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Prep Football Preview | MISSION LEAGUE

Notre Dame Likely to Stand Its Ground

Knights, Rated No. 2 in Division III, Seek 4th Consecutive League Title

September 06, 1996|VINCE KOWALICK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

This was the year Mission League coaches were waiting for, the year in which a team other than Notre Dame High would win the league championship.

Looks like they'll continue to wait.

Notre Dame is favored to win a fourth consecutive league title --after successfully challenging a football realignment plan that would have placed the Knights in the Division I Del Rey League and moved Alemany to the Division III Mission League.

The Southern Section Executive Committee last fall overturned a re-leaguing plan approved by the Catholic Athletic Assn. over objections by Notre Dame administrators. Re-leaguing is permitted every four years, according to section bylaws. The CAA's proposal called for re-leaguing after only two years.

So, Notre Dame, which won a Division III championship in 1994 and is ranked second in the Southern Section preseason division poll, will stay put for at least two more seasons.

The Knights also are likely to stay on top.

"We don't win football games because we have a whole bunch of great Division I guys," Notre Dame Coach Kevin Rooney said. "We've got kids who are just good football players who like to play. It's not like we have some kind of unfair advantage."

Rooney has a point. Since becoming coach in 1980 he has maintained a solid and consistent program with a coaching staff that has remained largely intact. Moreover, Notre Dame's enrollment is consistent in size with those of league opponents and, in fact, smaller than Alemany's.

The Knights have only a handful of returning starters, but depth shouldn't be a problem and there's no shortage of talented newcomers. Last season's junior varsity was 7-3.

Only in the past several years have the Knights emerged as an area power. Efforts to move Notre Dame to a higher division, Rooney said, stem from the Knights' success in recent years. Notre Dame has not lost a league game since 1992, and victories have become increasingly lopsided.

However, based on its size, Notre Dame is where it belongs.

"There is nothing I would love more than to play in Anaheim Stadium for the Division I championship," Rooney said. "But I don't think it's fair to our kids to force them to compete at that level."

League coaches aren't grumbling about another year of facing Notre Dame. That includes Dave Bennett of Harvard-Westlake, which rejoins the league after a two-year stint in the Camino Real League. Harvard-Westlake replaces St. Bernard, which moves to the Camino Real League.

Harvard-Westlake took its lumps in two years in the Mission League, winning just two games. Interestingly, the Wolverines handed Notre Dame its last regular-season loss, a 14-10 nonleague decision in October 1994.

"They have a solid program, good coaching, good kids," Bennett said. "I like playing them."

Said Serra Coach Charles Nash: "Kevin Rooney is a very good coach and he's good for the league."

Serra, which lost to Notre Dame in the Division III semifinals two years ago, might provide the Knights with their most formidable challenge. The Cavaliers have 13 returning starters, including quarterback Kris Richard, who missed last year's game against Notre Dame because of an injury.

Nash is not bashful about his team's chances. "I'd be surprised if we don't win the league championship," he said.

At St. Francis, Coach Bill Redell enters his fourth season and has several returning players who started last season as sophomores. Yet Redell readily concedes that Notre Dame again is the team to beat.

The biggest question mark is Chaminade. First-year Coach Tim Johnson inherits a team minus several impact players who have graduated.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

AT A GLANCE

* THE PROVEN: Senior tailback Tre Milton (5 feet 11, 190 pounds) of St. Francis led the Golden Knights with 857 yards rushing and nine rushing touchdowns last year. He also had 15 receptions for 238 yards. Junior Justin Fargas (6-0, 184) of Notre Dame moves to tailback after rushing for 532 yards and seven touchdowns as a fullback. All-league senior offensive tackle Damion Tinsley (6-6, 270) of Serra is being heavily recruited. Senior Steve Hoo (5-8, 171) of Chaminade, an all-league cornerback, will see duty at running back. Senior Kevin Stromsborg (6-3, 192) of Notre Dame was a first-team all-league selection at defensive end.

* THE PROMISING: Senior tailback Sam Hornblower (6-2, 185) of Harvard-Westlake, who rushed for 132 yards as a reserve last season, is a rushing and receiving threat. Sophomore two-way lineman Ariel Bellofiore of St. Francis is 6-4 and weighs 275. Jorge Piedra (6-1, 175) of Notre Dame, a defensive back with eight interceptions as a junior, is the projected starting quarterback.

* FAST FACT: Chaminade, in 1992, was the last team other than Notre Dame to win a league championship.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Mission League Schedules Chaminade

Sept. 13--Poly

Sept. 20--El Camino Real

Sept. 27--at Thousand Oaks

Oct. 3--at Littlerock

Oct. 11--Hoover

Oct. 18--*Bishop Mont.

Oct. 25--*at Notre Dame

Nov. 1--*Serra

Nov. 9--*at Harvard-Westlake, 1:30 p.m.

Nov. 15--*St. Francis

Home Site

Chaminade High

Harvard-Westlake

Sept. 13--Burbank, 4 p.m.

Sept. 21--North Hollywood, 1:30 p.m.

Sept. 27--at San Marino

Oct. 4--at Calabasas

Oct. 10--at St. Bonaventure

Oct. 19--*Serra, 1:30 p.m.

Oct. 25--*at Bishop Mont.

Nov. 1--St. Francis

Nov. 9--Chaminade, 1:30 p.m.

Nov. 16--*Notre Dame, 1:30 p.m.

Home Site

St. Francis High

Notre Dame

Sept. 13--at Alemany

Sept. 20--at Burroughs

Sept. 27--Beverly Hills

Oct. 4--Crespi at Pierce College

Oct. 11--St. Paul

Oct. 18--*at St. Francis

Oct. 25--*Chaminade

Nov. 1--*Bishop Montgomery

Nov. 8--*at Serra

Nov. 16--at Harvard-Westlake, 1:30 p.m.

Home Site

Notre Dame High

St. Francis

Sept. 13--Arcadia

Sept. 20--Verdugo Hills

Sept. 27--at Alemany

Oct. 4--at Pasadena

Oct. 11--at Bellflower

Oct. 18--*Notre Dame

Oct. 25--*at Serra

Nov. 1--*Harvard-Westlake

Nov. 8--Bishop Mont.

Nov. 15--at Chaminade

Home Site

St. Francis High

*League games

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