The offensive brilliance of Sylmar in its City Section Division II football playoff run has been breathtaking. Blessed with superb skill players, from quarterback Clarence Williams, Jr. and receivers Anthony Muse and Danny Mendoza to running backs Marcus Gandy and Shonte Smith, the Spartans have been posted video game-like totals against Bell, Chatsworth and Eagle Rock.
But those players cannot do what they do without blockers. And it doesn’t matter how many points the Spartans score if they can’t stop anybody.
The offensive and defensive lines have been just as important to Sylmar’s success. Three players in particular — Louis Gonzalez and twin bothers Issac and Justin Reyes, all seniors — have had the biggest impact. By agreeing to play on both lines, the trio shored up the one glaring weakness the Spartans had.
“Once they did that, we started rolling,” Coach John Brazil said.
Sylmar has lost only twice in 13 games. The first came in the season opener against Crespi. The second came against Palmdale on Sept. 12. That was the first time Gonzales and the Reyes brothers converted into two-way players. The Spartans have won 10 consecutive games since, going into the Division II final against Hamilton of Los Angeles this Saturday.
When asked about their sacrifice and selflessness, the players merely shrug. To them it was important to get the team in position to win a championship, after losing in the semifinals last year.
“Last year we had no defense at all,” Issac Reyes said. “This year we’re giving up a lot fewer points; we’ve even had a few shutouts. The offense scores, the defense keeps the points down, and we win.”
“It’s about going hard and staying humble,’’ Gonzalez added. “Also being together, and not giving up on each other when a play goes wrong.”
The 17-year-old twins said their uniform numbers would have special meaning when they take the field on Saturday.
Justin Reyes wears 56 to honor his cousin Raymond Reyes, who played football at Sylmar and graduated in June. “He’s the one who introduced me to the game, he taught me a lot about the game. Recently he left for the Marines. And he told me to represent his number because he didn’t want any one but family to wear it — especially me. I don’t take anything lightly when I’m wearing his number. I’m wearing it with pride and I know I have big shoes to fill.”
Issac Reyes had previously worn jersey numbers 55 and 66 at Sylmar. This season he chose to wear 50 because that was the number his good friend Erik Muniz wore last season.
“I remembered him crying after the Chatsworth game, knowing he’d probably never play the game again, and it killed me,” Issac Reyes said.
Hamilton last won the Division II championship in 2009 when it beat El Camino Real 67-42, and eventually moved up to Division I. The Yankees returned to Division II last year, and will present Sylmar with it best test since the Palmdale game.
The Spartans are confident they are up to the challenge, and are eager to win their first City title in 20 years. When asked what winning the championship meant to the team, school and community, Gonzales replied, “In a word, everything.”