No. 1 or No. 2: Does it Matter?

Even though Long Beach Poly may be better, De La Salle swings into action in familiar No. 1 state ranking spot.

All summer long the pendulum swung back and forth. Would it be De La Salle of Concord or Long Beach Poly on top of the state and national preseason football rankings?

The Jackrabbits made it a legitimate question by going 14-0 last season with a junior-dominated lineup and winning their third straight CIF Southern Section Div. I title. De La Salle was losing 13 starters, but returns Matt Gutierrez, one of the top quarterbacks in the nation. After watching many Poly players light it up at the Nike camp last April in San Diego, we were poised to go with the Jackrabbits for the top spot. A month later, though, Poly head coach Jerry Jaso officially resigned, meaning that first-year coach Raul Lara would have to go up against the great Bob Ladouceur when the two teams play on Oct. 6 at Veterans Stadium.

Then when it was time for a decision to made, as the Student Sports FAB 50 was ready to be posted on the Student Sports.com site in July, the thought process went something like this: We've been saying since 1996 that De La Salle deserves to be No. 1 in the state until it loses, so let's just keep it that way, especially since the Spartans are playing both Mater Dei and Long Beach Poly this season. The two California schools were thus picked No. 1 and No. 2 for the Student Sports package (which we've now done for five years) and are now logically No. 1 and No. 2 for the CalHiSports.com state rankings. USA Today must have agreed with most of our reasoning as that publication's preseason national ranking (which came out one month after Student Sports) also went with the two California schools in the top spot, although it has Poly No. 1 and De La Salle No. 2.

De La Salle's phenomenal accomplishments over the past 10 years certainly complicates the rankings process. In both the CalHiSports and Student Sports systems, the titles that teams win year after year tend to build upon themselves. De La Salle's current 113-game winning streak and nine straight CIF North Coast Section titles now seem like Mt. Everest. No other 11-man team in national history has come close to a 113-game win streak and in all of those 113 games the Spartans have scored at least four touchdowns in 112 of them.

This year's De La Salle team figures to be fine on offense. In Gutierrez, Ladouceur will be counting on a terrific field general who passed for 1,694 yards and 23 TDs last season with just four interceptions. The running game will not possess an any-time-he-touches-it breakaway threat, but the team1s second, third and fourth-leading ball carriers are back, led by Nate Kenion, who scored 19 TDs as a junior. The offensive line, with All-American Derek Landri leading the way, also should be strong. The major concern on offense will be the wide receivers as JV grads De1monte Fitzgerald and Cameron Colvin are being counted on to pick up the pace for the departed Demetrious Williams and Jonathon Tucker. On defense, Landri is the best up front and the secondary could be deep and talented. It's in the linebacker positions, since All-American Kevin Simon is gone, where defensive coordinator and athletic director Terry Eidson may have his work cut out for him. Brendan Ottoboni is the one who will have to fill the void the most.

Poly's talent, on the other hand, is second to none, perhaps in the entire United States. You can easily state that Poly will have one of the nation's top running backs (Hershel Dennis), one of the nation's top tight ends (Marcedes Lewis), one of the nation's top offensive lineman (Winston Justice), perhaps the nation's top defensive lineman (Manuel Wright) and one of the nation's top safeties (Darnell Bing). Seven other returning starters are back, including running back Rory Carrington and tackle Maurice Murray, plus junior transfer Kevin Brown, a 275-pounder from nearby Serra of Gardena. With their legendary speed in the backfield and at wideout, these Rabbits will operate behind a line that at times will average 280 pounds per player. The key may be quarterback Brandon Brooks. The 5-11, 190-pounder was a backup to Markee White last season and has a strong arm to go with excellent overall athleticism. If Brooks comes through, Poly may be too fast, too big and too talented for even De La Salle to handle.

The challenge for coaches at both De La Salle and Long Beach Poly is to avoid looking ahead to October 6. For De La Salle, that will be made easier by the fact that the players know that two of their first three opponents - Buchanan of Clovis and Mater Dei - nearly ended the streak last season. Poly has an easier time, but plays defending L.A. City Section champ Banning in its second game.


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