On their first play of a preseason scrimmage at Lincoln High School last Friday, the South Pasadena Tigers junior varsity football team fumbled the snap.
Hey, it can only get better, right?
“We’ll finally get to play some 11-on-11 football — let them know what it feels like,’’ JV head coach Ed Smith had said before the scrimmage, which the Tigers used to tune up for Thursday’s opener against Mountain View in El Monte.
It was the young Tigers’ first test against another team after a summer of intrasquad workouts, and their inexperience was apparent on both offense and defense, with only five sophomores on the JV roster of 17; the remaining 12 young men are freshmen.
There will surely be growing pains.
Luckily for them, the Tigers have Smith, a former 16-year varsity head skipper for the Tigers known for fostering the growth and development of his players.
Smith said his main priority for the upcoming season will be to teach proper technique, prepare the young Tigers for gamedays and hone a genuine maturation.
“The objective is for them to learn how to play the game of football,” Smith said.
“The right way,” he added, after a pause.
There has been no official Pop Warner league in South Pasadena since the early 1970s, making it difficult to build a formidable program — a challenge that Smith bears with honor.
Since his return to the program six years ago, and working at the JV level the past four, Smith shows his wisdom and reputation through his tutelage. He is an old school, throwback coach, featuring a classic Wing-T formation offense, aviator-style glasses, and taking every opportunity to teach fundamentals.
“When the quarterback has the ball, all you do is keep backpedaling,” Smith said while instructing one of his young cornerbacks.
“Keep your eyes up field,” he added.
As far as on-field production, the JV Tigers got progressively better as the scrimmage continued.
What began as poor run protection from the offensive line slowly turned into a solid display of play-action pass blocking from the Tigers’ young guards. Nearly 10 plays into the scrimmage, the budding Tigers showed promise, as play-action pass protection afforded freshman quarterback Jack Freking enough time to complete a short pass, spiraling just over a Lincoln defender, for a gain of six yards.
The defensive side of the ball showed promise, and gradual progression as well.
Of course, for first-timers, there were a few missed assignments and large chunks of yardage given up. Lincoln consistently whistled the ball into South Pasadena’s defensive backfield. Some of the young Tigers struggled to react and make a play on the ball. On running sequences, the interior line played well and used solid technique to shed blockers and make contact.
Sophomore linebacker Jack Riffle made the play of the afternoon, after dropping back in coverage to the strong side of the field and intercepting an ill-advised pass from the opposition.
“A lot of things to clean up,” Smith said after the scrimmage.
But a new season is at hand. There is time, and there is hope.
“I’m excited to see what we have,” Smith said.