Toward the end of the first week of preseason practice, the members of the St. Francis High football team excitedly put on their pads and helmets. The lights had been turned on at Friedman Field shortly before the sun set.
It’s one of the moments designed for St. Francis to look forward to as the Golden Knights began preparation for the upcoming season.
“It’s pretty neat when you are under the lights for practice because it adds to their enthusiasm and it’s just cooler outside,” veteran St. Francis coach Jim Bonds said. “It helps you practice well together and gets you that game feeling.”
St. Francis will finally have the opportunity to showcase its skills when it begins its season at 7 p.m. Friday with a nonleague home contest against Mira Costa.
St. Francis will field a 46-player roster that will feature a large core of seniors. So, experience shouldn’t be a problem for the Golden Knights, who went 6-4, 2-1 in the Angelus League for second place before falling, 49-7, to second-seeded Calabasas in a CIF Southern Section Division II first-round contest last season.
“I think we’ve done a good job at going over game situations, special teams and more,” said Bonds, who took over at St. Francis in 2000 and led it to the Division III championship game in 2018. “I really like our leadership, especially from all of the seniors that we have, and I think it will give us a big boost.
“I think we are set with players at the skill positions and on defense. We just want to get started. We want to win league, make the playoffs and go from there.”
Of course, some things will look a bit different for the Golden Knights. St. Francis has moved back to Division III this season, down from Division II, after the CIF Southern Section office realigned each division in May. St. Francis will have a new quarterback and some players will be making their inaugural appearances on the varsity stage.
St. Francis will again be in the Angelus League with Cathedral, Crespi and Salesian. Cathedral won the league title last season. St. Francis will begin league play Oct. 18 at Crespi before traveling to Salesian on Oct. 25. It will wrap up the regular season at home versus Cathedral on Nov. 1.
“We’ll be playing a tough nonleague schedule that will include teams like Westlake and Paraclete,” Bonds said. “We’ve got seven weeks to prove ourselves heading into league and the schedule that we’ll be playing will help us get ready for league. I think we have a good shot at winning league.”
Looking to pave the way will be junior Jack Clougherty, who takes over for all-league standout Darius Perantes, who graduated and is now at the University of Rhode Island. Last season, Perantes completed 142 of 216 passes (49.7 completion percentage) for 2,315 yards and 20 touchdowns.
“Jack has had a very good offseason and he’s done a good job learning,” Bonds said. “He’s got a very good throwing arm and he knows how to make the quick pass. He’ll have an experienced line in front of him to help make the transition.”
The featured running back will be senior Kevin Armstead, who was bestowed with all-league recognition after rushing for 1,097 yards in 159 carries in 10 games. Armstead rushed for 11 touchdowns and caught 29 passes for 283 yards and two touchdowns.
The projected receivers will be seniors Bryson Reeves and Adam Barakat and sophomore Max Garrison. Reeves picked up all-league accolades after he caught 34 passes for 702 yards and eight touchdowns in 2018. Garrison, also an all-league honoree, might also see action at wide receiver while looking to augment St. Francis’ special teams with his splendid punt and kick returning abilities.
The tight end will be senior Tanner Tomko, who finished with 40 catches for 791 yards and seven touchdowns last season to earn an all-league nod.
“I think that we will have a very dynamic offense across the board,” Tomko said. “There are plenty of talented players on offense for us and we think we can make a lot of things happen.”
The offensive line will likely consist of seniors Aidan Flynn and Jonathan Gibbons, juniors Daniel Peters and Matthew Gurlekian and sophomore Duncan Sprengel. Flynn and Peters are returning all-league honorees.
The kicker will most likely be senior Jake Smith, who converted 22 of 24 extra-point attempts and was placed on the all-league team last season.
The Golden Knights figure to have plenty of experience on defense, which has been a staple since Bonds arrived at St. Francis.
The defensive line will likely include seniors Devan Bell and Kilian Trulik, juniors Evan Jernegan (12 tackles and three sacks to earn all-league honors) and Joseph Ramirez. The linebackers will be Tomko and senior Matthew Cortes.
In the secondary, St. Francis will be anchored by seniors Mikey Kane, Bryson, Garrison and sophomore Mayze Bryant, whose brother, Myles, is a defensive back at the University of Washington.
Kane finished with 39 tackles and two interceptions and Garrison collected 31 tackles and two interceptions en route to being selected to the all-league team in 2018.
Bell, who received all-league recognition last season, said the Golden Knights are capable of shining on defense.
“I like the experience that we have on defense and there’s just so much talent,” Bell said. “Plus, we still have some guys who were on the 2018 team. It’s a special group.”
Bonds said the pieces appear in place for St. Francis to enjoy success.
“I think we are very much experienced and athletic,” Bonds said. “We just have to find a way to stay healthy and look to achieve our goals one step at a time.”