Van Nuys might be the most improved football team in the Valley area after compiling a 1-26 record in the previous three seasons. The Wolves (3-2-1, 1-1 in Sunset League play) are definitely the most international.
Littered with names such as Quang Bui, Reza Khorramian, Pavadol Sangthongkum, Roy Vasich and Adalberto Revelo, the Wolves' roster reads like a guest list at a U. N. seminar. The roster consists of 14 players born in eight countries outside the United States.
"That's why we're so small," joked Coach Kenji Mochizuki, himself a Tokyo native.
The team's unique mixture has not caused problems, Mochizuki said. "Everyone wants to win," he said. "Everybody speaks English on the field. I'm sure most of the kids speak their native languages at home, but on the practice field English is the universal language."
Four of the Wolves' players are from South Korea, three from the Soviet Union, two from Mexico, and one each from El Salvador, Iran, Thailand, Yugoslavia and Vietnam.
About the only surprise is the birthplace of running back Muhammad Zaid, who hails from the American heartland--Ohio. The 5-8, 170-pound senior has rushed for 747 yards and scored 10 touchdowns.
"He's been a very big surprise," Mochizuki said. "I knew he worked hard last semester and was very determined to do well, but I'm still surprised at just how well he's played."
Add Van Nuys: The Wolves' 21-20 victory over Monroe on Friday was the team's first since moving to the Sunset League in 1984. Van Nuys had lost 16 consecutive league games before Friday night's victory over Monroe.
"We hadn't forgotten about the losing streak," Mochizuki said. "We were very aware of the streak. It felt good to finally end it."
Whatever it takes: San Fernando plays its biggest game of the season Friday against Valley 4-A League rival Granada Hills, a battle that pits two of the best quarterbacks in the City Section--seniors Jeremy Leach of Granada Hills and San Fernando's Joe Mauldin.
It stands to reason that Mauldin--overshadowed by Leach and the pass-happy Highlanders--would use this game as a showcase to prove a point, right?
Wrong. If Mauldin mauls Granada Hills, he says it won't be because he was caught in the numbers crunch. "I don't want to get in any competition with him," Mauldin said. "I just want to do whatever it takes to win."
It's the whatever that gives the Tigers versatility. While Mauldin's passing statistics place him second to Leach, his overall numbers indicate the potential for a big victory. He has passed for 1,047 yards to Leach's 1,422, but the mobile Mauldin has kept defenses honest by scrambling for 331 yards and seven touchdowns. Leach, a pure pocket passer, has minus-52 rushing yards and no touchdowns.
When given time to pass, Leach can be deadly--he has 16 touchdown passes to Mauldin's 10. Granada Hills (3-3, 1-0) has three of the top five City receivers in the Valley. Sean Brown (36 receptions), Kyle Jan (33) and Darryl Stephenson (20) all have four or more touchdown catches.
"He likes to go to Brown and Jan especially," Mauldin said. "If we can hold them, we should be able to beat them."
San Fernando (5-0-1, 1-0-1) has a few big-play threats, too. Seniors Tommy Howard (26 catches) and Danny Leos (17) are third and seventh among area City receivers.
"In a way, our guys are as good as theirs," Mauldin said.
And in his own way, Mauldin hopes to be better than Leach.
Add Granada Hills: Stephenson, a senior, missed the second half of last week's 35-13 win over Cleveland because of a thigh bruise, but he says it would take wild horses--not a charley horse--to keep him out of the game against San Fernando.
"This is a big game for us. It's our main game so far," he said.
Stephenson is one of the Highlanders' main men, giving the team a deep threat at receiver. The bruise on his left leg is serious enough to warrant attention, however. After consulting a therapist, Stephenson was held out of practice Monday and Tuesday. Another examination is scheduled Friday afternoon, after Stephenson runs a few pass patterns to test the injury.
Any chance he might tell the therapist what he wants to hear?
"Maybe," he said, laughing. "I should be OK by then, though."
Add Tigers: San Fernando's 1967 City championship football team and the 1966 City runner-up squad will meet for a reunion at 6:30 Friday night at The Strohaus in Van Nuys.
Phil Lozano, San Fernando's coach from 1958 to 1968, will announce the formation of the San Fernando Alumni Football Assn. The association is set to induct into the San Fernando Hall of Fame the Tigers' 1937 team, which was undefeated and unscored upon. Expected at Friday's reunion from the 1937 team is running back Ray Woods, the Southern California player of the year in 1937.
In 1966, the Tigers finished second in the City to Carson and the following season defeated Westchester to win the title.