Tsangeos takes to new role(s) for Flintridge Prep football

With a roster that consists of 22 players, the Flintridge Prep football team was pleased to announce two new additions during practice recently as the Rebels tuned up for their season-opener Friday versus Blair.

On the day the Rebels' punting position was solidified, the squad also received an exciting interception return for a touchdown from its newest defensive end.

The pick and score was impressive given the end, who had only began playing the position a couple of weeks earlier, had the presence of mind to read the opposing quarterback and anticipate a screen pass.

Perhaps the interception would have angered Rebels' two-year starting quarterback Andrew Tsangeos if he weren't in the middle of the celebration, receiving high-fives from defenders and jeers from his own offensive teammates after he picked off back-up quarterback Robbie Leslie and sprinted the other way.

In a year in which Flintridge Prep will no longer be able to depend on workhorse Stefan Smith, the Rebels are developing a new grinder in quarterback/punter/defensive end Tsangeos.

"I just want to win and I'm going to do whatever the coaching staff needs of me," Tsangeos said. "I feel like this year I'm expected to be more of a leader and I'm ready for the challenge."

While Tsangeos is in his second year at the helm, perhaps his biggest task, other than stuffing three hats under one helmet, is to wean the team off the rushing game of Smith.

The All-Area first-teamer carried the load for the Rebels in 2013, rushing his way to USC behind 1,727 all-purpose yards and 17 touchdowns.

Overall, counting six successful two-point conversions, Smith accounted for 108 points or 53% (202 points) of his team's offensive output, which often left opponents and teammates alike watching and waiting for the back's next move.

"I think last year me and the other guys got really dependent on Stefan," Tsangeos said. "We sort of said, 'Here's the ball, do what you can with it.' Last year, it worked because he had some monster games. This year we knew that wasn't going to work."

Despite those numbers, the Rebels were unable to improve upon a 6-5 campaign in 2012 and instead finished 2-8 last year and out of the playoffs.

This season, Rebels Coach Antonio Harrison is going to a loaded backfield that includes tailbacks Elliot Witter and Derek Okuno, fullbacks Chris Zaro and Michael Pearson and Tsangeos, who is now charged with leading the overhaul and change from a rush-first attack to the versatile read option.

"I have trust in Andrew that's he not going to try to make the big plays, but the right plays," Harrison said. "He's a talented player and I think people may not have realized that last year. He's quick and he's intelligent and very capable of being an excellent quarterback."

More important than Tsangeos' development as a player, however, may be his progression as a leader.

"It was hard because I wanted to be leader and was trying to be a leader last year, but the older guys didn't want me to be a leader," Tsangeos said. "There were times when we would get in the huddle and I'd try to calm everyone down and the seniors would be yelling at me or they'd be yelling at each other. I tried to do everything I could, but it wouldn't work.

"I feel like this year, the team respects me more, which is good because I feel like I'm working hard in order to earn that respect and I'm going to try my hardest not to disappoint them."

It was that desire to work that led to Tsangeos' punt-pass-and-push-rush odyssey, which began about two weeks earlier when the junior jumped into a defensive huddle out of necessity.

"One day our second-string quarterback was getting some work and they needed somebody to fill in as a defensive end," Tsangeos said. "I was just having fun. I'm quicker than a lot of the linemen we face and first step gets me there.

"I'm a quarterback, so I know what the other quarterback is trying to read from an offensive perspective and that helps me on the defensive side."

On the ensuing play, Tsangeos batted down a pass from Leslie and cemented himself a spot on the defensive line.

"He's not going to start, but he's definitely going to be in there and we're going to use him," Harrison said. "You look at his [6-foot-2, 185-pound] frame and he's going to be a problem, especially in the Prep League."

As for punting duties, again, athleticism led to Tsangeos' securing the role.

"We were doing special teams at the end of practice and [Harrison] called out the starting offense and said 'Andrew is going punt for us,'" Tsangeos said. "We were going to start from an irregular formation and then shift to a punt. I have really big feet. I wear size 15. Harrison said 'You have the biggest foot and that you could probably kick the ball well.'"

While Tsangeos hadn't kicked a ball since second grade AYSO soccer, he launched a 40-yard punt that made a believer out of Harrison.

"He had some good hang time and that's what we're looking for," Harrison said. "I know it's not something natural for him, but he looked good."

Tsangeos' ability to take on any role for his team also garnered a respect and acknowledgment that was lacking last year.

"You look at Andrew working hard out there and you know we're going to do better this year," Witter said. "He's the leader of this team and we're ready to move beyond last year."

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