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HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL PREVIEW : Oak Park Leaves Disappointment Behind

September 09, 1993|DANA HADDAD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The sting has faded from its disheartening 1992 season. Oak Park High is gearing up for what could be a championship season.

The team, however, is an odd mix. There are the seniors who watched their title dreams disappear last November after four starters were kicked off the team. And there is an eager, talented group from a junior varsity team that was 9-1 last season.

"There's a lot of new faces from JV, and I'm thinking about what we can do this year," said wide receiver Mark Schwanauer, a senior. "But (what happened last year) hurts. They were my friends. I hung out with them."

Oak Park was 6-1, 2-0 in Tri-Valley League play when four starters were dismissed from the team in an alcohol-related incident at a school dance. The group included standout running back Tarik Smith, now at California, and quarterback Damian Delfino.

All four were two-way starters. "It was like losing eight players," Coach Dick Billingsley said.

And the Eagles learned a lot about losing. They lost to Carpinteria, 21-10. They lost to Bishop Diego, 31-14. Those two opponents shared the league title. In a performance Billingsley is tempted to call heroic, Oak Park lost to South Torrance, 15-0, in the first round of the Division IX playoffs.

The only victory after the school dance came in a nonleague game against a team that had only two victories--Santa Clara, 28-0.

The dismissal of the players shocked their teammates, said Schwanauer, who started at fullback last year and relished his role blocking for Smith.

"The school really cracked down as opposed to years past," he said. "Our class wasn't as bad as others. (Now) there's no drinking whatsoever. We learned our lesson the hard way. We definitely can't go to any school event with anything on our breath."

Billingsley made an example of players who had been considered leaders to salvage the integrity of his program. "It's a team game and you can't let down the team," he said. "I think our kids learned a lot from it."

The 11 starters who have returned haven't forgotten the lesson.

"We're making sure it doesn't happen this year," said linebacker Robby Proffer, who led Oak Park with more than 100 tackles last year. "Everybody was ticked off about it. We lost two games that we should have won."

But the Eagles showed character in defeat, Billingsley said, and left something on which to build with the playoff loss. The offense was nonexistent but the team played with great emotion.

"That's the thing I'm most proud of," he said. "We were down only 3-0 with about eight minutes left."

The Eagles should have no trouble moving the ball this year. Todd Buchholz (5-foot-10, 175 pounds), Ron Meza (6-0, 184), Jared Banks (6-6, 230), Pete Majors (6-1, 228), Roger Atienza (5-10, 222) and Proffer (5-11, 180 at tight end) return to the offensive line.

Ryan Garth (6-1, 200) steps in at fullback. New quarterback Ron Allen will throw to a group of competent receivers promoted from the junior varsity.

Opposing coaches predict a balanced league and a wide-open race. Longtime power Carpinteria has only three returning starters. But Norris Fletcher, whose Bishop Diego team is ranked No. 1 in Division IX by the Southern Section, knows there wasn't much separating Oak Park and his section finalist team last year.

"We were flying high at home in our game against them because we knew a win would give us a league championship," Fletcher said. "They had problems that week with suspensions. They were down and we were up."

Oak Park finished 7-4 after Billingsley was forced to promote junior varsity players.

"They built an entire game plan around Tarik Smith," Carpinteria Coach Ben Hallock said. "But they still played sound football. They always do."

Now it's time to put the past behind. But Proffer said it is impossible not to remember 1992.

"We want to forget it for now, but it's always going to be in the back of our minds," he said. "We know we've got to prove something."

Tri-Valley League at a Glance

1992 STANDINGS OVERALL LEAGUE PROJECTED FINISH Bishop Diego 9-4-1 3-0-1 Oak Park Carpinteria 7-2-2 3-0-1 Bishop Diego Oak Park 7-4 2-2 Carpinteria Fillmore 4-6 1-3 St. Bonaventure St. Bonaventure 4-6 0-4 Fillmore

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Player School Pos. Ht Wt Class Todd Buchholz Oak Park C/DE 5-10 175 Sr. Brad Burnett St. Bonaventure QB/DB 6-4 194 Sr. Pete Frias Fillmore TE/DE 6-2 225 Sr. Michael Hayes Bishop Diego RB/CB 5-8 168 Sr. Jimmy Lyon St. Bonaventure RB/SS 5-11 167 Sr. Robby Proffer Oak Park TE/LB 5-11 180 Sr. Thor Schmidt Bishop Diego TE/DE 6-3 225 Sr. Mark Schwanauer Oak Park WR/DB 5-11 182 Sr. Benji Trembley Carpinteria QB/CB 5-11 175 Sr. Felix Zuniga Fillmore FB/SS 5-10 180 Sr.

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