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Wins of change

Jeff Tully

For more than a decade, the Burbank High football team has tried to

be more like some of the winning programs it plays on a regular



However, as much as the Bulldogs tried, they could never attain

the same success and respect that have been heaped on a programs like


But things are changing.


Although the Bulldogs and Coach Greg Sobiech are quite a few steps

away from putting a CIF Southern Section-champion caliber team on the

field, this season’s squad is not only finding success, but its

accomplishments are drawing attention from opposing coaches who are

impressed with the program’s upswing

After Burbank’s 20-0 nonleague victory against host Glendale,

Nitros’ Coach Loi Phan liked what he saw in the Bulldogs.

“This is the type of competition we’re going to see in the


[Pacific League],” he said. “If [Burbank] was in our league, they’d

probably finish among the top.”

After another nonleague game, a 24-18 loss to West Hills

Chaminade, Eagles’ Coach Ben McEnroe praised Sobiech, and the job the

second-year coach is doing with his team.

“I give a great deal of credit to Burbank and [its] coaching

staff,” McEnroe said, “They are doing some very good things with the

program and it really shows.


“This is definitely not the same kind of Burbank team we have seen

in the past.”

Last season, the Bulldogs received their share of positive

comments as well. But with a 2-8 record, good words only went so far

for a program hungry for wins.

However this season, the Bulldogs are off to a 4-1 start -- the

team’s best in 15 years -- and the kind words are not lost on Sobiech

and his team.

“It means a lot for us that coaches from other teams acknowledge

what we are accomplishing at Burbank High, and the progress we have

made,” said Sobiech.

Although Sobiech and his coaching staff have to be given a lot of

credit for helping to revive a fledgling program, the coach is quick

to deflect the credit to his players.

“The kids are the ones who have put this plan into motion,” he

said. “This team was worked extremely hard to get where [it’s] at

right now. I am so proud of them for what they have accomplished and

what they have put into this season. The work ethic of this team is


“They are seeing what their hard work has produced. They are

finally getting to experience what it’s like to be a part of a

winning football program.”

Bulldog senior wide receiver/safety Robert Nichols isn’t about to

let Sobiech give all the credit to the players. He said the success

of the team has a lot to do with how the coaching staff has prepared

he and the other athletes for games.

“I have never been more prepared for football games than this

year,” Nichols said. “Every time we line up on the ball and I look

over the formation, it’s like I’ve seen it before because the coaches

have showed us what to be prepared for.”

Despite the team’s success, Sobiech said this is not a group that

will gloat and brag about what it has won.

“They have a quiet confidence,” Sobiech said. “This is not a

boastful team. “These kids are not about playing up their


Said junior linebacker Mike Wysocky: “We aren’t overconfident

because we were supposed to win these [nonleague] games. Actually, I

think we should be 5-0. We shouldn’t have lost to Chaminade.”

That attitude will probably serve the team well, as Burbank

embarks on the toughest part of its schedule -- Foothill League play.

The Bulldogs will be trying to break a 50-game league losing

streak that dates back to 1992.


The Bulldogs have found success on both sides of the ball.

On offense, junior quarterback Mike McDonald has come up big,

completing 56 of 101 passes for 897 yards, eight touchdowns and three


McDonald’s biggest improvement has been his ability to cut down on

the 25 interceptions he threw in 2002.

At running back, junior Tanner Bennett has 581 yards rushing and

receiver Jesse Ayers has scored 54 points.

The defense is led by senior Johathon Suarez, who has a team-best

54 tackles.

In just his second season, Sobiech took over a program that

wallowed in mediocrity for more than a decade.

Not only has Burbank not been able to win many games in recent

years, but the program has been dragged down by sex scandals,

recruiting violations and other problems.

In late 1995, a report commissioned by the Burbank Unified School

District and the CIF Southern Section brought to light some of the

violations then Bulldog Coach John Hazelton committed during his

two-year tenure.

The 70-page report took two months to complete and highlighted

some serious rules violations including: The Bulldog staff lured

players to Burbank High for the sole purpose of playing football: the

staff also helped get athletes apartments in the city, and some

teenagers lived there without adult supervision; the staff encouraged

or assisted players in transferring to Burbank High and other

schools, using enticement of tutorial services.

You would think with all of the rule-breaking and recruiting,

Hazelton would have put together a winning program and led the

Bulldogs to success. However, in his two seasons with the program,

Hazelton’s teams went 4-16 and 0-8 in the Foothill League. In 1995,

the Bulldogs were 1-9, with their only victory coming on a forfeit

against Crescenta Valley.

The biggest scandal under Hazelton’s watch included a 17-year-old

Bulldog player who informed police he allegedly had sexual

intercourse with a 51-year-old woman on the same night she allegedly

told him she would provide funding for the Burbank football team in

exchange for sex.

Although there hasn’t been any major scandals involving the

Burbank program in years, Sobiech is fighting against the ghosts of

the past, as well as the negativity that had has filtered down to

teams over the years.

“We have to just put the best team of young men that we can on the

field,” Sobiech said. “This is something we’re working on all the


That hard work should help the Bulldogs build upon their success

in the first five games, and hopefully carry over to the rest of the


“If this turns out to be a game of heart and character, I like our

chances,” Sobiech said.