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Quarterbacks on Carousel

Taft is favorite with return of All-City performer Alvarado.

September 08, 1998|MICHAEL LAZARUS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Nothing can be taken for granted in the Northwest Valley Conference this football season. Just take a look under center, where uncertainty surrounds the most important position.

Other than Steve Alvarado at Taft High and Chatsworth's Matt Cassel, every school has a new quarterback. Even the two with experience enter the season with several questions.

"The teams that are going to do well are the ones who won't ask their quarterbacks to do more than they are capable of," Birmingham Coach Dave Lertzman said.

Alvarado-- an All-City selection last season--is being pushed by junior Brandon Hance, a transfer from Notre Dame. Taft Coach Troy Starr said the duo will share the position the first three weeks before a full-time starter is chosen.

Alvarado and Hance are enough to make Taft a decided favorite to win its third consecutive conference title and fifth in six years.

The Toreadors have a wealth of skill-position players, and if the defense steps up, Taft could be a City Section 4-A finalist for the third straight year.

The only question is whether Alvarado, who threw for 2,191 yards and 19 touchdowns, or Hance will lead the Toreadors there.

Cassel--an All-City infielder with the Chancellors--is an unknown quantity. Last year, the 6-foot-4 junior spent the summer playing baseball with the state champion Valley North American Legion team. He missed the beginning of practice and was thrown into the job when starter Ryan Martinez was injured.

Cassel completed 68 of 140 passes for 935 yards and 10 touchdowns sharing time with Martinez, and now has a summer of passing league experience.

"This summer was a lot more relaxed for me," Cassel said. "I gained a lot of experience last year but now I know what I'm doing."

First-year Coach Bill Coan is banking heavily on Cassel to keep Chatsworth in the playoff hunt.

"If he hadn't been around, we would have just scrapped the passing league," Coan said. "He's that important."

Every other school will be breaking in a quarterback, some with more experience than others.

San Fernando senior Larry Brown (6-3, 200) started nine games for Cleveland last year, throwing for 1,375 yards and eight touchdowns. The left-hander brings size as well as the running ability recent Tiger quarterbacks Leon Blunt, Keijuan Douglas and Sean Atkins provided.

"He's the biggest guy we've had [at quarterback] and it shows," San Fernando Coach Sean Blunt said.

The Tigers were the surprise of the passing league season and Brown has a reliable target in senior Terrell Stanley, who caught 45 passes last year.

To replace Brown, Cleveland will look to junior Eddie Whitaker, a 6-3 transfer from Granada Hills. Similar in stature to Brown, Whitaker will be throwing to senior Tony Cicero and several newcomers from the track team.

Whitaker had been battling Chatsworth transfer Jason Winn for the Granada Hills starting job. Winn, a junior, should benefit from the return of coaches Tom Harp and Darryl Stroh after a three and four-year absence.

Under the direction of Harp, the Highlanders were one of the more exciting teams in the conference. But Granada Hills is 3-27 in three years.

Kennedy, the only school besides Taft to advance to the 4-A playoffs each of the last four years, will turn to junior Ruben Zaragoza, the backup to Ray Rodriguez last year.

Zaragoza (5-9, 145) didn't get on the field much --completing his only pass for 16 yards. Zaragoza will face more pressure because tailback Jason Jones, who gained 946 yards and scored 12 touchdowns as a junior, will likely miss the season opener against Poly on Friday.

Jones wasn't able to take a physical until late last week and missed fall practice.

El Camino Real and Birmingham will replace multiyear starters with freshman-sophomore quarterbacks. Jonathan Graham, who led the Conquistadores' freshman-sophomore team to a 10-0 season last year, steps in for Aaron Fredette. Max Parra, a two-year freshman-sophomore starter, replaces three-year starter Scott Doherty.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

AT A GLANCE

* THE PROVEN: Taft RB Marquis Brignac is a three-year starter and the top returning rusher in the conference, gaining 1,380 yards and scoring 11 touchdowns last year. Senior WRs Ronald Andrews, Lawrence Wallace and K.C. Bounds combined to catch 80 passes and 13 touchdowns for the Toreadors. Andrews is also one of the best defensive backs in the conference. . . . San Fernando senior WR Terrell Stanley caught 45 passes for 756 yards and scored five touchdowns. He will be featured even more prominently this season as the Tigers plan to throw more. OG Steve Nevarez (6-4, 275) was an all-conference selection as a sophomore for San Fernando. . . . Kennedy WR Matt Garnas (6-3, 190) caught a conference-high 56 passes as a junior and started as a sophomore. . . . Birmingham returns all-conference senior LBs Howard Jones (5-9, 170) and Martin Arce (6-2, 200).

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