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FOOTBALL PREVIEW '97

The Times Orange County's Preseason Top 10

September 09, 1997|MIKE TERRY

The 1997 prep football season in Orange County will probably be identified by two trends--the continued rise of Santa Margarita as a county power and the reign of Mater Dei as the area's, not to mention the state's and even the nation's, top program.

Still, top-notch football is not strictly the domain of Southern Section Division I and V teams, as witnessed by Division VIII's Laguna Hills and Rancho Alamitos breaking into The Times' preseason top 10 poll.

Also expect Dana Hills, Buena Park, El Toro, Foothill, Fountain Valley, Irvine, Kennedy, Newport Harbor, Sunny Hills and Villa Park to make their presence known.

The top 10:

1. Mater Dei. There may come a time when this is not the de rigueur pick in the county. But not until someone topples the Division I champions, who bring a 14-game winning streak into the season. Bellflower St. John Bosco, Servite and Capistrano Valley will take their best shots at Coach Bruce Rollinson's team in the regular season.

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2. Santa Margarita. The Eagles came of age as a program last season, winning the Division V title. Even if top quarterback prospect Carson Palmer is down with a stress fracture, the Eagles have 25 returnees, a rugged defense and one of the area's best coaches in Jim Hartigan.

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3. Laguna Hills. Michael Jones will probably set the Orange County career rushing record by season's end. And the Hawks, who started 9-0 last season, want to erase memories of their last two games, during which they lost the Pacific Coast League title and got bounced from the playoffs in the first round.

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4. Los Alamitos. A couple coaches who saw the Griffins during the summer passing league said Los Alamitos is a year from again being the county's best team. If they can get past Esperanza and hold off upstart Edison, the Griffins should be tops in the Sunset League.

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5. Servite. The Friars had one of the county's best offenses last season, but it wasn't enough to take them past the Division V semifinals. This year, Servite might have one of the county's better defenses, and that could take them to the title game.

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6. Capistrano Valley. The Cougars are the main--and some say only--threat to Mater Dei in the South Coast League. A troubling aside: Capistrano Valley has been highly ranked before, but has shown a tendency to lose games it's expected to win.

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7. Tustin. DeShaun Foster, the county's leading scorer last year, will have to shoulder a heavier burden this season for the Tillers to make a run at the Golden West League title. But when he plays well, there are few running backs--or defenders--who can touch him.

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8. Esperanza. On the surface the Aztecs lost too many top players to graduation to contend for the Sunset League title. But Esperanza wasn't supposed to win league titles the past two years and did anyway. Somehow, Coach Gary Meek and his staff seem to find a way.

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9. Edison. This could be a reach, considering the Chargers have not won a Sunset League title in seven years and must play Esperanza, Los Alamitos and Fountain Valley on successive weeks. But this season the Chargers have the talent to end the drought.

10. Rancho Alamitos. Doug Case thought he had his best team last year, even though the Vaqueros fell a victory shy of the Division VIII championship. Sixteen starters return. The loss of Leo Kosi, The Times' 1996 back of the year, is a big one but not insurmountable.

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