Football Right Around Corner with Spring Practice Underway

South Pasadena High School football is right around the corner as spring practices are underway. The Tigers are coming off a disappointing season last year but are ready to change the tide. Head coach Jeff Chi is welcoming an influx of new players as well as returning ones that will take the Tigers to the next level. Photos by Steve Whitmore

Friday night lights is just around the corner for the South Pasadena High School football team that finished a disappointing season last year second to last in the league.

The only team worse was the winless La Cañada Spartans, which was the only bright spot for the Tigers. The Tigers whipped the Spartans in the last game of the season, 27-13, for their only league win. In fact, the Tigers record of 3-7 was one of the most disappointing seasons in recent memory, according to school officials.

“Every year our goal is to win a title obviously and try to come up with the right combination of kids to fill certain positions that are going to help us get there,” returning head coach Jeff Chi said during an interview at the school’s football field while his squad was running spring drills. “We are very hopeful that some of these young kids are coming in to fill in those spots nicely. They are showing a lot of promise.”

Chi said the early returns during spring practice have been positive.

“I like their effort,” he said. “I like what they are doing in the weight room, working hard. They are getting themselves physically ready. They’ve been very good so we’ve been very pleased with what we’ve been seeing on the field. We want the younger guys to really have the opportunity to step it up and earn a varsity spot, if that’s possible.”

Chi has designated as his starting quarterback senior Samuel Luna-Long and sophomore Grant Huntley.

Chi has always relied heavily on a running attack. So much so, his game plans have been criticized as being predictable. Not this year.

“I would love to do that (have a dominant running attack),” he said. “I think a running game allows you to control the tempo of the game. But we are going to look at the guys that we have, and this year, we have a lot of skill guys, receiver-types, where we might have to spread the ball out and take advantage of opponents that way.”

This year, Chi has divvied up the offense and defense to his assistant coaches so he doesn’t have to run the offense. Coach Jason Barnes has been added to take over the offense and Brandon Wilson is back on the defensive side.

“I’m trying to oversee both the offense and the defense,” Chi said. “Instead of just being focused on the offense like I was last year, it was just too much. I’m going to be talking to Coach Barnes and Coach Wilson and make sure everything is going in the right direction.”

Last year, wide receiver Ivan Estrada broke out of the pack – literally – on several occasions and was a highlight for the beleaguered squad.

“Ivan was a standout last year, yes, he was,” Chi said. “He’s going to be our versatile athlete, running back, receiver, wildcat quarterback and he’s going to it all for us.”

Chi also acknowledged that last year was a disappointing season marred by several one-sided losses.

“Every day we are trying to improve our kids,” he said. “And that’s going to give us better opportunities to win. And it’s not just about winning on the field but also off the field as well. We want them to be good student-athletes. To take care of themselves in the classroom. We really do emphasize overall kids.”

Chi said he’s optimistic about the upcoming season, especially with the new additions that should bring some added speed and strength to the squad.

“You know you have to be optimistic,” he said. “We have to let the kids believe in themselves, in the program, and believe in each other that they can be successful. Last year, it didn’t work out the way we planned but that’s how life is sometimes, right? But that’s why you have to keep moving forward and focus on doing your best and so far so good.”

The Tigers first game is a non-league, away match against Mountain View High School on August 23. Last year, the Tigers opened the season also against Mountain View. The Tigers won that game, 35-14.