St. Francis High football faces uncertainty, tough slate in 2013

A year from now, if all goes as many are predicting, the St. Francis High football team will be preparing for a schedule featuring a new-look, four-team Mission League.

With heavyweights Gardena Serra and Chaminade thought to be moving on, plenty of questions will arise and the Golden Knights’ schedule would be mighty different.

For now, though, St. Francis is preparing for a 2013 slate that hasn’t changed much from the 2012 schedule and will once again be easily the area’s most arduous campaign.

“Our league hasn’t changed yet,” said veteran St. Francis Coach Jim Bonds, whose team is coming off a 4-7 season with a 1-4 mark in the Mission League and a first-round CIF Southern Section Western Division playoff exit. “It’s by far the toughest schedule we’ve had in my tenure as coach — without question.”

One of St. Francis’ two changes to the schedule comes right off the bat, as it opens up on the road at Chino on Sept. 6 at 7 p.m.

The glaring change from the St. Francis slate is the departure of Arcadia as the Golden Knights’ first-week foe.

“This will be the first year since I came back in 2000 that we haven’t played Arcadia in the opener,” Bonds said. “So that’ll be a big change.”

And with the departure of the Apaches also comes the end of any Pacific League opposition. Happy to oblige opponents that were but a short bus ride away, Bonds’ nonleague schedule had teams such as Burroughs, Foothill Blvd. rival Crescenta Valley, Pasadena and Arcadia every season, with as many as three during some campaigns.

But that’s not the case now, likely due to St. Francis’ dominance, as it has won 11 straight games against Pacific League opponents and is 24-1 against the Pacific League dating back to 2004.

Chino went 8-3 last year and begins a St. Francis nonleague slate in which it follows with Righetti (4-7 last year), La Mirada (9-2), Damien (3-6) and Monrovia (12-3).

“It’s an all-business, no-joke preseason,” Bonds said. “We’re gonna be ready right out of the gate.”

The second-week tilt against Righetti will begin a three-game homestand for the Knights. Sandwiched in between the Righetti and Damien games will be St. Francis’ lone Thursday game, when it hosts La Mirada.

“I think they’re playing this season as their big year,” Bonds said of La Mirada, which touts its share of Division I talent and transfers. “That’s gonna be a really big game.”

After the Damien tilt, St. Francis travels to face Monrovia, which defeated the Golden Knights by a point last season when St. Francis fumbled on the Wildcats 1 to end the game.

Monrovia went on to win the Mid-Valley Division title and advances to the state championship.

“People just seem to show up there every year,” Bonds said. “Those guys are used to winning.”

Thereafter, St. Francis begins the gauntlet that is Mission League play. It will open against St. Paul on the road. The Golden Knights defeated St. Paul last season for their only league win, but playing on the road against the Swordsmen has always been a difficult task for St. Francis.

“We’ve gotta be able to rock and roll, cause there’s no joke in this league,” Bonds said.

Indeed, as five league teams made the playoffs a season ago.

St. Francis will host Cathedral on Oct. 18 and then Harvard-Westlake. Just as St. Francis lost the UNLV-bound Jared Lebowtiz to graduation, both Cathedral and Harvard-Westlake also lost Division I quarterbacks.

“It’s been a quarterback-rich league the last few years,” Bonds said. “It’s pretty phenomenal.”

However, both Serra and Chaminade have “really good starting quarterbacks coming back,” Bonds said. And it’s not really like either of the heavyweights need any help after both advanced to the Western Division final, where Serra prevailed before moving on to win a state title.

Thus, finishing on the road at Serra on Nov. 1 and then at Chaminade on Nov. 8 is hardly an easy task.

“Finishing on the road against Serra and Chaminade is a tall order,” Bonds said.

But Bonds is confident that his Golden Knights, with myriad more experience than last year, can be as tough as their schedule.

“I think we’re healthy,” he said, “we can play with anybody on our schedule.”

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