2002 Mission Conference Predictions

You have to be nuts trying to predict the outcome of the conference races too early in the summer. We're into August now but still feel a little uneasy because nearly every coach we speak with is still trying to figure out which freshmen are coming…which bouncebacks will show up…and if everyone from last year's squad will be academically eligible. Nevertheless, we're ready to give our predictions for the oh-so-tough Mission Conference in southern California.

Hank's Take

Last year it was all Ps as in Pasadena and Palomar.  Thing of it is, that's the way it could turn out again.  The two teams, Palomar in the Central division and Pasadena in the North, do not play one another this year.  Could we wind up in another one of those "odd" votes to see who plays in the State finals?

Both teams are loaded.

Pasadena in the North

Tom Maher and his Pasadena Lancers are still smarting from what they perceived as an oversight by the bowl selection committee last year.  They led the world in offense, had a well-rounded attack, and put the stop to the other guys while whipping up a fancy 10-1 record.  The only mistake that bunch made last year was under-estimating El Camino, which resulted in a 30-23 loss. Grossmont bore the brunt losing to the Lancers 38-17 in the Southwest Bowl.

Returnees are prevalent in Maher's plans, headed by OLB/SS James Griffin, who is a solid Preseason All-American candidate; DE/DT Chuck Jones (6-4, 270); RB Cazmir Hill (5-6, 195), who will have to absorb the impact of the loss of record-setter Jonathan Smith (Wash. State signee); and OG Steve Wiggins (6-2, 295).

Fortunately for Maher, John Rattay, 6-3, 205, who transferred from Arizona, figures to jump right into Nate Chandler's (Iowa signee) shoes at QB.  Rattay's brother Tim is with the 49ers, which illustrates that ability and smarts runs in the family.  Rattay will have a couple of fine receivers to work with in Jeremy Hartsfield (5-11, 185) and Hannibal Thomas (6-3, 205), who caught 74 passes between them last year.  Joe Timchenko, a second-team All-Mission North selection last year, will handle placekicking.

Palomar in the Central

Palomar, now under the guidance of longtime assistant Joe Early, would be our choice to capture the Central Division.  A pair of QBs, John Nielsen (6-3, 205) and Roman Ybarra (6-2, 200; UCLA bounceback) will have their work cut out to emulate last year's performance by Andy Goodenough, now at Arizona State.  The Comets sent 23 players to DI and IAA schools, but still have the likes of DE Brian Nicholson (6-5, 280), OLB/SS Willie Tagaoi (6-3, 210), and RB Chris Williams (5-7, 170, 4.3).  In general, Palomar should be strong at linebacker and at the defensive end spots with most question marks being on the offensive side. No question the Comets would love to avenge their 61-12 disaster at the hands of CCSF in the state finals. (Our Complete Preview)

The Rest of the Mission

North Division

Returning running back Craig Richardson (6-0, 200), a first-team All-Conference performer in 2001, will lead the Long Beach offense. The defense is built around brothers linebacker Nate Tago (6-2, 230) and defensive end Ray Tago (6-3, 280). The Vikings are our darkhorse.  Larry Reisbig's club lost five games last year, but two of them were to Pasadena and Palomar. (Our Complete Preview)

Cerritos has a bunch of DI prospects, like TE Fausto Gonzales (6-3, 225); LB Justin Burks (6-2, 235); LB Marcus Miller (6-2, 230), and scatbacks Jermaine Whiten (5-9, 195) and Josh Herrera (6-0, 190). The tailbacks both run 4.4. The real challenge will be finding a replacement for the highly effective Mike Harrison at QB.

You can't ignore El Camino.  Yet it's a team that beat Palomar 35-31, then lost to Saddleback and Orange Coast in route to a 4-6 seasonThe Warriors will spring their share of upsets for sure and much depends on the arm of athletic QB Ron Venters.  NG Brent Pollock (6-1, 320) is one of the best JC defensive lineman in the country.

Bill Fisk's Mt. San Antonio Mounties had an off year (6-4) in 2001.  Don't look for it again.  Defensive backs and offensive linemen are exceptional. Leading the defensive charge will be Donte Nicholson (6-2, 200), who made first-team All-Conference last season. He's one of those guys who's being recruited by the world. The offensive line could be very solid too and is anchored by Johnny Urrutia (6-4, 305).

Central Division

Fullerton could turn out to be a sleeper. Standouts include huge OT Ivan Molina (6-6, 290); DT John Guydon (6-3, 290), DE Nick Garcia (6-4, 260), and linebacker Adam Lancisero. The defense will carry the load while the overall offense might be a question mark until a QB is established.

Santa Ana's chances depend on the trusty arm of QB Kelly Coburn (6-2, 215) along with co-captains DT Seilala Faamausili (6-3, 270) and WR Josh Short (6-0, 190).  The Dons are now under the capable guidance of Geoff Jones, who replaces Dave Ogas.

