No team in the region has dominated league play in the 1990s like Sylmar High.
Sixty consecutive Valley Pac-8 Conference victories and counting. Not a single loss in the 90s.
Don't expect the streak to end in 1998. Sylmar is again the best team on paper and in the flesh.
Three of the Spartans' returning starters rank among the region's best athletes--tight end George Wrighster, defensive back Corey Neal and lineman Antonio Sanchez.
But while Sylmar will win as frequently as it has in the past, the Spartans will have a decidedly different look.
"We don't have the real quick, fast linemen," Coach Jeff Engilman said. "[But] we've got big linemen, so we're going to use more of the Nebraska-type technique where you run one way and the running back now has three or four holes he can choose from."
Sylmar, which has been an almost exclusive I-formation team since Engilman took over in 1987, will no longer utilize a fullback.
Why? Because there isn't one.
"That's the biggest thing in high school, to be able to adjust to what you've got," Engilman said.
What the Spartans have is perfect bookends at tight end--Wrighster, a 6-foot-4, 220-pound Division I prospect, and Cedric Anderson, a 6-1, 200-pound senior. So Sylmar will run a lot of double-tight sets with a single back.
That back could be Neal, who rushed for 153 yards and two touchdowns in 19 carries on mostly end-arounds or reverses, or Anthony Wells, who had limited carries behind Errol Bowen and Donald Carpenter last year.
With Sylmar promising to continue its dominance, the most interesting question is which team will give Sylmar its toughest game. Or, who will finish second?
Canoga Park managed both the last two seasons.
The Hunters forced Sylmar into overtime two years ago, but a two-point conversion pass was knocked down at the line of scrimmage and the Spartans prevailed, 37-35.
While some coaches might likely refer to that as a moral victory, Canoga Park's Rudy Lugo does not.
"We should have won that game," Lugo said. "I'm always proud of my kids, but I really wanted to win."
In last year's matchup, Sylmar and Canoga Park were 5-0 in conference play when the Spartans held on for a 26-18 victory, its tightest win since beating the Hunters the previous year.
Although Sylmar escaped with victories, Canoga Park--with the smallest student enrollment in the conference--has left an impression on Engilman.
"As a coaching staff, Rudy does a hell of a job for what he has," Engilman said. "You look on paper and we should just murder them every year. And we have trouble with them."
As in years past, Canoga Park is far from loaded. But the Hunters do have plenty of skill-position players.
The Hunters will be pushed by four teams which return between nine and 12 starters.
Three of those teams--Van Nuys, Reseda and Poly--finished in the bottom half of the conference last season.
Grant, with nine returning starters, will feature the bulkiest offensive line in the conference. The Lancers' four returning linemen average 6-3, 278 pounds.
Monroe, which won six of its first seven games last season before a three-game skid, has eight starters returning.
The Vikings' offense will be more diverse, Coach Sloan Bunting said, with a mix of double-wing and pro-set formations.
"Last year at this time we had four offensive plays," said Bunting, who begins his second season at Monroe. "We have about 24 now."
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AT A GLANCE
* THE PROVEN: Sylmar features three of the region's top players, TB-DB Corey Neal, TE-DE George Wrighster (6-4, 220) and T-NG Antonio Sanchez (6-6, 280). . . . Monroe junior LB Jabari Smith (6-2, 240) is getting attention from UCLA recruiters. Senior DB Omar Stewart is another Division I prospect. QB Diego Barba (6-1, 175) and K Liz Nemeth also return for Monroe. . . . Topping the list of 11 returning starters at Reseda are FB-LB Joe Looney (5-10, 220), a three-year letterman, QB-LB Skyler McKnight (6-2, 210) and linebackers Bun Kaing (5-10, 210) and Raul Cardona (5-10, 185). . . . Canoga Park returns WR-DB Victor Torres, QB Mike Spangle, QB-TE John Hernandez and RB-DB Ramon Torres. . . . RB-DB Steve Smith (6-0, 185), who rushed for 631 yards and seven TDs in 68 carries last season, is the finest returning back in the conference and one of a dozen returning starters for Poly. Smith will get help from senior OL Carlos Hernandez (6-3, 265) and Moris Velasco (6-2, 270). . . . Grant's front line has two things in its favor--size and experience. Michael Lee (6-3, 280), Randy Cornejo (6-4, 320), Donyelle Hawkins (6-3, 290) and Eloy Navarro (6-0, 225) are returning starters. . . . Van Nuys senior RB-DB Alex Aguilar, a third-year starter, rushed for 562 yards in 102 carries last year. Senior K Jose Arroyo has All-City potential. . . . North Hollywood's Matthew Hicks and Marvin Perez return at defensive back.
