If a person were to chart the records of the Valley Pac-8 Conference football teams over the past five seasons, the peaks and valleys would mirror a volatile stock market.
Take the recent five-year history of Poly High, the defending 3-A City Section champion.
The Parrots, who went winless in 20 league games from 1987 through 1989, rose from oblivion to win their first City championship in 1990.
Similar patterns exist throughout the conference, which includes the Valley East (4-A) and Mid-Valley (3-A) leagues.
Monroe had near-equal success in 1988. The Vikings managed just one victory in the 1986-87 seasons, but went undefeated in the Mid-Valley League the following season. A year later, Monroe won just one game.
The same trends apply to Grant and Van Nuys. Grant went 2-5 in the Valley East League two years ago and rebounded to 6-1 in 1989 for a league title. A year later, the Lancers won just one game.
After three successive years as a last-place finisher in the Mid-Valley, Van Nuys climbed out of the cellar in 1989 for a 5-2 record and a league championship. A year later, the Wolves won two games.
With this trend in mind, Poly Coach Fred Cuccia would rather concentrate on the future than rest on past laurels.
“We can’t turn the corner unless we work hard and don’t live on last year’s record,” said Cuccia, a third-year coach. “We won’t allow it. We don’t even mention last year’s team. If the kids do (mention it), they’ll be beat out by some other kids.”
Poly finished second in league play to Sylmar last season with a 5-2 record. If Poly can put together five or more league victories this season, the Parrots will have dodged the curse that has afflicted so many teams.
“This year is going to be a key year for us to see what kind of program we are going to develop into . . . whether we were just a Cinderella team (last year), or whatever,” Cuccia said.
Birmingham, which was the Mid-Valley League champion last season while losing only to Sylmar, will try to avoid a fall from the top. The Braves won no more than three league games a year from 1986-89, but went 6-1 in 1990.
North Hollywood has won three or four games each year from 1986-90. Sylmar appears to be another team in the conference that the recent up-and-down trend hasn’t affected. In 1987, Coach Jeff Engilman’s first season, the Spartans finished 3-4 in league and have climbed each year since. Sylmar had five victories the following year and five more in 1989. The Spartans won the league title in 1988 and again last year, going undefeated in seven league outings.
Engilman’s consistency at Sylmar is what other teams and coaches hope to achieve.
“Sylmar and Engilman have done a great job,” Cuccia said. “They have great athletes over there. We’re just hoping to become that type of school where the kids see it as a good football school and come over.”
There are several explanations and opinions why victories are so varied in the conference from year to year. Some say it’s the coaching changes that can make all the difference, and others might say that talent comes in waves.
Engilman subscribes to both theories but gives only one explanation for Poly’s success in 1990.
“It’s Cuccia,” said Engilman of Poly’s recent turnaround. “He has done a phenomenal job at Poly. Kids play for the coaches. They play for themselves first, and then for their coaches.”
Engilman also believes that the tide turns when new schools pop up and players end up in other school-attendance areas.
“The East Valley is an old school district,” Engilman said.
“Monroe used to be a powerhouse, but now that Kennedy came in (in 1971), they take a lot of those kids away.”
Injuries have also been known to plague teams with playoff potential. But, it seems a sure bet that Sylmar and Poly will once again battle it out for the Valley East League title this season because of the amount of experienced players each returns.
Both Engilman and Cuccia take pride in having built a program with local players.
Neither Sylmar nor Poly has busing or magnet programs to draw talent.
Cuccia views that as a negative.
“We lose a lot of kids to different schools because others can promise things like scholarships and so on, and playing on a winning program,” he said. “We’re just a poor football school.”
Don’t feel too sorry for Cuccia.
He would love it if no one even knew of Poly. He would rather fit in with the rest than stand out as the best in the minds of his competition.
He likes to sneak up on teams, which is what he did last season. He would rather direct the attention to Sylmar.
“The team to beat is Engilman’s,” said Cuccia with a laugh. “We’re not a very good football team.”
And if you believe that, Cuccia & Co. just might sneak away with another City championship.
VALLEY PAC-8 CONFERENCE VALLEY EAST LEAGUE (4-A)
FINAL 1990 STANDINGS PROJECTED FINISH Sylmar 10-1, 7-0 Sylmar Poly 11-3, 5-2 Poly North Hollywood 5-4, 4-3 Birmingham* Grant 3-7, 1-6 North Hollywood
*--competed in Mid-Valley League last season
MID-VALLEY LEAGUE (3-A)
FINAL 1990 STANDINGS PROJECTED FINISH Birmingham 8-3, 6-1 Van Nuys Van Nuys 2-7, 2-5 Monroe Monroe 2-6-1, 2-5 Grant* Canoga Park 1-8, 1-6 Canoga Park
*--competed in Valley East League last season
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Player School Pos. Ht Wt Class Sean Bell Monroe RB 5-10 175 Sr. Harold Boudreaux Van Nuys RB 6-0 190 Sr. Toby Brookins Sylmar RB 6-0 185 Sr. Francisco Flores Poly T 6-5 270 Sr. Lance Garcia Poly QB 5-9 165 Sr. Vince Lampkin Birmingham QB 5-10 180 Sr. Jermaine Pledger Poly RB 5-9 170 Sr. Brian Roberson Sylmar WR/DB 5-10 165 Sr. Manny Vasquez Sylmar G/NG 6-2 265 Sr. Allan Wing North Hollywood LB 6-0 220 Sr.