For first-year varsity coach Jeff Chi it comes down to “taking care of business, doing what we need to do” as South Pasadena High prepares for its season opener at home tonight against Rosemead.
Chi, who takes over for C.B. Richards, the Tigers’ coach the past two seasons, is confident his club can have a solid offensive and defensive showing in its 2017 debut.
Taking care of business means South Pas quarterback Sydney Luna-Long must be smart on offense, controlling both the ball and clock.
And on defense? “We have to hustle, swarm after the ball, and take care of every opportunity that might come our way,” said Chi.
“If we do what we’re suppose to do, we’ll be fine,” he continued. “We just have to play our game.”
That’s all that matters to Chi and his 35-man roster as South Pasadena goes up against a big, physical, and talented Panthers’ unit.
Lining up at one of the wide receiver spots for the Tigers will be senior Danny Rios, 17, who is expecting a lot of games to go into South Pasadena’s win column this season. “I think we’re ready to go,” he said. “Rosemead lost a lot of seniors, and hopefully we can put up a good fight to them.”
South Pasadena came out on top in its meeting with Rosemead a year ago during its 7-4 season, which included a forfeit victory over Blair.
Rios wants nothing more than to win a Rio Hondo League championship this season. “We have the potential this year to actually follow through with it,” he said. “The league looks wide open, so I think we have a good chance.”
Fernando Sornoso, 17, a senior linebacker and fullback, knows the Tigers lost 22 seniors to graduation last season, but likes how this year’s class has stepped up during the spring and summer drills as it prepared for the fall. “We lost a lot of our offensive line, we’re small in numbers, small in size, but make it up with heart,” said Sornoso. “We’re giving it 100 percent everyday. We all have high hopes this year.”
Noah Millholland, 17, a senior, plays safety and hopes to play some cornerback during the year. “I think we have a good chance against every team,” he said. “I see us fighting until the last quarter. We’re a hard-working and determined team.”
Luna-Long, 17, takes over the quarterbacking role this season and appears to have full command of the Tigers’ offense. “Rosemead is a good team and going to come out playing hard,” he said. Agreeing with Chi, he added, “It’s just going to come down to executing (on offense). We just need to work hard, play hard.”
He’s looking forward to building a “new tradition, new mentality” of winning under a new coach. “We’ve had success over the past two years and we just want to keep it going,” he said.
Justin Huff, 16, a junior, is the backup quarterback and a standout kicker with a strong leg. “We’re young team,” he said. “It’s definitely going to be a rebuilding year. We have a young line.”
Among a crop of new varsity players is transfer tight end and linebacker Wynn Starratt, 17, who comes over from Mananatha, a private school in Pasadena.
“I like this team,” said Starratt, “I think we’re going to be good. In a lot of ways it’s better than playing for Maranatha. It’s more of a family. Coming to South Pas I feel like everyone is bonded, which I think is really good for the team.”
The good-natured Starratt seems to always be smiling, having fun with his fellow players in practice. “I’m having a great time,” he enthused. “Every day is a blast.”
As a tune-up for tonight’s game, the Tigers were tested during a scrimmage last Friday night against Pioneer of Whittier, Pasadena and Baldwin Park. “We tried to treat it as a game situation to get the kids ready for the season,” explained Chi. “It was good to get some live action against other teams.”