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A Change of Directions

More Balance Means Title Is Up for Grabs


Since he became Birmingham High's starting quarterback two years ago, Scott Doherty has sprouted 3 1/2 inches and gained 30 pounds.

As Doherty grew from a spindly, 150-pound sophomore to a mature senior, so have the Braves progressed from an inexperienced group to a team that should compete for the Northwest Valley Conference title.

"I'm bigger, faster and stronger," Doherty said. "Our skill-position players are good. If our line plays hard enough, we have a chance."

The lack of a clear-cut conference favorite works in Birmingham's favor.

Entering the season, optimism reigns at all eight conference schools. Unlike recent years, no team is invincible.

Kennedy and Taft dominated conference play the past two years, with Taft reaching the City Section 4-A final last season. Those squads were unbeaten in the regular season, but now everybody appears to have at least one weakness.

Taft has the most returning talent but the Toreadors must replace quarterback Nick DiPadova, who accounted for 50 touchdowns and was 4-A co-player of the year.

After moving wide receiver K.C. Bounds to quarterback in the off-season, Taft Coach Troy Starr has decided to start Steve Alvarado, the backup last year, in the season opener against Banning.

Alvarado will have support from tailbacks Sedric Hurns and Marquis Brignac. Each rushed for more than 600 yards in 1996 and Starr is looking for ways to play both at the same time. A third tailback, Larry Jones, averaged nearly 10 yards a carry in limited duty last season.

Most conference coaches give El Camino Real the best chance to unseat the Toreadors. The Conquistadors were a failed fourth-and-one conversion away from upsetting Taft. Instead they lost, 24-21.

Tailback Quincy Wright, a three-year starter, is one of the conference's most exciting players and senior quarterback Aaron Fredette showed steady improvement last season. Adebola Jimoh provides size and speed at wide receiver. But the key to the Conquistadores' season is how the offensive line performs.

"We'll go as far as our line will take us," Fredette said.

Besides Doherty, Birmingham features 236-pound running back Emmanuel Evans, who gained 1,605 yards last year; wide receiver Demetrus Patterson, the sixth-place finisher in the 100 meters at the state meet in June; and linebacker Bobby Davis.

"Our front-line players match up against anybody," said Brave Coach Dave Lertzman. "Our only problem is depth. If those guys get hurt, they will be hard to replace."

Kennedy usually plays a role in the conference race but the Golden Cougars will suffer growing pains. Nearly everyone from the 1995 squad graduated, save for guard Saul Mejia and kicker Ramiro Esqueda, one of the region's best. But the Golden Cougars have plenty of replacement candidates, including four transfers from Monroe.

San Fernando, another traditional conference power, will try to rebound from a 3-7 season. Running back Sean Atkins moves to quarterback and Terrell Stanley, last year's quarterback, moves to wide receiver in an attempt to generate more offense.

Even Cleveland and Granada Hills, also-rans in 1996, have reason for hope because numbers are up at both schools.

Granada Hills was making progress last year until quarterback Ricky Mathiesen suffered a hand injury. Mathiesen is back and the Highlanders hope to return to the playoffs for the first time since 1994.

Chatsworth also returns an experienced quarterback in senior Ryan Martinez, who has started portions of the last two seasons.



* THE PROVEN: El Camino Real tailback Quincy Wright has a chance at 4,000 career rushing yards. He gained 1,306 yards last season and 1,048 as a sophomore. . . . Kennedy kicker Ramiro Esqueda has made all 11 of his field-goal attempts in his high school career. . . . Running back Sedric Hurns has played five different positions in his four-year varsity career for Taft. . . . Leon Pimky (6 feet 4, 230 pounds) of Granada Hills leads the region's returning City Section receivers with 56 catches. . . . Birmingham running back Emmanuel Evans (6-3, 236) gained 1,605 yards and scored 15 touchdowns and nine two-point conversions last season. . . . Kennedy defensive lineman Armand Seals (6-3, 220) has received Division I scholarship offers.


* THE PROMISING: Teammates and coaches rave about Taft sophomore Ronald Andrews, who will play wide receiver after moving up from the frosh-soph team late last season. . . . El Camino Real Coach Rick Hayashida says junior fullback DeAngelo Nedd, a transfer from Long Beach Wilson, may be the missing piece in the Conquistadore backfield. . . . Birmingham Coach Dave Lertzman said sophomore kicker John Wall has made field goals from 55 yards in practice. . . . Cleveland quarterback Larry Brown (6-4, 209), ineligible last season, leads a crop of new players for the Cavaliers.


* FAST FACT: Chatsworth's Myron Gibford, the dean of conference coaches in his 18th season, will retire after the season.



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