LA CAÑADA FLINTRIDGE — The inaugural rendition of the St. Francis High football camp gave youth players a chance to learn the basics, as well as a few finer points, of the game from Golden Knights Coach Jim Bonds, his coaching staff and some of his current players.
Bonds, who was a prep standout at quarterback at Hart High and played at UCLA before shaping the Golden Knights into a perennial CIF playoff team out of the tough Mission League, hopes at least a few of the sixth through eighth graders that were scampering around Friedman Field this week will repay the favor by choosing to don the Knights' brown and gold when they reach high school.
"We're just trying to get interest, we know that there's kids that don't live too far away from here who have never even been on St. Francis' campus before," said Bonds, who opened the school's facilities to about 50 participants from 4-7 p.m. Monday through Wednesday. "We just want to introduce the school to them and just work on some relationships and let them know that this is an option.
"There's kids that live in the area that are driving right past us or going to other schools or driving downtown and going to a school down there, so we're just trying to market the school and the football program a little bit."
Some of the attendants participating Tuesday afternoon said it was the reputation of St. Francis as a school and a program that had attracted them in the first place.
"I mainly got here from talk from my friends expressing how good this was," said Daniel Scott, 13, of Monterey Hills, who said he learned about teamwork and discipline during the camp. "My main experience on going here was just to get better and also to try to focus on who the coaches are, meet them, make sure they know who I am.
"Also, it's a football camp, so just trying to get better is my main goal."
Others, like Sean Barkley, 12, of Santa Clarita, whose father is an alum and whose brother is a current Golden Knight, already had a strong connection to St. Francis.
"I came here because it sounded really interesting and so far the coaches are doing really amazing at coaching us," said Barkley, who anticipates he will attend St. Francis. "The drills are really fun, but exhausting."
But for anyone still on the fence, Bonds and his staff made sure to miss no opportunity to promote the value of being a Golden Knight.
Former players now enjoying scholarship collegiate careers in wide receiver/safety Travis Talianko (2011, San Jose State) and running back/safety Dietrich Riley (2010, UCLA) made special visits back to extol the virtues of their alma mater.
"This place means a lot to me," Riley told the assembly at the close of Tuesday's session. "[St. Francis] taught me about being disciplined and focusing on my main priorities."
Bonds had his entire varsity and junior varsity coaching staff on the field running drills and clinics. And over a half-dozen of the returning players from last year's team that advanced to the quarterfinals of the CIF Southern Section Western Division playoffs, including Jared Lebowitz, Trevor Provencio, Joey Velladao, Matt Kubly and Gordon Grbavac, guided the campers through each activity.
"I think the kids like them better [than the coaches], the kids gravitate to the players because they're younger," Bonds said. "It's been a big hit having them out here."
Matt Elser, 13, of Santa Clarita, said the high school players helped him and his fellow campers better absorb the lessons from the coaching staff.
"It helps us think better because they help us through it," Elser said. "If we don't understand anything they come up and talk to us."
Over the course of the camp, players learned technique and proper form and preparation for playing skill positions, as well as on offensive and defensive lines, and used their knowledge in non-contact simulations that resembled passing league scrimmages.
"The skill level is all across the spectrum, so we're just trying to teach them basic fundamentals of football," Bonds said. "[We] teach them how we do things at St. Francis, about the way we run our football program and what it's about, so maybe it makes an impression on them and they can take something back to their Pop Warner team or their Junior All-American team and use it for their upcoming football season."