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VALLEY / VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS | GOLDEN PREVIEW

Lancaster Has Size for Big Turnaround

Eagles, with first senior class, still have much to prove in quest to go from worst to first.

September 04, 1998|DAVE DESMOND | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Lancaster High begins the football season with its first senior class and more beef than the state of Texas.

It's a combination that has caught the attention of rival coaches in the rugged Golden League.

"They have some guys who can really tilt the field," Antelope Valley Coach Brent Newcomb said of the league's biggest team.

But it remains to be seen whether Lancaster can tilt the balance of power in the league.

"We still have a lot to prove," said Lancaster Coach Ray DeShane, whose team was 3-6-1 overall and 0-4-1 in league play last year while fielding a lineup void of seniors. "Going from worst to first in the Golden League isn't exactly easy."

Not when the league includes Antelope Valley, which has advanced at least to the Southern Section semifinals in each of the last five seasons.

Newcomb's Antelopes have more speed than anyone in the region and are favored to win the league title, but they would be wise not to overlook Littlerock and Lancaster, beginning its second season of varsity competition.

Lancaster senior Nick Koufos (6 feet 2, 280 pounds) was the top lineman during a recent scouting combine, and is among the region's elite.

Rene Rubira (6-2, 261) and Denis Sabalvarro (6-0, 280) also will pose sizable problems for opponents.

"If we had to run a track meet, we'd probably lose,' DeShane said. "But we'd probably win the field events."

The large line should open holes for one of the league's smallest running backs, Danny Pagnella (5-7 1/2, 165). Pagnella rushed for 1,044 yards and eight touchdowns as a junior, more than any returning player in the league.

Jason Jacobs, Lancaster's fastest player, will start at quarterback.

Few teams in the Southern Section will be able to match the overall speed of Antelope Valley.

The Antelopes have a trio of backs who would likely be the featured backs at any other school.

Senior Bruce Molock rushed for 525 yards during an injury-plagued junior season, but rushed for more than 100 yards in each of the Antelopes' three playoff games.

Juniors Jermaine Norman, who rushed for 246 yards last year, and Jermaine Marshall, who ran for 1,405 yards last season at Kilpatrick, also are breakaway threats.

Add senior defensive backs Chasio Gaines and Ronnell Tyars, and Antelope Valley appears ready for a world-class relay competition.

The Antelopes' only question marks are at quarterback, where junior Michael Place will replace Justin Mobley, now at New Mexico, and an inexperienced offensive line.

Littlerock is the only team in the league that can challenge Antelope Valley's speed. The Lobos have eight starters returning on a defense that allowed 233 yards a game in 1997.

"The lead to our team is provided by our linebackers and our defense," Coach Jim Bauer said.

Linebackers Adam Fabela and Mike Arvizo each set school records for tackles last season. Senior safety Billie Lawrence and junior linebacker/defensive back Keon Montgomery will also play major roles.

Offensively, Littlerock might have the league's most exciting newcomer in Marcus Raines.

The sophomore tailback is the defending league champion in the 300-meter hurdles and gained more than 1,000 yards on the freshman football team.

He will share time in the backfield with juniors Rodney Woods and Keith Williams, all-league selections last year.

Two-time defending league champion Palmdale lost 10 defensive starters to graduation, as well as its entire starting backfield, but the Falcons are looking to senior Johnathan Thompson.

In an effort to showcase its quick, elusive quarterback, Palmdale has scrapped its I-formation in favor of the veer.

Thompson will have fullback Anthony Diggs and halfback Marquis Murray, both seniors, as options on the pitch, and senior receiver Shane Johnson as a primary passing target.

Senior linebacker Mark Hendricks, the only returner on defense, could be one of the region's most dominant defenders.

Highland also is making a drastic offensive change.

The Bulldogs, the league's top passing team the last two years, will put much of the load on senior running back Brandon McElvaine.

McElvaine rushed for 822 yards as a sophomore, when Highland shared the league title with Palmdale and Antelope Valley, but was hampered by an ankle injury last year and rushed for only 392 yards.

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AT A GLANCE

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