When Russell White took over the Flintridge Prep program in 2016, the Rebels had just switched over to the eight-man football level.
White inherited a team that was accustomed to playing the traditional 11-man style, but among them were freshmen who only knew began playing in the smaller format.
Now, those freshmen are seniors. Now, his entire team only knows eight-man football. Now, White says, it’s their time to shine.
“I’ve been excited about this group since last year ended,” White said. “They have the chance to lay some type of legacy. They saw that leadership. It’s their turn to be the leaders.”
There’s a bit of a change in the team’s overall look, however. Traditionally, the Rebels had a size advantage, but this season, the team’s athleticism should be the key to its success.
“Speed is going to be our biggest asset this year,” White said. “A couple years ago, it was always size was a good thing for us, but this year, we have a lot of guys that can flat-out go.
“We’re just excited over here with the potential that we have. If we can just keep the focus on the wins and not about the personals, we’ll be right there.”
Last season, the Rebels finished 4-5 overall and 1-2 in the Prep League for third place. Flintridge Prep earned an at-large bid into the CIF Southern Section Division I playoffs, where the Rebels lost, 28-26, to Sage Hill in the first round.
In the nonleague outlook, the Rebels will face Sage Hill again in the second week of the season after their home opener against Hesperia Christian on Aug. 31.
After another home game against Thacher, Flintridge Prep will travel to Cate and Avalon on Catalina Island before returning home for its final nonleague game against Riverside Educational Academy.
“Cate and Thacher always kind of boost us because those games are always good. We get them and we do it,” White said. “It’ll be nice to play those two guys again as we always do, but it’s nice to see Sage Hill, Hesperia Christian, Avalon and Riverside County as those other fill-in games.
“I feel like every game is a builder, as I look at the schedule today.”
With eyes on Prep League success, the Rebels will host back-to-back league showdowns against Windward and Milken before its season finale at Chadwick, the reigning Prep League champion.
“The pendulum is going to swing a bit, I think, with Chadwick losing a lot of their guys,” White said. “Don’t get me wrong, they’ve got a couple of dudes that are still there. That game is always going to be a pivotal game and I think it will be more pivotal this year.
“We’re going to be at their field and you just never know what can happen in a game no matter what the records will say. You still have to buckle up and come do your job.”
White will have 13 returners, highlighted by new quarterback Max Gitlin. The left-hander will fill the pocket left by former All-Area and All-CIF Southern Section captain John Lytle.
“John was a huge part of this team’s offense for three seasons and he was a great role model to me,” Gitlin said. “He gave me a lot of pieces to get to where I need to be with this offense, and I have guys all over the field that can help me and make plays. Ben Grable, Zach Kim, Tommy Porter — all those guys are weapons and some of the best guys in eight-man football.
“We set a team goal to take our talents and go to the state championships. We definitely have the talent to do it and it starts with practices and the younger guys getting some playing time as much as they can. We have a really good team here and we can definitely achieve that goal.”
Along with Gitlin, the Rebels will have All-CIF honorees in receiver and linebacker Grable and receiver and corner Kim.
“We’re going to have a good team,” Grable said. “We have a lot of older guys with 13 seniors. I think that’s the most we’ve had in a while, so if we were going to make a run at it, this would be the year for sure.
“We play some pretty strong teams. I think for homecoming, we have a difficult team scheduled, but we have new guys this year that are going to step up and make something happen.”
Grable, who’s coming off of a stellar baseball season, recorded more than 1,000 receiving yards last season, while Kim nearly achieved the 1,000-yard mark.
“Grable is a beast,” White said. “He’s done the hard work and the dedication and it’s going to show. Zach Kim is always going to be a threat because of his leaping ability, his catching ability and his tackling ability. He’s always going to be someone you’re going to worry about.”
Also returning is running back Alex Payne, who will fill in at multiple positions. Kicker and Rebels soccer standout Silas Chavez will provide help on kickoffs and punts, and Porter, a junior, makes his comeback after a knee injury that sidelined him midway last season.
In addition, the Rebels picked up basketball point guard Kevin Ashworth, as well as baseball catcher Germaine Harvey.
“Those guys are going to help us in so many ways being that it’s their first, but last time playing football,” White said. “We got a quick glimpse of Kevin and Germaine through some passing leagues and some 11-man and seven-on-sevens at La Canada and we didn’t do too bad.
“We played really well against some good teams that gave us a good test. It’s not what we do, so we were kind of stepping up to what they do and, athletically, we were there.”
Freshman Luca Yeghnazar will be a promising lineman for the Rebels.