Yes, there are some questionmarks for De La Salle to start the 2002 season, namely at the quarterback position where three-year starter Matt Gutierrez (now at Michigan) must be replaced. There also are some key linemen who are gone, most notably all-American Derek Landri (now at Notre Dame).
But based on past questionmarks at the school that have been easily overcome and on a feeling that this year's offense will be as lightning quick as ever it only makes sense to continue to rank the Spartans No. 1 in the country until they lose or until someone else comes up with a schedule that is much more challenging.
De La Salle had already been No. 1 in two minor internet national rankings. None of them match the scope, comprehensiveness or credibility of the Student Sports FAB 50.
Running back Maurice Drew, who scored four touchdowns in last year's historic win over Long Beach Poly that basically decided the mythical national title, is among this year's returnees and should continue to blossom. The power-packed 195-pounder barely scrapes by at 5-7 or 5-8, but he showed he's improved his speed with several 10.85 and 10.86 clockings in the 100 meters last spring. Drew will be joined in another potentially spectacular backfield by the likes of Jackie Bates and Terrance Kelly (who starred on an unbeaten JV team last season) plus vastly improved fullback Gino Ottoboni. Britt Cecil, who had one of the fastest 20-yard shuttle times at the Stanford Nike Camp, is the leading candidate to replace Gutierrez. He should be even better at running the option, but will need to be able to successfully pass 10-12 times per game so the ball can get into the hands of speedy wideouts such as DeMontae Fitzgerald and Cameron Colvin.
Up front, Erik Sandie, at 6-2 and 255, comes the closest to Landri, and another key returnee will be 6-1, 225-pound John Chan. It's a line, though, that will be smaller than the one last year with Landri and much smaller than the unit the school had in 2000.
The defense last year was strongest inside and may have featured perhaps the best defensive line the school has ever had. The strength of this year's defense should be in the secondary with all-state Damon Jenkins on one corner and top-notch junior Willie Glasper (already offered by Div. I colleges) on the other side.
De La Salle opens its season at home on Sept. 13 against Mitty of San Jose, which was 12-1 last year and returns two of its top players in running back Robert Perry and wideout Danny Dressman. Next comes the Sept. 21 game on a Saturday night at Aloha Stadium in Hawaii against island powerhouse St. Louis. The preseason schedule also includes St. Francis of Mountain View, La Costa Canyon of the CIF San Diego Section and once again Long Beach Poly. This year's matchup against Poly will be on Oct. 12 at the University of California's Memorial Stadium.
Speaking of Poly, the Jackrabbits will start the season at No. 8 in the Student Sports FAB 50. It's hard to think that the Jackrabbits will be as good as last year's 12-1 squad, what with players like RB Hershel Dennis, TE/DE Marcedes Lewis, DT Manuel Wright, DB Darnell Bing and OT Winston Justice all gone. But that could be the case. The offense may be a bit more wide open with Leon Jackson at quarterback, throwing to the likes of speedy wideouts like Derrick Jones, Alex Watson and Khalid Abdur Rahim. Plus, the overall size and strength of the offensive and defensive lines remains the best in California, with Kevin Brown, Junior Lemauu, Hercules Satele and Josh Tauanuu leading the way.
No other California teams cracked the top 25 of the FAB 50, but three that were ranked in the 26-50 range were No. 28 Los Alamitos, No. 30 Helix of La Mesa and No. 41 Loyola of Los Angeles.
At Los Al, head coach John Barnes has 12 returning starters plus three key transfers back from a 10-2-1 squad. Among the starters, QB Jeff Kline could be the key cog in the Griffins' trademark high-octane offense. Among the transfers, junior DB Randy Estes from Long Beach Poly will bolster the secondary.
All-American RB Reggie Bush had 2,198 yards and 34 TDs last year at Helix, but he isn't the only player defenses must worry about. WR Charles Smith, RB Derrell Hutsona, RB Rajive Otah and WR Ken Cornist can all break it big anytime they touch the ball for the Highlanders, too. The main problem for coach Gordon Wood is replacing graduated quarterback Alex Smith.
Loyola (7-3-1 last year) went in on the strength of having 14 returning starters, many of which led the Cubs in a 21-13 playoff loss last year to eventual CIFSS champ Long Beach Poly.
The next California teams that were considered for the Student Sports FAB 50 but didn't make the cut were Chino, Oceanside and Santa Margarita of Rancho Santa Margarita.
For more information on each of these teams and for the best coverage of national high school football anywhere, we recommend you check out our High School Football annual co-produced with The Sporting News at newsstands throughout the nation. The August/September issue of Student Sports Magazine plus continuous coverage on studentsports.com also is second to none.
Look for complete preseason state rankings on the calhisports.com web site no later than Friday, August 23.