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Eric Sondheimer / ON HIGH SCHOOLS

Engilman mellows a little

October 03, 2008|Eric Sondheimer

What you get with Jeff Engilman coaching high school football is what you see: a man whose face turns purple whenever a player makes a mistake.

"I'm a perfectionist, and they're never perfect, are they?" he laments. "It drives me nuts."

He won two City Section 3-A championships coaching at Manual Arts in the 1980s, won two City 4-A championships coaching at Sylmar in the 1990s and now he has his second-year varsity program at Arleta off to a 3-0 start.

At 57, he hasn't changed much.

"There are certain things that happen," assistant coach Fred Grimes said. "The sun goes up. The sun goes down, and Engilman yells."

Yes, the Engilman voice still resonates loudly across a football field, only the players smile a little bit more knowing he's trying to motivate them rather than scare them.

"When he yells at you, you get mad, but you know he's only yelling at you because he cares," running back Oscar Sanchez said. "He tells us only when he stops yelling at us, you have to start worrying."

Engilman leaves it up to his assistant coaches to do much of the teaching these days. He's an observer during practices and quickly intervenes when he sees something that needs to be fixed, but he has come to accept -- grudgingly -- that mistakes are made.

"I'm not going to have a heart attack over the game of football, and I was going that way," he said. "It's still important to win, but I think it's more important to see these kids through and see them actually accomplish a lot of stuff."

The difference between Arleta and his last varsity coaching position, at Sylmar, is that the players are much less experienced. Fewer than 10 on his current team played youth football and he said, "Our big thing last year was, 'Go home and watch 'Monday Night Football' and learn what a hash mark is.' "

The Mustangs have apparently learned a lot, because they defeated Sylmar in their opener and appear to be the favorites in the East Valley League. Sanchez, lineman Eddie Kelly, quarterback Bryan Choto and linebacker Ray Luna are the standouts.

While Engilman's face still undergoes contortions when he's frustrated, he also offers praise. And even more startling, when a player talked backed to an assistant, Engilman kept his cool and simply made the player pay for his mistake with a series of fitness exercises that left the player gasping for air and a little more knowledgeable about when to keep his mouth shut.

The players are sometimes amused at Engilman's outbursts.

"We laugh at him a lot," Kelly said. "He doesn't know it, though. If he knew, he'd probably kill us."

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The whispers by some fans keep getting louder: Santa Ana Mater Dei quarterback Matt Barkley is overrated.

It's nonsense, but nine interceptions in four games has people wondering if the USC-bound Barkley is pressing or has digressed from last season, when he was selected the Gatorade national player of the year.

I've seen him in three of his four games, and Barkley has a stronger arm and shows more leadership than ever, but a new group of receivers and a new offensive line have required him to take more risks and throw more often under pressure, leading to mistakes.

His coach, Bruce Rollinson, has no complaints about Barkley.

"He's fulfilling all our expectations," Rollinson said. "He's shown tremendous poise with a group of young players. Matt Barkley will end up having a phenomenal year. We're not concerned whatsoever."

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Spencer Rowe, a 6-foot-7 volleyball player at Mission Viejo, has become the first junior to be offered a scholarship by UCLA Coach Al Scates in his 45 years of coaching. Considering that Scates has won 19 NCAA titles, Rowe has put himself in select company. He accepted.

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eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

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