Sylmar High football.
The giant of the Valley Pac-8 Conference. Unbeaten in 32 consecutive league games over the past four seasons. City Section 4-A semifinalists the past three. The 4-A champion in 1992. Outscored league opponents, 333-40, last season.
Sylmar was placed on probation last year after Coach Jeff Engilman conducted an illegal practice on a holiday. The program is facing more disciplinary action for participating in an informal summer passing scrimmage against Pierce College, a violation of City rules. And what about those six transfers Sylmar will have this season? Are they all there legally?
A team that has enjoyed extraordinary success, emersed in scandal and controversy.
Who better to comment on Sylmar's operation than the coaches that must face the powerhouse year after year?
"It's really hard to say, because I like Jeff as a person," said Fred Cuccia, who has taken over the Monroe program after five seasons at Poly. "I think there are some things that are a little dark. . . . It's a little shady."
Cuccia's peers echo his sentiment almost verbatim. But one must wonder if Valley Pac-8 coaches are reserving harsher comment for fear of the retribution--like, perhaps, in a few weeks when their team must face the Spartans.
"I feel like making comments--and (then again) I don't," Van Nuys Coach George Engbrecht said.
One thing is certain, every coach is sure to choose his words carefully before commenting about Engilman and his program.
Most coaches are more upset with the leniency of the City Section than the teams that take advantage--knowingly or otherwise--of its vague guidelines.
In the most recent Sylmar scandal, Engilman said he did not realize that an informal scrimmage against a college team was a violation.
Shortly after the incident, Barbara Fiege, the City Section Commissioner, issued a memorandum to all City schools advising that ignorance of a rule will not be tolerated as a defense. A committee will rule on Sylmar's violation Sept. 14.
More than one coach suggests that Sylmar should be banned from the playoffs this season for its latest infraction. Yet others would opt for leniency.
"I'm willing to bet that several coaches unknowingly have committed rules violations," North Hollywood Coach Gary Gray said. "I believe Jeff in this situation. I've (violated the rules) and didn't know it--and I admit it."
Said Engbrecht, who is in his third season at Van Nuys: "I don't think the district has the finances to investigate, and because of that, a lot of schools cut the edges on a number of rules. The problem is that coaches in general don't feel supervised."
Sylmar, of course, is not the only school to violate the rules. Taft Coach Troy Starr was under fire recently for recruiting junior high prospect Dante Clay, who is enrolled at North Hollywood.
As was the case with Starr, City officials often look to school administrators of the offending team or coach to prescribe punishment.
"It always helps if you have an administration that believes that football is a very strong part of the school itself," Cuccia said.
Football is strong at Sylmar, that's for certain. The Spartans are looking at a fifth consecutive league title.
And with the blessing of the rules committee, the Spartans will be playing for their second 4-A title in three years.
Valley Pac-8 Conference at a Glance
EAST VALLEY LEAGUE
1993 STANDINGS OVERALL LEAGUE PROJECTED FINISH Sylmar 10-2-1 7-0 Sylmar Van Nuys 8-3 6-1 Van Nuys Birmingham 4-5-1 2-4-1 Reseda Canoga Park 2-7-1 2-4-1 Canoga Park
1993 STANDINGS OVERALL LEAGUE PROJECTED FINISH Poly 4-7 4-3 North Hollywood Grant 5-6 3-4 Monroe North Hollywood 4-7 2-5 Grant Monroe 2-8 1-6 Poly
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Player School Pos. Ht. Wt. Yr. Chris Byfield Van Nuys QB 5-10 160 Sr. Jaime Cerna Poly WR 6-4 190 Sr. Ennis Davis Reseda OT/DE 6-2 275 Jr. Nilson Espana Reseda QB/CB 6-2 215 Sr. Ryan Jones North Hollywood WR/DB 6-1 165 Sr. Eddie Lopez Sylmar QB/FS 6-2 190 Sr. Brandon McGee Sylmar C/DT 6-2 270 Sr. Durell Price Sylmar TB/DB 6-1 215 Jr. Larry Reed Van Nuys TB/DB 6-0 180 Sr. Di-onte Smith Grant RB/DB 5-11 185 Jr.