Prep for Football Season Heats Up

The SPHS Tigers work out on July 29. They’ll start to don the pads and helmets next week as the Aug. 23 season-opener nears. Photos by Henk Friezer

Let the countdown begin. As of Monday, July 29 — the first official day of varsity football practice for South Pasadena High School — the number stood at 25 days.

Twenty-five days until the Tigers open their season on Aug. 23 with a road game against Mountain View in El Monte, followed by the home opener Aug. 30 against Viewpoint of Calabasas. 

Tiger players reported for a session of weightlifting and then some light on-field drills in shorts and shirts last Monday, their first steps of the 2019 campaign.

Receivers caught some passes but also dropped a few easy ones as the Tigers began to work out the kinks.

Some more countdown numbers, as of last Monday:

Seven: The number of days till players don shoulder pads and helmets.

Nine: The number of days till players don the full pads … that is to say, the number of days till things get really serious on the practice field.

“We’re going to get in so many hours of conditioning before the full pads, just for their own health,” said head coach Jeff Chi, whose team went 3-7 overall last season, including 1-3 in the Rio Hondo League.

It’s been hot in recent weeks, so the team practices in the later afternoon, usually starting with a 4 p.m. session in the weight room before the players step onto the field around five, with the sun and the heat fading.

It’s a big concern for coaches nationwide.

Quarterbacks get in some work.

“We try to avoid the heat —  there’s been so many incidents around the country of kids having heatstroke and stuff like that,’’ Chi said.  “So we try to avoid situations like that by working out in the later part of the day.”

After the weight-room work, Chi said, players took the field and he put them through some footwork and conditioning drills, plus some basic offensive plays. Nothing too intense, yet.

“We worked on our playbook on offense a little, to see what kind of retention the kids had over the break — and it was pretty good,” Chi said.

So was the players’ fitness, he said.

“In terms of strength and conditioning, it didn’t really drop off,” Chi said. “I know some coaches are concerned that having a week off will affect conditioning, but they came back strong.’’

A truly tiring workout.

The “week off” was a reference to the team’s summer workouts — three weeks of similar but lighter work than the players are now heading into.

Chi is also waiting for his full army of players, some of whom are not yet back from summer school of vacation.

As for handicapping the season, it’s still a little early, Chi said.

“It’s kind of hard to tell right now, it’s all just running and footwork,’’ Chi said.

There’s also a scrimmage versus Lincoln High ahead of that season opener.

“Last year didn’t go too well,’’ Chi had said recently. “We had some injury situations, some concussions, some key injuries to key players.’’

Last year’s senior-heavy team, he said, packed punch on the first string, but he had “a tough time finding replacement players’’ beyond those starters.

This season figures to present new challenges, with a lot of new faces.

Earlier this summer, Chi did talk up some returning seniors, including quarterback Samuel Luna-Long (who’s nursing a shoulder injury but should be ready for season opener), running back and linebacker Quentin Pithey, defensive back and wide receiver Ivan Estrada, offensive and defensive lineman Garrett Washburn and offensive lineman and linebacker Jared Lachica.

He also pointed to some players he thought could have breakout years, including wide receiver/defensive back Terrence Sweetman and running back/linebacker Joshua Cruzata, both juniors, and sophomores Grant Huntley (a receiver and possible backup quarterback) and offensive lineman Noah Leider.

Let the countdown continue.

Head coach Jeff Chi welcomes players as assistant coach Jason Barnes looks on.