Magic Mountain Is Heart of Hart : Huge Line Blots Out Sun but Can It Block Out Antelope Valley?

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Question: What do restaurant owners and defensive linemen have in common?

Answer: An aversion to Hart's Hogs--the five beefy Indians who play offensive line.

"The all-you-can-eat places don't like us too much," says Sant Sikand, the 300-pound right tackle. "They cry when they see us coming, and say, 'Go home!' "

Sometimes, so do their opponents.

"Some of them just think they have no chance," Sikand says.

That figures. The Indians outweigh many of the players they face by 60 pounds a man.

On average, the quintet--Sikand, Ryan Schienle, Paul Walters, Mike Espy and Mike Wambolt--stand 6-foot-4, 266 pounds. The Great Wall of Newhall.

Hart's line coach Dan Houghton tells those numbers to his coaching friends. "They say, 'Your line averages what!? ' "

Believe it. And though attention at Hart (a.k.a. Quarterback High) is usually reserved for its great skill position players, much of this season's spotlight falls on--well, is blocked out by--the Indians' offensive line.

They are a smorgasbord's worst nightmare, but a running back's best friend.

"I love it," says Hart's running back Ted Iacenda. "There's nothing more you could ask for."

Iacenda has consistently run through gaping holes and scored an area record 40 touchdowns this season. The line also has protected quarterback Steve McKeon well enough for him to pass for 2,593 yards and 29 touchdowns.

Tonight, the offense will face perhaps its toughest challenge, staring down the lightning-fast Antelope Valley defense in the Southern Section Division II championship game.

"We're big but they have the speed," Walters says.

The Antelopes also have some fair-sized line talent of their own, namely defensive linemen Chad Shrout (230 pounds) and Caleb Smith (225). But size-wise, no one can match up with Hart.

A look at the quintet, from tackle to tackle:

* No. 78, Sikand, right tackle, 6-7, 300, senior. This man-child with the bushy orange-and-black goatee and the ready laugh is the biggest of the five.

During one game, Houghton, who at 6-2, 240 pounds is accustomed to towering over his players, tried to talk authoritatively to Sikand.

But it's hard to be stern while looking up-- way up-- at someone, so Houghton finally climbed on the team bench and continued the lecture.

Sikand has played almost the entire season with strained ligaments and a cyst in his right knee. He will undergo surgery after the season.

Despite the problem, coaches say he is playing better than ever. He is being recruited by Washington, UCLA, Colorado, Oregon and has already been offered a scholarship by Syracuse.

Such success is a far cry from his freshman year, when, at 6-4 and 220 pounds, he mostly stood on the sidelines because he wasn't yet good enough to play.

"He's come a long way," Coach Mike Herrington says.

* No. 71, Walters, right guard, 6-5, 280, senior. He was going to be a groomsman in his sister Adrianne's wedding, but the ceremony will take place in Valencia during tonight's game. So Walters will miss the nuptials and be one of the best men in the trenches.

"It's a big day for both of them," says their mother, Ingrid.

His parents will attend the wedding, but they haven't forgotten their son. His father, Paul Sr., plans to leave the reception early and come watch the end of Paul's game still decked out in his tuxedo.

Paul Jr. hopes to go out in style, also. This is the first time in his three-year varsity career that he will be playing at the end of the season.

He missed his entire sophomore season because of a broken leg, missed the final four games last year because of torn ligaments in his right knee and missed the first four games of this season because of torn cartilage in the same knee.

Ian Resler filled in while Walters was injured this season and played well, though at 5-11, 190, Resler would need to swallow a Great Dane to be one of these guys.

Walters has played well since his return and received interest from Washington, Nevada Las Vegas, and Nevada.

Better to finish strong, right?

"Definitely," he says.

* No. 55, Mike Espy, center, 6-0, 220, senior. He's a walking diet commercial compared to his high-caloric colleagues, though not for lack of trying.

