M. Terry / SFVS

In The Hunt — San Fernando High football players (l-r) Kyle Bryant, Jaivontrel Turner and Trevor Gill, all seniors, expect the Tigers to compete for a second straight City championship.

The “dead period” — the City Section regulated three-week stretch where players and coaches cannot have any contact — has officially ended for the San Fernando Tigers, and the defending Division I champions have resumed pre-paration for the 2018 football season.

It could be hard, understandably, to stay off Memory Lane because the 2017 season came together perfectly for the Tigers. They got through their nonleague schedule with a 2-2 record, went undefeated in the Valley Mission League, and then got the top seed in the Division I bracket instead of a seventh or eighth seed in the Open Division. They played and won three straight playoff games at home, then went on to defeat Dorsey High of Los Angeles in the D-I championship game at El Camino College last December.

The 12-2 season was another acclaimed chapter in San Fernando High sports history. But you won’t hear much discussion about it now. Because the 2018 is going to be rigorous enough without the challenge of winning back-to-back championships, as the Tigers did in 2012 and 2013 while in City’s Division II.

The first five games on the schedule are simply brutish. San Fernando opens at Alemany on Aug. 17, followed by Canyon of Canyon Country, a rematch with Dorsey, and then finishes up with Notre Dame before opening league play at home against Reseda on Sept. 21.

Whether by fate or design — because games are often scheduled 2-3 years in advance — it’s almost as if Coach Robert Garcia went out of his way to make sure his team would have no reason or excuse to luxuriate in the memories of 2017.

“To be the best you have to play some of the best teams in the San Fernando Valley,” Garcia said. “Those teams matched what we were looking for in our schedule. So why not play them, and try to compete against some of the best teams.”

It’s the kind of schedule aimed at trying to prepare for a potential meeting with defending City Open Division and state CIF 1-A champion Narbonne High of Harbor City, which has been the section’s best team the past several years. Or perhaps Crenshaw High of Los Angeles, which lost the 2017 Open Division title game to Narbonne but did win its state CIF 4-AA title game against Placer High of Auburn, CA.

“The kids have been really good about (turning the page),” Garcia said.

Yes they have, the players say. 

Trevor Gill said he has put away his championship ring. “I’m ready for the new season,” he said.

Fellow seniors Jaivontrel Turner and Kyle Bryant have also shelved their rings.

“I put it up as soon as we started practicing for the new season,” Bryant said. Added Turner, “You can’t get caught up in that moment; you have to keep going.”

The team has additional motivation besides winning consecutive titles.

The Tigers felt they should have been one of the City selections for the state tournament, and plan to prop up that chip on their shoulder pads this year.

“It’s motivating us,” Gill said. “We felt we should have been there.”

“It’s more than a motivation,” declares Turner. “All of us say we should have been in that [state] game — that’s how we feel. We feel we should have two rings.”

Even Garcia admits feeling his team was overlooked.

“It’s been bugging them — and me — because we felt we were better than some of the teams that did get invited,” he said. “It’s exciting to win a championship. It was also bittersweet that we didn’t get that state opportunity. But it is what it is.

“Now it’s time to try and prove people wrong again, and compete. That’s why I have the schedule the way it is, to get us better prepared for league and the playoffs.”

San Fernando’s roster was depleted by graduation and transfers. But Garcia said “about 80 percent” of last year’s team is back, and is supplemented by another strong group of junior varsity promotions to replenish the depth.

Most important — the core chemistry of offensive and defensive linemen, quarterback Andrew Frias, running backs Gill and Bryant, and linebacker Turner, is in place.

“We’re gonna have more guys playing multiple positions. [The core players are] gonna be on the field a lot more,” Gill said. “But we could be an even better team; not only do we have experience, but everybody on the team likes to work harder now.”

“We’ve all played together since we were little (in Pop Warner),” Bryant said. “Now, going into our senior year, we’re all stronger and faster and better. We have a better football IQ as a team.”

Still, you can’t expect every break to go your way again. You never know where and what injuries crop up. And this time, the Tigers could find themselves put in the Open Division and playing road games instead of home games in the playoffs.

It’s that kind of challenge that Garcia wants — or rather, expects — his team to embrace.

“One thing I’ve learned: you play for San Fernando, everyone wants to beat you,” the coach said. “Coming off a championship season, any little thing they beat you on — tug-of-war, passing league — they’ll go crazy and put it up everywhere. But when you put the pads on, it can be a different story.

“That’s what I’m telling the kids. Just compete — don’t quit on yourself, don’t quit on your teammates. Give me your best, and [the coaches] can fix the rest.”

Where the Tigers stand after their first five games will be the key question in 2018. Just as important is who will still be standing.

Turner, for one, says he can’t wait.

“You see people hungry out there [during practice] because of who we have to play,” he said. “We know we have to go hard. I love the schedule. I love playing hard competition, to let them know that San Fernando can play as hard as they can.”

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