LA CAÑADA — When the Flintridge Prep football team found itself perfecting its running form on a Thursday afternoon, it was clear the Rebels had taken a back-to-basics approach in their spring workouts.
"That's our focus this summer — keeping it simple — I think we may have one, two passing league games set up all summer," Flintridge Prep Coach Antonio Harrison said. "I want to get back to the basics."
Those basics include conditioning, footwork, catching and carrying the ball, route running and most importantly for the Rebels, who graduated 13 seniors, tackling.
"My goal for us is to be the best fundamentally sound team and the best tackling team out there," Harrison said. "If we can do that, the rest will take care of itself."
Prep officially began its summer program on June 3 and will take its mandatory three-week dead period on July 1. The team practices 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday with the first hour spent in the weight room and the second for on-field conditioning and fundamental drills.
Good news for the Rebels is they've seen their summer numbers jump from about 19 to 20 in previous seasons to about 26 this year. Harrison hopes that translates to a total of about 60 players in the program, including junior varsity and varsity, this year.
"I can attribute that maybe to our success last season," returning senior middle linebacker and guard Brian Heintz said. "I think football is back on the map at Prep. People are starting to gain confidence and want to come out more."
A year removed from perhaps the worst season in Flintridge Prep football history, when it went 1-9 and was forced to forfeit two games when injuries depleted an already thin roster in 2011, the Rebels bounced back impressively and won their first playoff game since 2003 before finishing the year at 6-5, 3-1 for second place in the Prep League.
"I definitely think [last year] helped," said Augustin Acosta-Ghioldi, a returning senior on the offensive and defensive lines, of the turnout this spring. "Morale is a lot higher after that winning season. I think people are really buying into the program and really are committed."
Senior running back Stefan Smith echoed Acosta-Ghioldi
"A lot of people are excited about football. People were excited last year, people get excited every year about a new season, but it seems like this year people know if we work and do the things we're supposed to we can be successful."
Despite graduating its two-year quarterback Clayton Weirick and All-Area standouts Tucker Chemel on the offensive and defensive lines and tight end/linebacker Chadd Cosse, Harrison likes the group of youngsters and veterans he has assembled this year.
Eight would-be seniors from last year's team, including Smith, Heintz, Acosta-Ghioldi, Kyle Hamane, Thomas Turchan and Kyle Law, will lead the way.
Harrison is also looking for the spring to help decide who his next quarterback will be with Law — a running and corner back a year ago — and sophomore Andrew Tsaengos battling for the position.
"It will be an interesting competition for quarterback this year," Harrison said.
Whether on offense or defense, Smith is certainly the Rebels' highest-touted returner. The running and defensive back earned All-Prep League and All-Area first-team honors with 27 total touchdowns (23 rushing, three receiving, one interception), 1,480 yards on 148 carries, four interceptions, 22.5 tackles, a forced fumble and blocked kick on defense.
"I expect a lot of great things and you know the force that put up the most points for us on offense and defense, Stefan, is back," Harrison said. "I'm not mad or upset with that, that's very helpful."
Smith will look to make veteran offensive coordinator Glen Beattie's wing-T offense run smoothly. It may not be new, but Harrison is confident it'll still be successful after it produced two 1,000-yard rushers in 2012 in Smith and Kurt Kozacik, who graduated.
Before he dives into the playbook, Smith and the rest of the Rebels are starting at square one.
"I think it's getting bigger, faster, stronger and people saw the results from last year," Smith said. "If you come out here in the weight room and run in the heat, it pays off and you can see the results."