Welcome to the ER, as South Pasadena High football coach Jeff Chi refers to it after watching one of his players struggle to walk across the field with an ice pack around his right foot before a practice this week.
Casualties have been a way of life around Chi’s program all season long – a season he might want to put behind him sooner than later.
Enduring a 2-5 record, including multiple lopsided losses, Chi has maintained his sense of humor through it all, saying the place resembles a hospital for some practices as players sit on the sidelines in street clothes nursing a variety of injuries.
“We’ve been averaging about six to eight players banged up each week,” said Chi as the number of players not playing continues to mount. “It hasn’t been easy, but I’m proud of the guys for continuing go out there and playing hard. I can’t ask for more than that.”
The devastation has included devastating losses to El Monte (59-6), Arroyo (52-7), Eagle Rock (68-0) and San Marino (50-0) last Friday.
Next up for the Tigers is another strong opponent. Chi warns not to take the Wildcat’s 2-4 record too lightly as Monrovia has played a rugged preseason, going 1-4 against nonleague opponents before opening the Rio Hondo League campaign last Friday with a convincing 42-6 victory over Temple City.
Keep your head, fight to the end and don’t give up, are messages Chi continues to remind his club as the season reaches week eight of 10.
“We’re trying to improve each individual physically, psychologically and keep them upbeat looking forward to the next game,” explained the Tigers’ coach. “We as coaches want them to continue to compete. Regardless of our record, we want to get better every play, every game. We’re always optimistic looking for something positive out of our guys.”
Following this week’s game against the Wildcats, the Tigers are back home on Oct. 12 against Temple City (2-3) and on the road Oct. 19 to take on La Cañada (1-5). All three remaining league contests start at 7 p.m.
Samuel Luna-Long, South Pasadena’s starter at quarterback, will be back in the starting lineup Friday night after suffering a wrist injury to his non-throwing hand. “He just couldn’t put a lot of pressure on it,” explained Chi on why Luna-Long missed last week’s game against the Titans.
While Luna-Long has provided steady play most of the way, Chi has to wonder what the Tigers would have looked like had Justin Huff, the team’s top quarterback and kicker, had been healthy today. Huff suffered a wakeboarding accident during the summer, causing a concussion. He missed the first game, a 35-14 win over Mountain View, because he was going through concussion protocol mandated by CIF and had not completed enough practices in pads and wearing a helmet. He was cleared to play for the second game, but was injured trying to make a tackle on his second punt during the 53-point loss to El Monte. He tore his ACL and fractured a femur on the play and had surgery in September.
What the first team Rio Hondo League quarterback from a year ago would have contributed to his team will never be known as he didn’t play on down at the position this season. “Obviously, we miss him,” said Chi. “He has a very strong arm, a good understanding of the offense and was progressing very well during spring and summer ball. Then when we got the unfortunate news, it was a little tough to take, but we immediately turned to Samuel, who has done a good job.”
Luna-Long has missed a sprinkling of games as a result of injuries, giving Jaden Gallego an opportunity to step in to complete games at quarterback, including last week’s encounter against San Marino.
“We’ve asked a lot of Jaden,” explained Chi. “I’m proud of the fact he’s willing to play, lead the team on offense and fight through it.”
There might be help for the Tigers next season as Chi watches what his frosh/soph team, under the guidance of coach Ed Smith, is doing on the field. Going into Thursday’s game against Monrovia, the Tigers are 7-1, bringing hope for the future. However, pointed out Chi, that frosh/soph success doesn’t always translate to the varsity level “because you have to do a lot of offseason training and conditioning,” he explained. “You have to get a little bit bigger, faster and stronger. We’re going to express to the younger guys, ‘While it’s nice to be successful this season, you have to continue to work hard.’ It’s good for the program that they’re winning. I’m proud of them.”
Players must have short memories when it comes to a long 10-game schedule, reminds Chi, looking at the Tigers not so favorable win-loss record filled with crushing defeats. “I appreciate that the kids for showing up each day and working hard,” he said. “They’ve been able to put the losses behind them and are trying to get better. We have to remain focused and keep competing.”
A quick test, Chi was asked the score of last week’s game. “I forgot,” the coach said laughing.
Proof his talk about having a short memory this season is already working. “Nope, don’t remember,” he insisted, grinning.