If Fullerton's not the darkhorse then Saddleback certainly is. Running back Darren Shorter (6-0, 195) is a very talented tailback running behind a solid line. The two big horses up front are Tyler Crandall (6-7, 295) and E.J. Ehanda (6-4, 295). Wide receiver Tony Holder (5-10, 175) was extremely productive in 2001 and should have another huge year as should TE Jon Lyon (6-6, 250). The big questions are at QB and DL.

Ted Mendenhall is a new but highly competent contributor to JCFootball.com. Here are his early thoughts on the Mission Conference.

The best part about the Mission Conference is that it is predictably unpredictable.  There are so many great rivalries that you never know when a seemingly lesser team will jump up and bite you.  Last year, for example, El Camino finished sub-.500 yet gave Palomar and Pasadena their only regular season blemishes.  So armed with nothing more than past history here are my thoughts on how the Mission will shape up in 2002.

North Division

The Northern Division is by far the tougher of the two divisions.  But right now I think that Pasadena is still the team to beat.  Yes, they lost QB Nathan Chandler and RB Jonathon Smith but it looks like Tom Maher has locked and reloaded.  QB John Rattay bounces back from the University of Arizona and will help Pasadena play for all of the marbles this year.

The teams listed in predicted order of finish...

El Camino will have something to say about this division.  QB Ron Venters established himself as the starter late in the year last year and did a tremendous job.  Head Coach John Featherstone had 17 of his players at the JC so cal combine in May and they looked strong.  Last year was a down year but this year there will be some payback.

Long Beach got off to a bad start last year but surged toward the end.  This is just a feeling but I think they will come back strong this year as well.  They are always strong in the skill positions and are tough to beat at home.

Mt. SAC is in a similar position to Long Beach.  In any other division they would do much better.  Actually, I think positions two through five in the standings are interchangeable.  I like Mt. SAC's defense every year but they will need a much more consistent offense to be a contender.

Cerritos is an excellent home team but they start with a brutal non-conference game at Bakersfield in ‘02.  The Renegades got by the Falcons at Cerritos last year and I don't think it will be different this year.  A slow start will come back to haunt the Falcons.

Riverside was one of the bigger disappointments a year ago.  They had their record setting RB Marcus Guzman back, a bigger offensive line, and a QB that could make plays.  Unfortunately, the Tigers were caught by the tail last year and this division will be tough for them to rebound in so soon. Especially under a new coaching regime. (Our Complete Preview)

Central Division

Palomar should defend their Central Divison title again this year but it will not be easy.  New Head Coach Joe Early takes over a team that lost it's entire offensive and defensive fronts, starting QB from the last two years Andy Goodenough, their leading receiver Deondre Alexander, CB David Dixon, and LB's Marco Chavez and Ray Holdcraft just to name a few.  But the entire coaching staff was retained and that continuity along with a wealth of local talent coming in should be enough for Palomar to win the Central.

Other teams listed in predicted order of finish...

Fullerton is a well-coached team and they have quietly made some strides over the last couple of seasons.  Gene Murphy will have his guys motivated and ready for the Conference opener at Palomar on October 26th.

Saddleback made a good run at the division last year and they are very good at adjusting their game plans to benefit their personnel.  The Gauchos are not a team that any contender will want to play down the stretch.

Orange Coast was an even bigger disappointment last season than Riverside.  With Nick Higgs as the QB in '00 they tied Palomar for the division crown by beating them at OCC on a rain-soaked field.  Despite bringing back many of those players in '01 the Pirates played a very uninspiring brand of football and were never a factor.  Some new blood should help this team rebound for 2002.

Santa Ana could not win last year under head coach Dave Ogas despite having some excellent defensive players led by LB Chad Kalilimoku and an offense that featured the talented Brandon Fischer at RB.  Unfortunately, Kalilimoku and his defensive teammates were on the field far too long as the offense had few alternatives beyond Fischer.  Ogas is taking a break from coaching this year after struggling to get through to his players a year ago.

Mike Shaughnessy steps down at Golden West and Ron Shackleford returns as the new/old head coach for the Rustlers.  I give this team and its coaches a lot of credit.  Every year they figure to finish in the cellar yet the players never quit on the field.  From the opening kick-off to the final whistle you will see every player working hard.  That is what this game is all about and a lot more talented players could stand to learn from it.

Kevin's Prediction


Long Beach
El Camino
Mt. San Antonio


Santa Ana
Orange Coast
Golden West

Remember, these are mid-August predictions.  Rosters are still changing as bouncebacks and transfers start arriving, but for now it looks like Pasadena and Palomar to win their respective divisions with a number of darkhorses making it interesting.

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