Training Camp: An hour at St. Francis

LA CANADA — I’d wish I had a nickel every time a coach would say, “If we can overcome injuries, then I think we’ll be OK”. I’d be a thousandare by now.

But it didn’t feel like a cliche when Coach Jim Bonds said those 11 words.

It’s always tough when a team loses a key player to a season-ending injury especially early in the season. It’s even tougher when you lose your starting quarterback.

That was the case last season for St. Francis when Austin Heyworth went down with a torn right ACL. You guys know the rest: St. Francis finished 4-6 overall and 1-3 in Mission League.

How good was Heyworth? Well, lets just say he’s now playing Division I ball at UC Davis.

I got to practice Monday afternoon and things were running smoothly as I’d expect from a team like St. Francis.

The parking wasn’t as bad as I expected. It was a nice ride down the hill on Foothill.

I walked across the field and headed to a bench where there was shade (you know, the side where the home team sits). There were a handful of parents watching from up high on the stands.

I sat there and watched Dietrich Riley play mostly defensive back. He was vocal and definitely the anchor on defense, if not the team.

I’ve been told by yall bloggers (and even my boy Jaime Cardenas formerly of The Times, now a PR associate for the L.A. Galaxy) that Riley will likely play more running back than receiver.

Coach Bonds confirmed that he will in fact play more running back but look for him to be a jack-of-all-trades. Riley also will be spending a lot of time at defensive back and weak outside linebacker.

The USC offer is still on the table for Riley. The Trojans want Riley at cornerback but Bonds said he’ll play little if any at that position for the Golden Knights since Bonds wants Riley to be more in the middle and in front of the action.

As practice went on Bonds made his way over to me and we chatted.

I asked him if he thought getting the preseason No. 1 pick was too high and whether St. Francis truly is the best team in the area.

Bonds brought up a good point. One of the disadvantages St. Francis has is they don’t play area teams, therefore how do you gauge the strength of the Golden Knights?

Well, you look at who St. Francis is playing:

Bishop Amat, Crespi, Alemany, and St. Paul. Later in the playoffs they potentially could also face Culver City, Compton Dominguez and Mira Costa.

It’s looking like the 5-foot-10 Justin Sciarra will be the quarterback. He lacks size but did start five games last season and almost led St. Francis to a victory against Loyola.

The Golden Knights have a lot of size in the trenches with Rian Younker, a 6-foot, 245 pound senior who was All-CIF last season. Younker is also the strongest player on the team. Then there’s Patrick Carroll, an intimidating presence at 6’4, 245. The scary part? He’s only a SOPHOMORE!!

I couldn’t really tell how the St. Francis offense will fare from watching one practice but I can tell you the Golden Knights will be a force on defense.

One thing I noticed from attending practices is that more water is being made available to the players. That would have been a rare sight just four or five years ago. But coaches are not going the “macho” route and depriving players of water breaks which would often lead to players being called “sissies” or deemed not “man enough”.

(I remember one time during camp a JV/varsity assistant coach said to me, “No water for you, Melendez. I expect more from you.” Luckily for me, I wasn’t as thirsty and took his words as a challenge.)

It’s a good sign to see coaches conforming to safety first. One too many heat strokes and deaths over the last few years.

I started making my way over to my car and more parents were picking up players from the freshman team, I believe. The dirt near the entrance of the field really got my shoes dirty but at least that day I wasn’t wearing my Stacy Adams shoes. Practice concluded around 7 p.m.

I had some thoughts about putting Muir at No. 1 when my top 10 story comes out in a few weeks, but as of now, It’s looking like I’ll stick to St. Francis atop the top 10 poll.

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