Golden Knights football begins spring practice with new group

LA CAÑADA FLINTRIDGE — Spring practice is a regular, annual routine most often characterized as a time for building team chemistry and familiarizing a football team with fundamentals and offensive and defensive schemes.

For St. Francis High and longtime Coach Jim Bonds, this isn't your regular, annual spring, though.

"It's the most I've ever experienced," said Bonds when asked about the amount of senior turnover he's dealing with.

Last season's CIF Southern Section Western Division quarterfinalists were rife with talented seniors, many of them multi-year starters such as standouts Travis Talianko, Ryan McAleenan and Kristion Grbavac. But, in addition to some lasting memories, the departing class, 27 seniors in all, will also leave plenty of vacancies.

"This year, we've got to fill a lot of spots," said Bonds, whose team finished 9-3 a year ago and 3-2 for third place in the Mission League. "We're not only gonna be young, but inexperienced.

"The one thing we're already seeing is the learning curve. These guys are improving every day."

Having started daily lifting from 6 a.m. to 7:30 a.m. every weekday on Jan. 9, the Golden Knights maintained that same schedule for spring practices, which began May 14 and will continue after the long weekend until a final Friday practice.

Along the way, the team has taken part in a few seven-on-seven matchups, as it did Thursday against Muir, and also took second place in the L.A. Valley College Passing Tournament.

"It's a huge evaluation time for us," Bonds said. "That's what's big about seven-on-seven and being in passing leagues."

Thus far, Bonds has been impressed with the maturation and progression of quarterback Jared Lebowitz, one of just a handful of returning starters.

"Jared has looked good," Bonds said.

So too has Joe Mudie, a cornerback and running back, who's, "been an absolute stud," according to his coach, who's also been impressed by running back/defensive back Daniel Kawamura, Evan Crawford, a running back and defensive back, safety Joey Velladao and Danny Ursitti.

In addition to positions being filled, so too are leadership voids, a role taken seriously by returning starting offensive lineman Matt Kubly.

"It's been a challenge, but we had such great leadership last year, particularly on the line, that I've been able to learn from them," Kubly said. "I want to be like them. ... I think it would be an injustice not to let that live on."

Kubly is joined on the line by returning starter Trevor Provencio, while the short list of returning starters also includes defensive end Cole Ramseyer and receiver Tommy Scheper.

For the most part, though, spring ball is still very much about learning for this new group of Golden Knights.

"I think spring ball, especially this year, is a learning process," said tight end/defensive end Gordon Grbavac. "We're young, but I think we've really come together these last few weeks.

"People pick [the schemes] up pretty fast, especially cause we get everybody in there running it."

And, despite the youth, the vacancies and the inexperience, it's still St. Francis football and the subsequent tradition of successful expectations.

"So far, we're doing well," Kubly said. "Once we get everything settled down ... it'll start running smoothly and we'll be a cohesive unit and a force to be reckoned with."

For now, though, Bonds is taking it step by step, with aspirations that the spring sees continued maturation and progress.

"I just told them we want to see improvement every day," he said. "As long as we improve, we'll be happy as a staff. So far, we're doing that."

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