Because Ron Veres believes the route to a winning record is through players' stomachs, Oak Park (6-1) is no longer starving for victories.
The Eagles had a record of 1-18-1 the past two years before Veres took over as coach this season. Now they are a success on the field and in culinary circles.
One of the first things Veres did was raise funds to build a $20,000 weightlifting facility. The second was to mandate team meals three times a week.
The Eagles eat at a pizza parlor on Tuesdays, have dinner at the home of a different player every Thursday evening, and go to a steak house for a pregame meal on Fridays.
"A team that eats together, stays together," Veres said. "I want my players to enjoy being with each other both on and off the field, and I found team meals to be the best way to pull them together."
Oak Park is bigger and stronger than last year and might be the best-fed team in the Valley.
The Eagles are off to a 3-1 start in the Tri-Valley League, having lost only to Carpinteria, the top-ranked team in the Inland Conference.
"We ate too much that week," Veres jokingly said.
The only problem so far is that players are becoming gourmets. Oak Park coaches had cooked the Thursday meal but stopped after players complained about having to eat hot dogs and beans.
Team parents Marie Hall, Pat Kavulic and Elaine Clapper took over the next few Thursday meals and lined up volunteers for the rest of the season.
Kavulic, whose son Jon plays on the offensive line, said she enjoyed cooking for the 21 players but was disappointed they didn't eat everything. Her menu included 10 pounds of pasta with meat sauce, a three-quart salad and 40 pieces of French bread.
"My biggest mistake was that I made too much," Kavulic said. "I'm also the only person to put after-dinner mints on the table. I found out that football players don't eat after-dinner mints."
Spare time: Kennedy Coach Bob Francola has spent the week trying to get psyched up for tonight's big game--the Granada Hills-Cleveland game.
Several weeks ago, Francola learned that Westlake decided not to play the Cougars on a night when both teams had byes on their schedules. A search for a replacement team proved fruitless, so tonight, while nearly every team in town is on the field, Francola will be in the grandstands.
"I'll be up there throwing things at Steve Landress," he said, joking about the Cleveland coach.
Yet the bye isn't really a laughing matter. In September, 1986, Westlake scheduled a game with San Diego Santana for tonight. By the time Francola learned of the switch in the schedule, it was too late to find another opponent.
"We tried like crazy to find somebody to play us this week," he said. "Everybody in the area was booked. I'm really disappointed that we aren't playing Westlake--I think we could have beaten them. I'm one of those guys who would rather play anybody than sit out."
Last year, Valley 4-A and Marmonte teams played during weeks in which teams had byes. Westlake Coach George Contreras said Marmonte coaches decided last year that the schedules of the Valley 4-A League (five members) and the Marmonte League (seven), didn't match up well.
Marmonte coaches voted last year to allow member schools to choose whether to play the Valley 4-A teams. Westlake, which lost to Granada Hills, 56-12, last season, chose to schedule San Diego Santana.
Francola couldn't adjust the schedule in time, but at least the time off allowed him to make a few adjustments on the team.
"We had our best practice all year Tuesday," he said. "We really went at it out there. We needed it. We're making some changes in the lineup, we're still looking for the right combination."
And looking for a Friday-night date.
On the road: Members of the Westlake team will leave school at noon Friday on a bus for San Diego. After the game with Santana, the team will spend the night at a nearby hotel. Saturday afternoon, after breakfast and the drive back to Los Angeles, the team will watch USC play Washington State at the Coliseum.
It's all part of the Coach George Contreras go-to-Westlake-and-see-the-world tours.
"This is sort of a test for us, " he said. "If this trip goes well, we may schedule a trip out of state. Something where we take a plane to go play."
A few seasons ago, Westlake played host to a team from Seattle. After talking to coaches and players from the team, Contreras said the idea of traveling for a game struck him as a good one.
"This has been one of our best weeks of practice," he said. "Everybody is excited about the trip and it's a good break from the league schedule."
Contreras said the school's booster club helped foot the bill for the trip, which should cost between $1,000 and $2,000. "We may get more ambitious later on, depending on how it goes," he said.
Thus far, it goes well on the field for Westlake, which has a 5-2 record and a 4-0 mark in Marmonte play. Santana is 2-4-1.