Since opening its 2011 season with a nonleague victory over Bellarmine-Jefferson, the Flintridge Prep football team's fortunes have taken a decidedly downward turn.
A pair of lopsided losses coincided with a mounting rash of injuries to a squad that began the season with only 19 players on the roster.
And on Monday, Prep Coach Antonio Harrison talked to his team and sent out a press release, as he made the decision to cancel the Rebels' upcoming Saturday contest against Campbell Hall that was set for 1 p.m. at Occidental College. Harrison's decision came as he would have had 12 or 13 players able to suit up for the game with one of them being a kicker.
"It was incredibly hard, slash, incredibly easy," said Harrison of the decision. "I know if I asked those 12 or 13 kids to go out and play on Saturday, they'd go and give me everything they've got. … When it boils down to putting them on the field with a team that has more than 30 kids, I'm not gonna put them in danger's way. It's like feeding them to the wolves."
CIF Director of Communications Thom Simmons confirmed that the game would be ruled a forfeit, meaning the Rebels will drop to 1-3 on the season. A fourth consecutive loss could also be in the cards, as Harrison said the team might be forced to forfeit its Oct. 1 nonleague game at Malibu.
After a 49-13 loss to St. Genevieve on Sept. 9, the Rebels were defeated by Grace Brethren, 48-0, on Friday in a game in which the team began with 17 players, but by the third quarter had only a kicker as a reserve player. During one sequence in the game, Harrison said he realized just how dire the Rebels' predicament had become when, on four consecutive plays, the Rebels were on defense, a point-after team, a kicking team and offense and a single player didn't leave the field.
"I had guys so out of position, I couldn't even call plays," Harrison said.
Among the most notable injuries is senior two-way starter Chris Wirthlin, who was lost after the team's first-week win over Bell-Jeff. After that, Kurt Kocazik took over running back duties, but he was injured against Grace Brethren.
Wirthlin has no timetable for a return, according to Harrison, but the coach said the best-case scenario is likely six weeks as he's battling a knee injury. Another Rebel has been lost for the season, but after that, Kocazik's high-ankle sprain is the most severe.
"I didn't get much sleep over the weekend," Harrison said. "I tried to think of anyway possible that we could add to the roster. We just didn't have the numbers."
According to Harrison, Prep only has three sophomores on its junior varsity squad that he could have pulled up.
Harrison's plan going forward is to have a light week of practice in which the Rebels will watch film, work out in the weight room and undertake rehab exercises. In roughly a week, Harrison said he will have the team's trainer take a look at all the injured players and determine if they'll have enough players to field a competitive team against Malibu.
"If not, we cancel Malibu and get the kids healthy for [Prep] League," Harrison said.
Prep League play is set to begin for the Rebels on Oct. 7 against Webb at Occidental College.
Harrison, in his second year as the Rebels' head coach, was also a standout three-way athlete when he attended Flintridge Prep. A 2001 graduate, on the football field he was a quarterback and safety, playing the latter in college, as well.
"I've never seen it, I've never gone through it," said Harrison of his team's current situation. "I went to Prep, I played there. We're a small school, so you're used to small numbers. But we always had at least around 25 guys.
"Once you don't have any time to rest or get off the field, I don't care how awesome you are, at some point you're gonna start to break down."
Flintridge Prep won a CIF championship in 2003 under Coach Marty Konrad. Including Konrad and Harrison, Prep has had four coaches since then and has had just one winning season and made three playoff appearances, losing in the first round each time.
Harrison believes the only way to return the program back to its former success — and other Prep sports, for that matter — is to encourage the student-body to play multiple sports and balance a commitment to academics with a commitment to athletics.
"If we don't fix something it … we're gonna be in the same boat," Harrison said.