The glum expressions seen after Birmingham Charter High finished on the short end of a 49-7 loss to Chaminade High last week mainly belonged to the Patriots’ fan base sitting in the stands at Chaminade.
The players and coaches? Not so much.
Birmingham may be off to an 0-2 start this 2021 football season, but the program is also used to bearing the brunt of playing a heavyweight nonleague schedule that includes plenty of private school powers like Chaminade.
So this is not the time to ponder what the Patriots look like now. Instead, peer into the future of what might be. Because history suggests that Birmingham knows exactly what it’s doing, and will figure out in time how to be ready for West Valley League play, and the City Section playoffs.
The Patriots have won six City football championships in their history. Five of them have come since the 2002 season, the most recent title being the section’s Open Division championship in 2019.
And the team has not had an undefeated season during this stretch — the 2007 team came closest, losing the season opener to Crespi and then winning 13 straight — because there typically were a bunch of bruising early tests to navigate through that both seasoned and toughened the team.
Clearly, Birmingham understands the big picture of “it’s not the start, it’s the finish.” To put it another way, if you win in late November or December — when championships are decided — no one will remember or care what you looked like back in August.
“That’s the idea,” said Patriots Head Coach Jim Rose. “The whole key is to stay healthy — that’s number one — but our kids understand what we’re doing and what the final goal is: to win the league, and hopefully the City championship or more.”
That 2019 championship was the first for Rose as head coach. (He was the offensive coordinator under Ed Croson for the other five.) And the 2021 squad has aspirations of playing for another City championship as they continue to survive and grow from the remainder of this nonleague schedule, and any potential, unplanned setbacks caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
It’s a process. But it’s also about putting in the work.
“I’ll admit I was not happy with our performance,” Rose said of the Chaminade loss. “But we were missing some starters; and Chaminade is good. They were the better team.
“I told the kids after the game, ‘yeah, we lost. But if we learned from it and we can get better, it was worth it.’”
Rose didn’t have to convince battle-hardened seniors like Carlos Rivera and Arlis Boardingham. They consider themselves to be living proof of the soundness of constantly playing a demanding schedule.
Rivera, who looks every inch the defensive tackle he is at 6-3 and 285-pounds, became immersed in the Patriots way of playing football as a freshman.
“It was hard to get used to at first,” Rivera said. “But playing against Narbonne my freshman year [in 2018] changed my whole point of view — in a good way. Playing against a good team like that opened my eyes to what I could do if I really applied myself.
“That set me up for my sophomore year, when we won the (2019) championship. And playing a hard schedule like we are this year hasn’t changed things.”
At 6-5 and 236-pounds, Boardingham plays tight end, defensive end, punts, returns kickoffs and would probably dish out the concession stand chili at halftime if asked. As a next-level prospect, he’s blessed with the kind of athleticism that makes college scouts swoon.
But Boardingham also reveals an intelligence to assimilate and decipher the best aspects of Patriots methodology, and make it his own.
Like Rivera, he spoke of the 2018 meeting with Narbonne High of Harbor City, and other games his freshman year, as his “a-ha” moments on the football field.
“I learned that you had to work hard to get the things you want,” Boardingham said. “Playing against those hard schools like Narbonne and [Sherman Oaks] Notre Dame was an eyeopener. And playing alongside with the seniors we had [in 2018 and 2019] really broadened your view about football.”
As the team moves into the latter part of the season, “you can see the payoff, see all the hard work coming into view” from the way Birmingham prepares, Boardingham said.
“All the late nights and all the extra things you do, you can see it coming together,” he said. “And as you get older, you see [the good teams] are not so big and scary — they just work hard and know what they’re doing.”
“That’s the learning experience.”
The 2021 nonleague schedule for Birmingham doesn’t get any easier. On Friday, Sept. 3, the Pats play their home opener against Leuzinger High of Lawndale (1-0), which beat Calabasas last week in its first game — the same Calabasas team that Birmingham lost to on Aug. 20.
“They’re fast. And they do have talent,” Rose said of Leuzinger.
So does Birmingham, which is getting closer to being completely healthy as a team. After Leuzinger, the nonleague schedule finishes up with games against Westlake Village schools Oaks Christian and Westlake. Then West Valley League action begins.
And Birmingham will learn if the Patriots Way is the right way once again.