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PREP FOOTBALL '96

The Times Orange County Preseason Top 10

September 10, 1996|MIKE TERRY

Is there a consensus No. 1 team in Orange County to start the 1996 season? No. The reverberations set off last October when Esperanza upset Los Alamitos--the top-ranked team in the county, state and nation at the time--have not subsided. The teams listed here all have flaws. Still--depending on health, luck and emerging talent--all have a chance to rise to greatness by December.

1 Mater Dei. The last time the Monarchs opened the season on top--1994--they finished that way, not just in the county but in the nation. This year's team does not look like 1994's, yet. The Monarchs are solid, coming off a 10-2 season in which they shared the South Coast League championship. The offense will be explosive, the defense inexperienced.

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2 Capistrano Valley. It was no fluke the 9-3 Cougars ended up tied for first in the South Coast League last season. It also won't be a fluke if Capistrano Valley wins the title outright this season. The Cougars have a premier threat in running back Malaefou Mackenzie, an excellent quarterback in Austin Moherman, plus lots of size and speed.

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3 Esperanza. By winning the Sunset League title last year, the Aztecs, who finished 8-3, are primed to restore their program to prominence. Despite losing a lot at the receiving positions, Esperanza can challenge again.

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4 Servite. The Friars still have the sights and sounds

of El Toro's championship celebration rattling around their helmets. But Servite, which finished 11-3, will not wonder this season if it's a legitimate contender.

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5 El Toro. The Chargers were the only county team to win a section title last season, claiming the Division V championship after finishing 12-2. Coach Mike Milner has 40 returning lettermen, 12 of whom were starters. A consecutive title is within reach.

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6 San Clemente. The Tritons rose unexpectedly to grab a share of the South Coast League championship last season, ending Mater Dei's 21-game winning streak in the process. San Clemente, which finished 8-3 last season, does not look like a one-hit wonder.

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7 Los Alamitos. The Griffins will be relying a lot on reputation this year, as Coach John Barnes' team is severely depleted by graduation. But the Griffins will still score in bunches, and offense alone should get them decent playoff berth even in a supposed "down" season.

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8 Laguna Hills. You can sum up the Hawks' hopes for a big year in two words: Michael Jones. The powerful running back had 2,315 yards as a sophomore and carried Laguna Hills to a 10-2 record.

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9 Irvine. The Vaqueros spent last season in an unaccustomed position as a middle-of-the-pack team, finishing 6-5. Irvine appears ready to return to the high-rent district, especially if quarterback Jared Flint and running back Jake Savona perform as expected.

10 Kennedy. Mitch Olson won't say it out loud, but those close to the Fighting Irish contend this could be one of the school's best teams. Thirty-two lettermen return from a squad that finished 10-2 last season.

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