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Rooney: Step Up Is Not a Downer

Notre Dame coach believes team can compete with Catholic powers despite loss of Fargas.


Kevin Rooney, Notre Dame High football coach, would rather see his team compete in a parochial league that included Valley schools, but he isn't about to grumble.

With the opener five days away, it's time for the Knights to snap on their chin straps and prepare for a battle they haven't seen in years.

Realignment of parochial leagues by the Catholic Athletic Assn. moved Notre Dame out of the Division III Mission League and into the Division I Del Rey League to compete against Loyola, Bishop Amat and St. John Bosco.

That's quite a jump for a small school that last competed in Division I in the 1980s, with little success.

Still, Rooney, ready to embark on his 19th season, said the Knights are up for the challenge.

"We're pretty excited about it," Rooney said. "We look at it as a steppingstone rather than a stumbling block."

This steppingstone might as well be the Rock of Gibraltar because Notre Dame will compete against schools with stronger football reputations and larger student enrollments. But Rooney knows what the Knights are up against.

"We are by far the smallest school in Division I ," he said. "It's like playing with half as many scholarships in college."

While Notre Dame made a name for itself in Division III by winning a section title in 1994 and reaching the final the last two seasons, its ascent to Division I might have come a year or two too late.

With Justin Fargas, now at Michigan, rushing for nearly 5,800 yards and 69 touchdowns in the last two seasons, Notre Dame was 23-5 and among the region's most dominant teams.

"[Notre Dame] would have had a better opportunity [to compete in Division I] with Fargas the last two years," said Kiki Mendoza, St. John Bosco's coach.

Rooney disagrees.

"I think this team is as good as the teams we've had in the past," he said. "We've got some good players. We don't have a Justin Fargas, but we've got some guys who can play."

But without a dominating player like Fargas, Notre Dame will be vulnerable, especially against Bishop Amat, which is ranked third in the state by Cal-Hi Sports, and Loyola, which is ranked ninth.

With only the top two Del Rey teams guaranteed playoff berths, the likely scenario has Notre Dame and St. John Bosco fighting it out for third and a possible at-large berth.

It is a battle Notre Dame hasn't had to fight in more than a decade.

"If you lose one [league game], you might be out of it, and you're playing against the best teams in CIF," Rooney said.

Although the Knights return eight starters, only wide receiver Todd Fenton is a potential game-breaker.

But Rooney remains optimistic.

"I think when you have a solid program, you have guys waiting in the wings to step up and do the job," he said.

Among the players expected to fill voids are running backs Chris Leon and Darin Barton, and quarterbacks Seth Oseransky and Jonathan Brewster.

While it might take a few games for the offense to find its way, the Knights' defense should be solid with returning linemen Travis Johnson and Noah Reeder and three quick linebackers.



* THE PROVEN: Senior WR-DB Todd Fenton (6-1, 170) and junior OL-DL Travis Johnson (6-4, 270), who was on the sophomore all-state team, head a list of eight returning starters for Notre Dame. Fenton, an All-Southern Section selection, scored on nine of his 27 receptions last season. . . . Bishop Amat features two of the top-ranked college prospects in the West, DB Dennis Wyrick (6-1, 205) and RB Michael Wagner (5-7, 185). Wyrick also is a nationally recruited shortstop. Wagner, who missed five games with a broken hip last season, rushed for 1,333 yards and 22 TDs in seven games. . . . All-league QB Chris Peterson (6-0, 193) of Loyola passed for more than 1,200 yards last season and has 4.5 speed in the 40-yard dash. He'll get protection from OT Scott Tercero (6-5, 263), a nationally heralded recruit and hailed as one of the top linemen at Loyola in 20 years. The Cubs' defense will be anchored by LB Andrew Altman (6-2, 216), another Division I college prospect. . . . Jamaul Montgomery (6-1, 180) of St. John Bosco is moving from wide receiver to running back and will be spelled by Joseph Lucero (6-1, 175). Kevin Reade (6-2, 230) and Joe Gutierrez (6-3, 215) anchor the Braves' defense as inside linebackers.

* THE PROMISING: Notre Dame is replacing an explosive Justin Fargas-based offense with backfield-by-committee--senior Chris Leon (5-10, 175) and junior Darin Barton (5-9, 150) will platoon at running back and senior Seth Oseransky (5-11, 170) and junior Jonathan Brewster (6-0, 170) will split time at quarterback. . . . Loyola figures to get a boost from RB Justin Wesson (5-8, 176), RB-DE Syga Thomas (5-11, 205), WR-DB Rodney Diggs (6-4, 191) and WR-DB Michael Schnieders (6-0, 170), who all played on a sophomore team that was 8-1.

* FAST FACT: Notre Dame moves in from the Mission League and jumps from Division III to Division I.

* 1997 STANDINGS: 1. Loyola 12-1 overall, 5-0 league; 2. Bishop Amat 11-2, 4-1; 3. St. John Bosco, 4-7, 3-2; Notre Dame, 11-3, 4-1 in Mission League.

Notre Dame schedule

Games start at 7:30 p.m. unless noted. Dates and sites subject to change. *League games.

Sept. 11--Sylmar

Sept. 18--at Burroughs

Sept. 25--Saugus at Canyons, 7

Oct. 2--at Alemany

Oct. 9--Pasadena

Oct. 16--Harvard-Westlake

Oct. 23--at Crespi

Oct. 30--*Bishop Amat

Nov. 6--*Loyola

Nov. 13--*St. John Bosco

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