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Prep Football Preview | PACIFIC LEAGUE

League Title Race Looks Like Muir of the Same

September 05, 1996|JOHN ORTEGA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Coaches Alan Eberhart of Crescenta Valley, Steve Pinkston of Glendale and Dennis Hughes of Hoover each have differing opinions on where their football teams will finish in this year's Pacific League race, but there is one thing they all agree upon.

Pasadena Muir is the team to beat.

The Mustangs have won or shared the last four league championships while compiling a 19-1 record and Eberhart, for one, sees a fifth title on the horizon.

"Muir, Muir and Muir," said the fourth-year Crescenta Valley coach when asked to name the top three teams in the league. "I think their first team, second team and third team could finish one, two, three. They're that good."

Muir could be hard-pressed to do that this season because the Mustangs' squad numbers only 30 players, but NCAA Division I prospects DeAngelo Stewart, Shaheed McCullough and Greg Davis are among that group.

Wide receiver Stewart and cornerback McCullough were sprinters on Muir's track team that won its third consecutive state title in June and Davis is a 6-foot-2, 285-pound two-way tackle.

"We have a lot of potential, but we have a lot of questions marks too," Muir Co-Coach Erik Johnson said. "If we get some positive answers, we should be a pretty good football team. But if we don't we could be in for some trouble."

Trouble is exactly what Crescenta Valley (2-7-1, 1-3-1 in league), Hoover (4-4-2, 1-3-1) and Glendale (3-6-1, 1-4) found themselves in last year. The Falcons, Tornadoes and Dynamiters finished in the bottom half of the six-team league behind Muir (6-4-1, 4-1), Arcadia (10-2, 4-1) and Pasadena (5-6, 3-2), and second-year Glendale Coach Pinkston said he wouldn't bet on things changing much this season.

"We need to beat Crescenta Valley and Hoover and then hope to knock off one of the other three to make the playoffs," he said. "I'm sure that Alan and Dennis would tell you the same thing if you asked them."

Hughes, entering his 11th season at Hoover, said the Tornadoes will be hard-pressed to improve upon last year's record unless an inexperienced defense matures in a hurry. But Eberhart expects Crescenta Valley to battle Arcadia and Pasadena for the league's second and third spots in the Southern Section Division III playoffs.

Tailback Kenneth Pritchett, guard-defensive tackle Nick Yerton, linebacker Chris Oliver and quarterback-cornerback Ryan McKnight are four reasons for Eberhart's optimism.

Pritchett, a 5-10, 165-pound junior, rushed for 1,131 yards and 11 touchdowns as a sophomore and Yerton is a 6-4, 267-pound senior lineman whom Eberhart projects as a Division I center.

Oliver (5-9, 175) had 87 tackles last season and fellow junior McKnight (6-0, 165) is a quality defender who will battle senior Mike Dely for the starting quarterback position.

Crescenta Valley's success could depend on whether the Falcons can pass with efficiency.

They rushed for 2,229 yards last year but threw for only 270.

"We're still going to run the ball a lot," Eberhart said. "But we'd like to throw it a little bit more. Last year, we had about a 90-to-10 ratio of run to pass and by the end of the season, defenses were just stacking the line against us. This year, we'd like it to be more like 80-to-20."

Senior twins Jeremy and Jared Callister are expected to play big roles in Glendale's quest to make the playoffs for the first time in five years.

Three-year starter Jeremy Callister passed for 726 yards and five touchdowns last year and Jared is the Dynamiters' leading returning rusher (318 yards in 56 carries) and receiver (12 for 152 yards).

Jared will play fullback, tight end, wide receiver and outside linebacker.

Areg Khachikian (6-3, 250) will anchor the offensive line at tackle and fellow seniors Sako Spruill (5-7, 180) and Bryan Benz (5-10, 165) will lead the defense at middle linebacker and strong safety.

"Our biggest improvement will be our strength and ability to get physical," Pinkston said. "Our biggest weakness last year was a lack of strength, especially at the end of games. Teams just wore us out, but we'll be much more physical this year."

Hoover's strength should be its offensive line--where it returns three starters--but the Tornadoes will have only two starters back from a defense that held opponents to 220 yards and 13.9 points a game last season.

Guard Adis Davtyan (6-3, 280), tackle Hyo Kim (5-9, 195) and center Hayk Avetisyan (5-9, 220) return on the offensive line, as does junior Welser Maltez (462 yards and four touchdowns) at quarterback.

Seniors Brian Cousens (6-feet, 215) and Frank Maltez are the returning defensive starters at inside linebacker and cornerback, respectively.

"I think offensively, we can be better," Hughes said. "But right now the defense is really green. That and the kicking game are just real big question marks."

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

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