* THE PROMISING: QB Noah Albiston, a left-hander who passed for eight touchdowns and only one interception as a part-time starter last season, has improved considerably. . . . QB Billydee Payne, who started four games last season, led North Hollywood to 20 victories in summer passing games. . . . DeAndre Philips and Andrew Newchurch take over as running backs in Monroe's double-wing offense for departed Vinny Walker and George Garcia, who combined for nearly 2,700 yards and 37 touchdowns. . . . WR-DB Gerard Jones (6-1, 195) sat out last season with an injury but has emerged as the go-to guy in Reseda's offense. . . . Canoga Park WR-DB Mike Gomes (6-4, 180), a transfer from Cleveland, has the size to be a real threat. Junior RB-LB Oscar Carpillo was standout on the freshman-sophomore team last year.
* FAST FACT: Sylmar, with 60 consecutive conference victories dating to 1989, is closing in on the national record of 68.
* 1997 STANDINGS: 1. Sylmar, 11-2 overall, 7-0 conference; 2. Canoga Park, 7-4, 6-1; 3. Monroe, 8-4, 4-3; 4. Grant, 5-5, 3-4; 4. Van Nuys, 3-7, 3-4; 4. North Hollywood, 3-7, 3-4; 7. Reseda, 3-7, 2-5; 8. Poly, 0-10, 0-7, including three forfeits.
Valley Pac-8 Conference schedules
Games start at 7:30 p.m. unless noted. Dates and sites subject to change. *-League games
Sept. 11--at Birmingham, 7
Sept. 18--Verdugo Hills, 7
Sept. 25--at Eagle Rock, 3
Oct. 2--*at North Hollywood
Oct. 9--*at Poly
Oct. 16--*Van Nuys
Oct. 30--*at Sylmar
Home Site: Canoga Park High
Sept. 11--at Verdugo Hills, 3
Sept. 18--at Franklin, 7
Sept. 25--San Fernando, 3
Oct. 2--*at Monroe
Oct. 9--*Reseda, 3
Oct. 16--*at Sylmar
Oct. 23--*Poly, 3
Oct. 30--*Van Nuys at Valley College
Nov. 6--*North Hollywood, 2:15
Nov. 13--*at Canoga Park
Home Site: Grant High
Sept. 18--at Chatsworth, 7
Sept. 25--at Cleveland, 6:30
Oct. 9--*Van Nuys
Oct. 16--*at Reseda
Oct. 23--*at Sylmar
Nov. 6--*at Canoga Park
Nov. 13--*North Hollywood
Home Site: Monroe High
Sept. 11--Granada Hills
Sept. 19--at Harvard-Westlake, 2
Oct. 2--*Canoga Park
Oct. 9--*at Sylmar
Oct. 23--*at Van Nuys
Nov. 6--*at Grant, 2:15
Nov. 13--*at Monroe
Home Site: North Hollywood High
Sept. 11--at Kennedy, 7
Sept. 18--at Wilson, 7
Oct. 9--*Canoga Park
Oct. 16--*at North Hollywood
Oct. 23--*at Grant, 3
Oct. 30--*at Monroe
Nov. 6--*Van Nuys
Nov. 13--*at Reseda
Home Site: Poly High
Sept. 18--at Cleveland, 7
Oct. 2--*at Van Nuys
Oct. 9--*at Grant, 3
Oct. 23--*at Canoga Park
Oct. 30--*at North Hollywood
Home Site: Reseda High
Sept. 11--at Notre Dame
Sept. 18--Antelope Valley
Sept. 25--Hart at Canyons
Oct. 2--*at Poly
Oct. 9--*North Hollywood
Oct. 30--*Canoga Park
Nov. 6--*at Reseda
Nov. 13--*at Van Nuys
Home Site: Sylmar High
Sept. 18--at Birmingham, 7
Sept. 25--Montclair Prep
Oct. 9--*at Monroe
Oct. 16--*at Canoga Park
Oct. 23--*North Hollywood
Oct. 30--*Grant at Valley College
Nov. 6--*at Poly
Home Site: Van Nuys High