Golden League schools should be forgiven if they enter the 1994 football season with chip on their shoulder.
Since 1989, the league competed in the Division I playoffs, the highest classification in the Southern Section. But last spring, it was dropped to Division II, after only one team, Antelope Valley, advanced past the opening round.
The switch has left Antelope Valley Coach Brent Newcomb and other league coaches with a touch of anger as the season opens.
"I can see a couple of reasons why they might have done it but that doesn't mean I agree with it," Newcomb said. "For three years, kids from our league have been respectable in the playoffs and they've been ready to shoot for the highest title."
Despite the drop in divisions, the Golden League might be stronger than in 1993.
Quartz Hill returns six starters on both offense and defense from the team that compiled the first undefeated regular season in school history.
Ridgecrest Burroughs has its top player, tailback DeMario Brown, returning and the Burros appear ready to claim their first playoff berth since 1979.
Palmdale and Littlerock have considerably more depth than a year ago, and Highland, after a 1-8-1 season, changed it's offense to showcase quarterback Jason Carr.
But no team appears to have as much talent as Antelope Valley. Tailback Jermaine Lewis, punter/lineman Chad Shrout, defensive lineman Caleb Smith and quarterback/defensive back Trymon Redick are enough to convince most league coaches to favor the Antelopes.
How much do league opponents respect Lewis, a junior who gained 1,612 yards and scored 19 touchdowns last season? At least two teams will start tailbacks similar in stature to the 5-7, 155-pound Lewis.
Littlerock will start junior Lafayette Bailey (5-9, 170). Bailey doesn't have much experience at tailback (93 yards in 20 carries), but returned a kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown against Quartz Hill last year.
Antwane Marcy (5-8, 150), a transfer from Edison High in Fresno, will be the Lewis-clone for Highland in the Bulldogs' one-back attack.
"Every team wishes they had somebody like Jermaine," Highland Coach Lin Parker said. "We hope we have something close."
But Lewis isn't the only player coaches are raving about. Shrout is considered one of the best punting prospects in the nation and Smith was an all-league selection last year.
Even with the standout players, the Antelopes nearly missed the playoffs in 1993.
Antelope Valley finished the regular season 10-1, losing only to Quartz Hill, but an ineligible, second-string player played in four games.
The administrative error was discovered just before the playoffs started. The Antelopes' league record dropped to 1-4, denying them a berth in the postseason. But after a vote of league officials, Antelope Valley was reinstated two days before the opening round.
The Antelopes made the most of the opportunity, reaching the Division I semifinals before losing to Mater Dei. Included in the run was a 21-7 upset of Bishop Amat, ranked No. 1 in the state.
Antelope players would have liked another shot at Bishop Amat or Mater Dei but will have to settle for a chance at the Division II title. "I've thought about it a lot since we first found out about Division II," Smith said. "It would have been nice to get another shot at Bishop Amat, but it's not going to happen. We don't worry about it as much now. People are going to expect us to win."
Sunday: Valley Pac-8 Conference and Santa Fe League
Golden League at a Glance
1993 STANDINGS OVERALL LEAGUE PROJECTED FINISH Quartz Hill 10-1 5-0 Antelope Valley Ridgecrest Burroughs 6-4 3-2 Quartz Hill Palmdale 4-7 3-2 Ridgecrest Burroughs Littlerock 4-6 2-3 Palmdale *Antelope Valley 7-6 1-4 Littlerock Highland 1-8-1 1-4 Highland
* Antelope Valley forfeited four games, three in league.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Player School Pos. Ht. Wt. Yr. DeMario Brown Ridgecrest Burroughs RB 6-4 200 Sr. Phillip Greer Palmdale OL/DE 6-3 230 Sr. Dante Hinton Littlerock OL/DL 6-2 250 Sr. Damien Kendrid Quartz Hill QB/DB 5-9 160 Sr. Jermaine Lewis Antelope Valley TB/DB 5-7 155 Jr. Brian Pereira Quartz Hill FB/LB 6-2 225 Sr. Trymon Redick Antelope Valley QB/DB 6-1 180 Jr. Andy Rethi Quartz Hill TE 6-0 215 Jr. Chad Shrout Antelope Valley P/DL 6-1 230 Sr. Caleb Smith Antelope Valley OT/DL 6-3 215 Sr.