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VALLEY / VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS

Ready to Receive : Sylmar's Wrighster Plots Playoff Revival

November 19, 1998|MICHAEL LAZARUS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SYLMAR — George Wrighster, one of Sylmar High's best athletes, seems to have all but disappeared from the Spartans' football offense.

The heavily recruited tight end got off to a fast start, catching 13 of Sylmar's 22 completions in the first three games, but he had only eight receptions in seven Valley Pac-8 Conference games.

A closer look reveals two good reasons Wrighster, a 6-foot-4, 220-pound senior, has been idling.

Hampered by strained ligaments in his an ankle, Wrighster has barely practiced the last two weeks and he wasn't needed much in one-sided victories over Reseda and Van Nuys.

In outscoring conference opponents, 292-43, Sylmar had most games in hand by halftime.

"Coach [Jeff Engilman] doesn't like to run up the score," Wrighster said. "We haven't been passing too much."

With the start of the City Section playoffs tonight, the Spartans aren't likely to become a pass-oriented team. But they must get Wrighster the ball if they hope to win their third City title in seven years.

Fourth-seeded Sylmar (7-2-1) hosts two-time defending champion San Pedro (6-4) at 7 p.m., and Wrighster says he is ready.

"The foot is fine," Wrighster said. "It feels much better than it did last week or the week before."

Wrighster's absence from the passing attack doesn't mean he hasn't been a force.

He has become a much better blocker than last year, helping running backs David Contreras and Corey Neal combine to rush for more than 2,000 yards.

And he remains a formidable defensive end, although his nine sacks pale in comparison to the 21 he recorded last season.

"He's gotten much better against the run," Engilman said. "He's been slowed a little bit, but he's still really important for us."

Engilman knew he had a talented player when Wrighster transferred under open enrollment from Buckley after his sophomore year.

But Wrighster was jumping from one of the smallest schools in the region to one of the largest.

"Once he started playing [at Sylmar] his junior year, you could tell he was going to be a talent," Engilman said. "It was probably a tougher transition for him socially to go from a private school to what's basically an inner-city school. Football wasn't a problem for him."

The transition was seamless. In addition to his role as a pass rusher, Wrighster caught 13 passes in a run-oriented offense.

His decision to transfer was a timely one. Buckley dropped football before this season because of a low turnout of players.

A strong student, he scored more than 1,200 on the SAT in his second attempt.

"'The private school background helps," Wrighster said.

He also made the All-City team--only not in football.

Wrighster averaged 14.5 points and 9.8 rebounds to help the Spartans win the 3-A Division basketball title last season. He was particularly dominant in the playoffs, leading Sylmar in scoring in all four games, including a 53-48 victory over Birmingham in the final.

Wrighster dreams of playing football and basketball in college, and some schools reportedly have been receptive to him competing in both sports.

But it's no secret there are more 6-4 tight ends and linebackers in Division I athletics than power forwards.

"I would think his future would be in football," Engilman said. "I've never seen him play basketball, but once he gets in the weight room full time, he's going to be a [heck] of a football player."

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