Weekends are spent watching tape of the opposition as coaches maximize the limited time between a contest played on Friday night and Monday morning when much of the game plan for a team’s next encounter is put into place.
It can be a grind, admits South Pasadena High football coach Jeff Chi, who also meets on campus with team members Saturday mornings to watch game action of the game that just ended while getting a jump-start on the week ahead with some strategy on how his team plans to attack the upcoming opponent.
Welcome to the life of a high school football coach.
Mixing film sessions and practices with his personal life has its challenges, but Chi says having an understanding wife goes a long way to the couple’s long marriage. “She kind of knew what she was getting into,” he says of his wife, Felicia. “I’ve been coaching a long time.”
Mostly as an assistant at the high school level, Chi, who became the Tigers’ head coach in 2017, has been around the game for the better part of 30 years. The couple has two children, both in college, and away from football, Chi spends time monitoring their academic progress and teaching math at South Pasadena High before heading to the school’s stadium in the late afternoon daily to be with his players.
There’s a reason he gets it all done.
“It’s like anything,” said man guiding the Tigers’ football program, “you have to have a passion for what you do.”
Much of his passion for the game comes with helping shape the lives of young people. “It’s not always about the wins, which are important, believe me, but we, as coaches, know the real reason why we’re out here spending the long hours we do,” explained Chi before a practice this week. “We want these kids to learn life lessons – to be on time, to be accountable and be good citizens. That’s a big part of what we’re teaching. We want them to be productive, learn from this experience, when they move on in life, whether it be college or a job.”
For most of the season, his players will be in action on the field six days a week, unless given a break from a Saturday morning workout. With the demands of school, homework and personal life, Chi knows it can be grueling on his players, too.
“These guys have made a commitment to be here and I know it’s not always easy,” he said. “We’ve got a great group of dedicated players. We want them to learn from it.”
Injuries have kept some from suiting up for games, and a roster that lists 36 has been depleted to about 30 for Friday night’s action as the 2-1 Tigers prepare to go on the road against Arroyo High in El Monte. Perhaps the biggest loss has been at the quarterback position, where last year’s Rio Hondo League first team signal caller won’t play a down behind center in his senior year. Justin Huff, who connected on 59 of his 100 passes for 905 yards with 10 touchdowns and seven interception in 2017, suffered a concussion during a wake boarding accident in late July at Lake Almansor in Northern California. That wasn’t the worst of it. After waiting out the Tigers’ first game against Mountain View due to CIF mandated protocol, Huff, also the team’s punter, was cleared to play the second, but suffered a season-ending leg injury, fracturing his femur above the right knee and tearing his ACL, in the game against El Monte attempting to make a tackle following a punt.
“Tough luck,” shared Tom Ashby, Huff’s grandfather, in a text. “After six years of playing tackle football (Pop Warner, Junior All-American, and high school) and spending much of his last two summers at kicking camps, two plays and his senior year is over.”
Ashby, a former soccer coach at the local high school, has attended South Pasadena games for years and arguably is one SPHS’s most dedicated fans.
Not only was Huff projected as the team’s starting quarterback and punter, but was counted on this season to boot all of the team’s kickoffs, PAT’s and field goals. Overall, during his sophomore and junior seasons, Huff was 11 for 12 in field goals with his only miss coming on a dropped snap. He was voted first team All-Rio Hondo League and second team All-San Gabriel Valley both years as a kicker.
“It’s a big loss that he isn’t playing for us,” said Chi, noting that some six other players are nicked and bruised and listed as questionable when the Tigers travel to El Monte to face Arroyo, which also holds a 2-1 mark. “We’re like a lot teams, banged up in certain areas, but we’re going to hope they’ll be ready to go Friday night.”
With all that has happened, South Pasadena still has a winning record after three weeks. The Tigers won their season opener handily over Mountain View 35-14 behind three touchdown passes from junior quarterback Samuel Luna-Long to Ivan Estrada, before being crushed 59-6 by El Monte and coming back to win a tight one, playing strong defense down the stretch, to hold off Eastside of Lancaster 7-6 last week.
Arroyo opened the season losing to Bonita 42-24, handed Nogales a 48-7 loss and came back for its second straight victory against Schurr last Friday night.
After his standout performance against Mountain View, Luna-Long went out of the El Monte contest with a second half concussion and gave way to Jaden Gallego, a wide receiver and linebacker, finished out the game against the Lions and directed the Tigers attack in the one-point victory last Friday over visiting Eastside.
CIF has given Luna-Long the go ahead to step in at quarterback this week as the junior will face another big, fast and powerful defense. The rugged preseason is designed to get the Tigers ready for the league campaign September 28 when South Pasadena faces San Marino on the road. Before then, however, the Tigers host Alhambra on September 14 and travel to Eagle Rock on September 21 for their final two nonleague encounters.
Much work still needs to be done between now and the time South Pasadena opens league play against San Marino, which is coming off a lopsided 76-36 victory over El Monte, the same team the Tigers lost to by 53 points.
“We need to improve on everything – executing our running and passing game, defensively learning our assignments, getting a better pass rush…a lot of things. ” said Chi, checking off what needs to be worked on in short order time. “The kids are putting forth the effort and I’m proud of them, but we just have to keep working and get better. We’ve got a ways to go.”