By Keith Lair
PHOTOS: ST. PAUL PRACTICE
SANTA FE SPRINGS – The St. Paul High School football team is loaded with players bound for college football programs.
So when the Swordsmen open practice every day, many of those standout players are watching from the sidelines.
First-year St. Paul coach Elijah Asante brought out the punting team at the start of Tuesday afternoon’s drills, just like he does at every practice.
“Every game starts with special teams,” Asante said. “Have you ever seen a game that starts without a kickoff?”
The Swordsmen took punt after punt before breaking down into offensive and defensive drills. They began their team meeting on Tuesday afternoon discussing special teams, just like they always do.
“We put a heavy emphasis on special teams,” Asante said. “We want everybody to know how important special teams are to us. If we put special teams at the end of practice, you kind of diminish it and we don’t want to diminish it.
“It’s where you win or lose the game the most often.”
Asante has been with St. Paul – he had previously coached at Carson – since December and he was able to put his offensive and defensive schemes in place long ago.
“It’s going smooth,” senior quarterback Paul Telles said. “We’re just trying to get ready for La Mirada (on Aug. 24). We caught on pretty quickly to what he wants to do.”
But Asante said he will never entirely be sure how his team is faring until that Aug.24 game.
“It appears they have adapted,” he said. “You really don’t know. It’s an experiment that hasn’t been tested yet and the test is on the 24th against La Mirada. We’ll have to see how we adapt to someone with another jersey on.”
It probably won’t happen on Friday night either, in the Swordsmen’s annual intrasquad scrimmage.
“You know what happens at this time of the year,” Asante said. “Everyone looks good because they’re going against themselves. If your offense does well, did they do well because your defense did poorly? Or did they do well because they’re good? And the same thing about the defense. Did they do well because the offense didn’t do well or did they really do well?”
“You really don’t know.”
Asante does know he has a solid quarterback in Telles, who passed for roughly 4,000 yards and 30 touchdowns the past two seasons.
“There is no pressure,” Telles said. “The senior class had this pressure since our sophomore year. We’re up for the challenge.
“For me it comes down to making the right reads.”
Telles can hand the ball off to junior Kurt Scoby or pass it to three 6-foot or taller receivers, including returnee Zach Ramsey and newcomers Darrell Cloy, who was at Garfield last year, or Alec Dana, who was at Norco last year. Asante said Dana is the Swordsmen’s fastest player.
“We have some nice receivers and Paul is looking great,” Asante said. “Right now we’re just getting our chemistry and timing down.”
Players who have surprised Asante are lineman Jonathan Gravini and backup quarterback George Reyes.