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Mater Dei Is No. 1 in County, at Least for Now

Rankings: Monarchs begin season in familiar spot, but a brutal September schedule could change that.


Mater Dei is No. 1 again, but skeptics should wait before rolling their eyes.

The Monarchs must prove themselves in a punishing first month that includes nonleague games against Concord De La Salle, which is riding a national-record 100-game winning streak, and No. 2 Edison. Mater Dei could easily head into October 2-2.

But if the Monarchs escape September undefeated, no one will be able to question their seemingly never-ending stranglehold on the top spot in Orange County.

Mater Dei, which last season won a share of the Southern Section Division I title for its second consecutive championship, is The Times' Orange County edition's No. 1 pick for several reasons. The first is the return of Matt Leinart, the USC-bound quarterback who possesses pinpoint accuracy. The second is the amazing depth that has become a trademark of Mater Dei teams. Another is the expected emergence of tailback Darius Williams, who should join the school's long list of greats.

Second-ranked Edison has another super quarterback-tailback combination in Richard Schwartz and Daryl Poston. Last season, the duo combined to give the Chargers the top scoring offense in Division I and could easily repeat that feat in 2000. Edison will get its chance to move into the No. 1 spot when it faces Mater Dei on Sept. 29 at Orange Coast College.

"We need to play a top-notch program like that to get ready for league," Edison Coach Dave White said. "They've been the most consistent team of the last 10 years, so they're definitely the favorite. But we have a very good team too."

Los Alamitos may have lost the county's best kicker and punter in UCLA freshman Chris Kluwe, but Griffin Coach John Barnes has enough holdovers to keep his team near the top. Third-ranked Los Alamitos has three returning first-team All-Sunset League players plus a trio of receivers who combined for 82 receptions last season.

Mission Viejo is No. 4 thanks to Billy The Kid, otherwise known as quarterback Billy Hart. Hart, also headed to USC on scholarship, finished last season with more than 1,700 passing yards, 13 touchdowns and only eight passes intercepted.

No. 5 Esperanza boasts one of the toughest running backs around in Temitope Sonuyi. What really makes him special is that he is poised to become the first valedictorian to play for Gary Meek in his 25 years as a high school football coach. Sixth-ranked San Clemente has tremendous depth and two standouts at non-glamour positions in Tim Burnette and Justin Tomerlin. SuperPrep Magazine rated Burnette as its eighth-best prospect at tight end and Tomerlin its sixth-best defensive lineman. Tomerlin has already committed to Florida State.

Hard-nosed running back Billy Chavez and opportunistic defensive back Rudy Acosta are two reasons Loara will start the season ranked seventh. Acosta, who shared the county lead with 11 interceptions in 1999, is the only returner from The Times' Orange County's first-team defense.

No. 8 Fountain Valley upset Servite, Los Alamitos and Edison as an unranked team last season, but the Barons are simply too good to sneak up on anyone in Coach Eric Johnson's second year. Bernard Fano and Mater Dei transfer Ed Fane should provide Fountain Valley with top-notch offensive and defensive lines.

Tustin doesn't have any big names but checks in at No. 9 because of Coach Myron Miller's ability to get the best out of what he has, and No. 10 Santa Margarita should be improved during its second season in Division I.




School League '99 Rec. 1. Mater Dei Serra 11-2-1 2. Edison Sunset 7-3 3. Los Alamitos Sunset 11-2 4. Mission Viejo South Coast 4-7 5. Esperanza Sunset 6-5 6. San Clemente South Coast 8-4 7. Loara Empire 10-3 8. Fountain Valley Sunset 6-5 9. Tustin Golden West 8-4 10 Santa Margarita Serra 6-5


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