"I don't eat as much as these guys, but I definitely enjoy it as much," he says.

Espy didn't play football last season, quitting after starting on the varsity as a sophomore to concentrate on baseball.

He batted .269 last season as a designated hitter and tied for the team lead with three home runs, but he yearned for football and returned to bolster the interior line.

"It was my senior year and I wanted to make the most of it and have as much fun as I could," he says. "This is exactly what I wanted to happen."

Tonight will be Espy's final football game, because he plans to again turn exclusively to baseball.

* No. 72, Ryan Schienle, left guard, 6-3, 280, senior. How much does Schienle like to eat?

He has a nickname for his stomach. Ralph.

"That's the thing that sets me apart from everyone else," he says. "No one else has Ralph."

"Everyone loves Ralph, though," Sikand says.

"True," Schienle says. "Except for restaurants. They hate him."

His coaches love both Ralph--offensive coordinator Dean Herrington gave Schienle's stomach its moniker--and Schienle himself.

He is probably the team's best lineman and its strongest, too, with a 335-pound bench press.

Colorado State, Brigham Young, Utah, UNLV and Nevada have expressed interest in his services. That makes it three of four seniors who will probably earn Division I scholarships.

That's quite a legacy to pass to. . . .

* No. 75, Mike Wambolt, left tackle, 6-4, 250, sophomore. Listed in the program at 230 pounds, "Baby Wambolt" has grown since the beginning of the season, which figures, because he is the biggest eater of the five.

And as a sophomore, he has learned a lot from the seniors, including how to take a fair amount of guff.

He wanders up to a reporter talking to Sikand and Schienle and is asked his opinion of the unit's play this season.

"What have these guys been saying?" he wants to know.

"We said you're ugly," Sikand says.

Wambolt knows enough to ignore that and instead launches into a description of his favorite meal.

"Let's see, tri-tip (steak), nachos . . . " he begins.

Schienle: "And we're talking with rice and beans. It weighs about three pounds."

Wambolt: "And a half-pound tri-tip dinner. . . ."

Schienle: "It's big."

Wambolt: "And a couple of Cokes."

Schienle: "He macks. "

He wouldn't fit in if he didn't.

*

Every Thursday, Schienle and Sikand lead a restaurant review discussion at practice, comparing notes about the finest eateries in Southern California--and beyond.

"We even talk about places we've gone when we've been on trips," Sikand says. "Tennessee, Georgia, Louisiana. . . . "

The quintet jokes easily, poking fun at each other and laughing constantly. But the heavies know when to stop with their--dare we say it?--lighter sides.

"The good thing about us is we all have a sense of humor and we can be close as far as that goes," Espy says. "But when we get on the field we know what we have to do and we know when to get serious."

They have, leading Hart (13-0) to the brink of the finest season in school history.

The Indians average 395 yards a game and blend the run and the pass almost perfectly (2,456 total rushing yards, 2,677 passing). In its three playoff games this year, Hart has scored 42, 51 and 55 points.

"What makes it good is that (the linemen) are good athletes," Houghton says. "They can do both aggressive drive blocking and go to passive pass blocking."

Coaching them has been Houghton's privilege, he says. He lifts weights with the group and pals around with them during the season and also afterward.

"It's nice when you can work with a kid, coach them, but also consider them a friend," he says. "I don't think I'll ever have a line like this again. I'm very lucky."

Houghton, 32, was touched when Sikand's parents orchestrated a surprise baby shower for Houghton and his wife (the Houghtons had a son in October). The linemen and their parents offered cards, gifts and congratulations.

"He was really surprised," Sikand says. "It was pretty nice."

Walters muses about it.

"There was plenty of food there, too," he says.

Sikand looks up.

"Until Wambolt got to it," he says. "There was all these croissant sandwiches and he ate about 15 of them."

That touches off another round of gastronomic debate. Wambolt jumps in to defend himself. The beat--and the eat--goes on.

RELATED STORY: C10

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
58°