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Up early, St. Francis football improving every day in summer

LA CAÑADA — With record-breaking high temperatures forecast to burn across the Southland, St. Francis High’s football team tiredly rounded the Friedman Field track to the finish line of a summer practice.

It was hot. But it was hot for a morning practice.

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As has become standard, the Golden Knights are up early at 6 a.m. for the majority of their practices, beating the heat for the most part as they work toward the season’s kickoff at Mira Costa on Aug. 24.

“I actually like [the early practices,] because I don’t like practicing in the heat and you get it over with and have the rest of the day,” said running back/defensive back Kevin Armstead, one of a handful of returners on a relatively young squad.

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Said returning linebacker Will Stewart: “Once you’re used to it, you’re happy with it because it’s like 95 degrees in the afternoon.”

St. Francis is in the last days of a summer session following a phenomenally successful 2017 season in which it advanced to a CIF title game for the first time since 1964 — ultimately losing to Rancho Verde, 44-42, in the CIF Southern Section Division III championship.

However, that squad was one rich with seniors — including 11 All-Area selections who have graduated.

This year’s squad boasts the returns of Armstead, Stewart and reigning All-Area Football Player of the Year Darius Perrantes, who by all accounts has impressed in summer play.

“We’ve got a lot of young guys. Last year, we had a lot of seniors,” said Armstead, one of three returning All-Area picks along with Perrantes and kicker Nico Boschetti. “We just have to mature more.”

The Golden Knights’ summer session will conclude July 18 and until then the focus is to continue doing what they’ve apparently been doing every day.

“What I like is we’re getting better,” St. Francis assistant coach Ted Corcoran said. “We’re improving. Where we were in January, where we were in May, we’re a much better football team.

“What I’ve told them before is every rep this team gets, we’ll be better.”

Corcoran, the line and strength and conditioning coach, and longtime defensive coordinator Mark Gibbons have taken the reins during the summer as veteran coach Jim Bonds, the reigning All-Area Football Coach of the Year, battles cancer.

As is seemingly the case every year at this time, one of the focuses is building team chemistry.

So far so good, according to the returning quarterback.

“We’ve definitely become a tighter group, better chemistry after the first couple months of working,” Perrantes said.

However, with such a young group, especially on the offensive and defensive lines, gaining experience, getting reps and learning the schemes and playbook are at the forefront, as well.

“It’s going pretty good so far,” Stewart said. “We’re a young team, so every practice helps us. I feel like we’re getting better every morning.

“Becoming a team and getting more experience for the younger guys [are the biggest goals for the summer].”

Corcoran believes the skill positions are coming into form with talented returners and promising newcomers. The biggest question marks are likely on the line as both sides of the ball will see an almost entire overhaul.

“The line is going to be pretty much all new,” he said.

But with each passing day, the Golden Knights are up early doing their best to improve and follow up a 12-2 season in which they took second in the Angelus League and marched to the CIF finals.

“As a team, we have expectations and what we want to accomplish,” Perrantes said, “but now we’re working on team chemistry, getting stronger.”

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