Jeff Chi doesn’t usually go out on a limb making this kind of prediction, but the South Pasadena High football coach is guaranteeing the Tigers are going to win their season opener Friday night.
It was an easy choice for Chi when asked who is going to come out on top as his team prepares to travel to Lincoln High of Los Angeles for the 7 p.m. contest.
“They’re Tigers just like us,” he explained, noting the mascots are the same at both schools. “One of the Tigers is going to win and one of the Tigers is going to lose,” he said matter-of-factly.
Aside from the no-brainer selection in picking a winner between the two nonleague opponents, Chi likes the idea his team will get a chance to play a full schedule this fall. Most high school teams managed to play a short three or four game COVID-induced shortened campaign last spring, and Lincoln was one of the best around, going 4-0. South Pasadena went 2-2, including a forfeit victory in its finale against Monrovia.
Lincoln impressed Chi earlier this year during a passing league contest between the two schools with its ability to move the football. “What I noticed is they had a pretty good running back, returning receiver and quarterback,” Chi said. “So, we’re going to have our hands full against them. From what we can tell, they throw the ball well down field, so our safeties have to recognize that. Our front seven also needs to step up to stop their running game.”
Not long after ending the spring season, South Pasadena went back to work in late spring that rolled into summer with a strong focus on weightlifting and conditioning. “Overall as coaches we’re pleased with the way we’ve been progressing,” Chi said. “I’ve seen a big transformation in our kids in terms of their strength, size and muscle development. So, hopefully that will help us last the season and we won’t have too many injuries.”
Offensively, Chi’s squad has all but two of its offensive starters returning. A solid group of talent, including the quarterback, running backs and wide receivers, is back from season one. Combine that with four of five offensive linemen from last season, and it gives South Pasadena’s head coach plenty of optimism headed into the season.
Noah Aragon, a 6-1, 176-pound senior, will guide the Tigers’ offense. Chi anticipates big production out of his veteran quarterback. “He’s got very powerful arm strength,” praised the coach. “He zips the ball down the field, his foot speed is impressive and he’s very elusive. He’s got powerful arm strength, is elusive, runs the ball well and can extend a play with his feet. Noah has a lot of weapons. He’s going to give opponents’ defensive backs plenty to worry about. He’s got it, so we want to keep him healthy and see what he has to showcase this year.”
Senior Grant Huntley, as dependable as they come when passes come his way, and Richard Conti, a junior, will be on the receiving end of a good share of Aragon’s throws as his expected big targets. Conti came up big in South Pasadena’s win over La Cañada last season, scoring a touchdown on offense and another on the defensive side after returning an interception playing in the backfield.
“We have a group of other receivers who have been working hard and are getting as good as the other guys,” said Chi. “They will showcase their abilities eventually as teams have to double team Grant or Conti. It will give them an opportunity to catch some balls.”
Three of South Pasadena’s first five non-league games are at home. Following Friday’s game at Lincoln, the Tigers host Viewpoint of Calabasas on Saturday, August 28, and Marshall (Los Angeles) Friday, September 3, before traveling to Heritage Christian (Northridge) Saturday, September 11, then returning home to play Alhambra Friday, September 17.
Rio Hondo League play gets underway Friday, October 1 with a road game at Temple City. The Tigers host La Cañada Friday, October 8, head to Pasadena High on Friday, October 14 for a contest against Blair, and conclude the regular season with back-to-back home games, facing Pasadena Poly October 15 and rival San Marino October 22. All games begin at 7 p.m.
Chi is confident his team has a chance to come away with a Rio Hondo League title after playing the five league game schedule. “The guys have been showing up for practice every day and are a committed, dedicated group,” he said. “They have been working hard. They stay in there and play hardnosed football.”
That was evident during a scrimmage at home against San Gabriel last week when South Pasadena finally was given an opportunity to work on all facets of its game in front of a live crowd. “We had some good plays, and give credit to San Gabriel. They looked good at times, too. I liked the effort from our guys.”
With the quarterback, receivers, running backs, anchored by Jack Riffle, a proven senior, along with solid line play, Chi is encouraged, believing good fortune could come South Pasadena’s way over the next couple of months. “We have key guys in key positions, where they will be saying, ‘Should we protect the pass, should we stop the running game?’ It will be interesting to see how teams plan to stop us. Hopefully, we will take advantage of that, get some touchdowns, get ahead and maintain it.”
And come out on top, at least this week, anyway. “The Tigers will win – for sure 100%,” assured the coach. “I’ll put my retirement on that.”