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HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL PREVIEWS

Plaisance on Crusade for a Little Respect

Alpha League: Village Christian coach feels his team's underdog role to highly ranked L.A. Baptist is undeserved.

September 10, 1997|PETER YOON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Mike Plaisance slumps over the steering wheel of the tricked-up golf cart he rides in while watching his football team practice.

"We get no respect over here," Village Christian's football coach said. "We're the Rodney Dangerfields of the Alpha League and Division XI.

"No matter what we do other schools seem to get a higher profile. But that's OK, I like being the underdogs."

Plaisance, a high school coach for 22 years, has two dozen lettermen returning from a team that reached the Division XI semifinals last season before losing, 7-6, to Yucca Valley, the eventual champion.

But despite returning All-Division XI kicker Matt Ryburn, All-Alpha League running back David Romberger and quarterback Jeff Johnston, the Crusaders are routinely picked to finish behind L.A. Baptist in the league standings.

Village Christian is ranked seventh in the Southern Section preseason poll. L.A. Baptist is ranked second.

"We're in fear and trembling over here," Plaisance said, his smile wide and his voice booming with sarcasm. "LAB is supposed to take everything. I don't know if we're even going to show up for the game against them."

Plaisance, a well-known verbal jouster, guesses that his team doesn't get as much recognition because it lacks a big-name player.

"We're the no-name team," he said. "We preach that every kid out here has a role--that they are a part of a body--and that for the body to move smoothly, all the body parts must work well."

The rivalry between Village Christian and L.A. Baptist is time honored. The winner of their annual game, known as the "Bible Bowl," has won the past five league titles.

L.A. Baptist returns 16 starters from its 1996 league championship team, including All-Division XI quarterback Peter Dirksen and receiver Tim Feirfeil, who led the division with 52 receptions.

Coach Mark Bates, however, isn't convinced the Knights, who lost in the first round of the Southern Section playoffs last season, should be favored to win the league title.

"We haven't won anything yet," Bates said. "We feel like we have a lot to prove in both league and nonleague [play]."

Plaisance agrees.

"Look at what happened to them in the playoffs," Plaisance said. "We played them early in the league schedule and we got stronger as the year went on. Everyone was talking about Dirksen all year, but after that playoff loss they weren't talking about him anymore. They were talking about Village for two more games, though."

Village Christian's strength last year was defense. The Crusaders allowed 13 points per game. Only twice did teams score 20 points against them, and the Crusaders scored 21 points in each of those games.

Seven defensive starters return, including junior linebacker Jason Wonser, an all-league selection as a sophomore, and all-league defensive lineman Doug Hamblin.

L.A. Baptist allowed 22 points a game and gave up more than 30 points three times, including its 42-41 playoff loss. Plaisance says that is L.A. Baptist's weakness.

"It's like the San Diego Chargers of the early 1980s," he said. "They can score 48 points, but they're going to give up 50. If you can't stop anybody, you aren't going to win many ballgames."

Bates realized L.A. Baptist's shortcomings on defense last season. Through conditioning and tackling drills, he hopes to see a turnaround.

"We've been working hard to try and improve defensively," Bates said. "We felt that's where we had the most trouble. Poor tackling was a big problem. That and we weren't strong physically."

The Knights are more experienced on defense this year, which should help.

Phil Johnson, an all-league linebacker, and Jon Bondarczuk, an all-league defensive end, are the leaders. The much-improved secondary includes Raul Pacheco, a transfer from Thousand Oaks, and Mike Williams, who sat out last season because of a back injury.

L.A. Baptist passed for more than 200 yards a game last year and could be improved with the addition of speedy receivers Steve Long and Garrett Ellis, both promoted from the junior varsity team. Ellis and Long were among the top four finishers in the frosh-soph 100-meter league finals.

But the Knights must replace running back Chris Ross, who had successive 1,000-yard rushing seasons, and slot back Ron Atkins, the team's best athlete last year.

Former junior varsity running backs Derek Watson and Derek Suguitan will be called upon to fill that void.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

AT A GLANCE

* THE PROVEN: L.A. Baptist quarterback Peter Dirksen, an All-Division XI selection, threw for 2,081 yards and 17 touchdowns last year. All-League running back David Romberger of Village Christian rushed for 1,122 yards. L.A. Baptist wide receiver Tim Feirfeil led the league with 52 catches and 871 receiving yards. Village Christian kicker Matt Ryburn had two game-winning field goals longer than 40 yards.

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