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High Schools | FALL PREVIEW: LARGE SCHOOLS FOOTBALL

Serra League Adds Pair to Power Cast

September 11, 2002|BEN BOLCH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The high school football equivalent of "Survivor" will debut Oct. 18, featuring several new twists.

The cast members are already intimately acquainted and are willing to knock each other off week after week in pursuit of the prize: a Serra League title.

You'll have to excuse Los Angeles Loyola, Santa Margarita, Santa Ana Mater Dei, La Puente Bishop Amat, Anaheim Servite and Bellflower St. John Bosco if they skip the initial pleasantries in favor of pummeling one another from the opening kickoff of league play. It's what they do.

"It's really going to be a rock-'em, sock-'em league," Loyola Coach Steve Grady said. "From top to bottom, all the teams are good."

The six-team Serra League, which includes four holdovers plus new members Loyola and Bishop Amat from the Del Rey League, could produce a champion worthy of pushing Long Beach Poly in the race for the Southern Section Division I title. Three Serra teams are in The Times' preseason rankings: No. 3 Loyola, No. 7 Mater Dei and No. 9 Santa Margarita.

Bishop Amat and Servite, though unranked, are traditional powers, and St. John Bosco is considered an up-and-coming program, though it lost its opener on Friday, 33-7, to Miami Monsignor Pace.

A couple of things could happen to members of the new and improved Serra League, which supplants the Sunset as the toughest league in Division I. Either the winner of the league title will be so battle-tested it will zip through the playoffs, or it will be so worn down from injuries and the emotional roller-coaster ride of league play that it will be susceptible to an early exit from postseason play.

Mater Dei got a taste last season of things to come when it played Bishop Amat in a nonleague game. Monarch quarterback Jason Forcier broke an ankle and was lost for the season, running back Nathan Coash hurt his shoulder and receiver Julian Petit suffered a bruised spleen that required hospitalization. Several Bishop Amat players also were injured.

Los Alamitos Coach John Barnes, whose Griffins play in the Sunset League, knows what it's like to face a tough league opponent every week. Five Sunset teams have battled each other for league supremacy for years. Only Huntington Beach has not been competitive recently.

"I suppose whoever wins [the Serra League], if they're healthy, will be in good shape," Barnes said. "I would think playing in that league would help them."

Loyola, Santa Margarita and Mater Dei are expected to vie for the league title. Loyola's Grady said he favors Santa Margarita, which has won the last two Serra titles but hasn't progressed past the quarterfinals of the playoffs in its three seasons in Division I.

Santa Margarita, which lost to Los Alamitos in the quarterfinals last season, should be formidable if senior running back Ashton White is able to return to top form; otherwise it may fall into the Serra's second division.

White, the reigning league most valuable player, suffered an off-season knee injury but returned to full-contact drills Monday and is expected to start in the Eagles' opener Thursday against Orange El Modena.

Known more for its defense, Loyola may go on the offensive this year behind senior quarterback Adam Gonzalez and senior running back Bo Renaud. Gonzalez threw for 1,444 yards and 11 touchdowns and rushed for 364 yards and five touchdowns last season. Renaud rushed for 1,092 yards and 14 touchdowns.

The Cubs return only three starters on defense, none along the line. The most noticeable absentee will be speedster Quintin Daniels, a standout at defensive back and receiver who averaged nearly 20 yards every time he touched the ball. Daniels has been out since April with a hamstring injury, and Grady said he has no timetable for the senior's return.

Mater Dei will use a two-quarterback system for the first time since 1999, but neither player is likely to be as talented as Matt Grootegoed or Matt Leinart, who have moved on to USC. Neither Jessie Mier, a senior who will start, nor Forcier, a sophomore whose broken ankle caused him to miss much of last season, has much game experience.

Monarch Coach Bruce Rollinson hopes senior running back Rafael Rice, who did not have the big season many expected last year after transferring from Loyola, can carry the offensive load. Rollinson attributed much of Rice's ineffectiveness to a hairline fracture he suffered in his right foot midway through the season but said he is heading into this season at full strength.

*

Newhall Hart Coach Mike Herrington said he isn't convinced that the Indians' string of four consecutive section titles is in jeopardy simply because they have moved from Division III to Division II.

Herrington said he thinks Divisions II, III and IV are "all about equal among the top teams."

"In Division II, there might be a few second-and third-place teams [from leagues] that are a little more high quality," he said.

Herrington did acknowledge that Hart needs to worry about winning the Foothill League title before focusing on another section title. The Indians have a new quarterback in Sean Norton and are inexperienced at several other key positions.

Many Foothill League coaches have picked Valencia, which features standout running back Charles Burnley, to end Hart's 53-game league winning streak when the teams play Nov. 14 at College of the Canyons. Hart is 8-0 all-time against Valencia.

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