.m. Friday, are starting the season in a good frame of mind.

"We know it's not going to be easy, but nobody said we can't win," he said. "We're going into the season confident. I think we'll surprise a lot of people."

Berry is bullish about El Camino's chances.

"Everyone thinks we're going to be down," he said. "But even though we have a lot of freshman on this team, you can't underestimate us. We know the talent is there. We just have to go out and execute well."

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