Jim Rose strode briskly toward the outdoor football stadium at Birmingham Community Charter High with a visitor shortly before the team’s practice, joyously pointing out the spotless green field with newly painted-on numerals and a large, blue-and-gold head of a Patriot squarely in the middle. It’s an exact replica of the one used by the NFL’s reigning Super Bowl champion New England Patriots — who, incidentally, gave the school permission to do so.
“What’s missing?” the head football coach asked, mischievously.
Many of the old, creaky artifacts of a stadium that first opened in 1967 have been replaced by ones that are state-of the art. Like the brand new all-weather track circling the restored football field, a field covered in new generation turf that uses coconut shavings rather than crushed rubber tire pellets to mix in with the “grass.” It not only keeps the field cooler on hot days, but won’t fly into the players’ faces or cause abrasions from tackles. New goal posts. And the flashy Jumbotron scoreboard that wouldn’t be out of place at some pro sports facilities.
The visitor still doesn’t get it.
“No lines,” Rose said.
He’s right. No outlines for soccer or lacrosse or other sports, although they could be chalked onto the surface if necessary for play. This, for all intents and purposes, is a football field.
Even better, it’s available at last to the Patriots, who spent the entire 2018 season playing on the road and haven’t had a true “home game” since hosting Cleveland High on Oct. 27, 2017.
“I know we’ve played 19 of our last 20 on the road, even though a couple of them were called ‘home games,’” Rose said.
They will be home finally when the Pats host Harvard-Westlake High in the 2019 season opener on Aug. 23.
“I expect it to be a show,” Rose said. “There are a lot of people talking about it, and I think the kids are excited. Even the student body hasn’t been able to go to a home game. We didn’t have a true ‘homecoming’ game here. We didn’t have a ‘senior night’ here. So I expect a real good crowd. This might be the best field in the Valley now. It’s the biggest stadium in the Valley, seating-wise.”
The players are also bubbling with anticipation.
“This school loves football,” said sophomore running back and linebacker Delmonte Barnes, 15. “You hear it in the halls — football’s the sport here. They love basketball and baseball, too. But when it’s ‘Friday Night’ here, it’s loud; you can feel the energy. It’s nice.”
Added senior wide receiver Mason White, “I anticipate fun, excitement, everything just being crazy overall.”
Having actual home games again is only part of the equation. Just as important to Patriots fans is the kind of team they will see in 2019.
It won’t be a whole team for the nonleague portion of the schedule. Birmingham has several transfer players — Jerimiah Cox, Tyler Smith, Alonzo Regaldo, and Kyree Benjamin — who must sit out the first five games because of CIF rules. It will weaken the level of defensive depth the Patriots have, which could prove troubling for a schedule that, besides Harvard-Westlake, features Crespi, Chaminade, St. Paul of Santa Fe Springs and Notre Dame before engaging West Valley League opponents.
“If we can stay healthy early, we’ll play some good ball,” Rose said. “If we’re banged up early, the first five games will be tough, especially the last three — Chaminade, St. Paul and Notre Dame. That’s the gauntlet.”
Another factor is placing a new quarterback into the system. Jackson Dadich is also a transfer student, from Cathedral High of Los Angeles. But Rose thought Dadich looked comfortable in the Aug. 15 scrimmage with Fairfax High of Los Angeles.
“He throws the ball well and he looks pretty poised,” the coach said. “The scrimmage was the first time we saw him against another opponent, so the coaches were curious, too. A lot of guys can look good without pads on. But we thought he looked pretty good.”
Dadich, 16, a junior, made it clear he plans to keep the offense operating smoothly when the season starts for real.
“Cathedral ran more of a ‘spread’ offense; they passed a lot,” he said. “Here, it’s more of a balanced offense. We can run, but we can also pass. I love what I’m seeing.
“I’ve got a strong arm. I have to make the right ‘reads’ and make the passes to the receivers. But I’m 100 percent confident in the offense. I still need to see [more of] it at game speed, but I do have the confidence.”
Another striking aspect of the 2019 Patriots is the blend of upperclassmen and youth. The current 45-player roster lists 25 seniors, but many of the juniors and sophomores have also played full seasons on the varsity — some as freshmen. Which makes it easier to handle the ups-and-downs of the season, and stay true to the pursuit of a championship when the playoffs start.
“Take it one game at a time, and don’t focus on anything else but that game,” said offensive and defensive lineman Carlos Rivera, 15, a sophomore. “It was something we had to learn as a younger team. We have that experience factor this year.”
Fellow sophomore Arlis Boardingham, 15, a wide receiver and defensive back, doesn’t expect his teammates to become too content about having all their regular season games this year in the Valley.
“We know where we stand,” Boardingham said. “We know there are other teams [in the City and Southern sections] that are powerful. We can’t be too relaxed. We don’t want them to come in here and take our home [field advantage] away.”
The excitement figures to be plentiful at Birmingham this fall. While the number of road games was great for team bonding — “Longer trips meant more talking, getting prepared together,” White said — being in front of a home crowd can spur a team to greater heights. And the Patriots believe they are in the conversation of the best Division I teams in the City Section this season.
“I think we have a real good shot at taking it all. It’s a real good shot,” Boardingham said. “We’re not only excited but we are getting prepared, doing all we can do to be able to play with these top-tier teams.”