Before last Friday’s scrimmage against Lincoln High School in Los Angeles, you could hear the optimism coming from the South Pasadena Tigers’ varsity football players.
After a hot summer of weight-room sessions and intrasquad practices, this was the Tigers’ first chance, and last, to test themselves against another team before this Friday’s regular-season opener on the road against Mountain View in El Monte.
“They’re bigger than us, but I know we’re quicker,” one Tiger player said of the Lincoln players, while strapping on the pads.
This being a scrimmage, nobody kept score, teams started drives on their own 40-yard line, no special teams were utilized and no quarterbacks were allowed to be touched.
So results had to be gleaned in more subtle ways as the Tigers look to improve on last season’s records of 3-7 overall and 1-3 in the Rio Hondo League.
“The most important thing is for us is to stay healthy and make it through the season,’’ said head coach Jeff Chi.
He saw some positive signs in this workout, though the scrimmage also highlighted areas that will need work.
Familiar faces such as senior quarterback Samuel Luna-Long and linebacker/running back Quentin Pithey made their presence and offseason progressions known early, as they spearheaded leadership roles and made a substantial difference on offense and defense, respectively.
The Tigers’ strengths were obvious, as their skill-position players set the tone for Chi’s spread offense, with an occasional Wing-T twist.
Players such as seniors Ethan Hong and Ivan Estrada showed the ability to turn plays up field. Junior wideout Terrance Sweetman is another rising star who should have a chance to prove his value in the offense, as well as an opportunity to contribute on defense.
But there were errors, too, as the Tigers committed a few holding penalties that negated big gains, got hit with a block-in-the-back call that killed a 30-plus yard advancement and had a personal-foul penalty in retaliation for a late hit against Luna-Long.
Most important, though, nobody got hurt. And after last year’s injury issues, that counted as a moral victory, if not one in the standings.
“Next, our goal is to win (a game), of course,” Chi said, referring to this week’s season opener. “We always want to win a league title.”
But the Rio Hondo League championship has been absent from South Pasadena for nearly 40 years now, and the only realistic shot the Tigers have at a title is through staying healthy.
“Last year, injuries riddled us,” Chi said. “We need to stay upright.’’
To that end, first-year strength-and-conditioning coach Leo Hunt is at the forefront of the Tigers’ hopes.
“We’re doing more Olympic lifting, and focusing on functional strength, which should help with their overall stability throughout the season,” Hunt said.
Added Chi: “Our goal is to always beat San Marino and make it into the playoffs. I believe we have a chance.
“I always tell my guys, ‘If you do your part, all of those team goals will fall in place.’ ”
It begins for real on Friday. This time, they’ll be keeping score.
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