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City Section football coaches continue to push to keep programs going

Daniel Najar stands with one foot on his tipped up skateboard.
Daniel Najar of Reseda rode his skateboard to school for the start of football practice Monday.
(Eric Sondheimer / Los Angeles Times)

Under an overcast sky on Monday morning, the official first day of football practice, Reseda coach Alonso Arreola spent 30 minutes doing something he never imagined would be part of his coaching duties when he first became head coach in 2005. As each player arrived and pulled out their cellphone, Arreola scanned their QR code on his phone to see if they passed their latest coronavirus test.

“This is life in the City Section,” he said. “When do you get to coach?”

The responsibilities of coaches keep expanding, testing their patience.

“It’s so hard, it’s so difficult,” Arreola said.

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The Los Angeles Unified School District won’t be requiring weekly testing of students who are vaccinated when school begins Aug. 16. But in a statement released Monday, the district says, “Contact sports where athletes and coaches are in very close proximity to each other adds an additional layer of risk. That is why we are requiring testing in order to keep our athletes, coaches and communities safe.”

Across the City Section, coaches began conditioning workouts with their teams, but the big challenge ahead is increasing team personnel. Sixteen schools opted out of playing football during the spring and most others didn’t field junior varsity teams. Getting more students to play football figures to be a month-long recruiting objective while also preparing for season openers Aug. 20.

Arreola said he had six freshmen come out for football during the spring season. He’s up to seven for the fall, a disappointing number considering he has been going to orientation meetings on campus seeking help. That means a junior varsity team isn’t likely to be formed until September at the earliest when more students could be added to the team.

“We have a lot of work to do,” he said. “We’re using all the technology available, but nothing beats going to a ninth-grade PE class.”

With campuses closed since March 2020, coaches have been unable to recruit freshmen from PE classes. The return of students to campuses next month should enable coaches to make a better sales pitch. These are just a few of the obstacles for the 2021 football season.

Arreola remains optimistic. He has a good group of three-year varsity players who were part of an 11-4 championship team in 2019. Everyone is looking forward to a return to normalcy, with a 10-game regular season and playoffs after last spring’s four-game season.

“It’s an amazing feeling,” receiver Jason Wagner Jr. said about the return of practice. “It was rough, but we got through it. We’re just going to have fun.”

Lineman Daniel Najar rode his skateboard a couple miles to school Monday morning and was studying his playbook while listening to music on his headphones while waiting for the gate to be unlocked. He said he was looking forward to this season.

“It lets me have a senior season and gives me the opportunity to go to college if I want to,” he said.

The best part of starting practice is players don’t feel as if they are being rushed.

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“I feel the energy is different,” linebacker Saleem Marshall said. “We have more time to work.”


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