St. Anthony was the first football team in the city to get back on the gridiron and resume some form of organized football activities. The Saints were allowed to assemble on Clark Field starting on June 22, and head coach Mario Morales and company have been taking advantage of the opportunity with unique safeguards in place.
“These kids are awesome. They’re resilient,” said Morales of his team. “You can tell they’re happy to be out here. To release all that pent up energy that they’ve had in storage for a long time. So it’s good to see them again, along with the new freshmen coming in. So we’re taking it day by day and excited to keep it going.”
Morales said that about 90-95 percent of the players in the program have been consistently attending practices and that the numbers are up from past seasons to above 60 kids. The team is taking safety precautions by requiring all players and coaches to wear masks for the duration of the practice. Players are able to remove their masks only while running drills or plays.
The Saints have been able to work on installing plays and schemes on both sides of the football, despite not being allowed to use one. The ball is “snapped” when a quarterback claps his hands, and he then scans the field before an empty-handed throwing motion. That’s created an odd way of practicing for signal-callers, including incoming junior QB Joey Howorko, who recently transferred to St. Anthony from Saddleback Valley High School.
“It does suck not being able to throw the ball, but when I’m dropping back full speed and they’re running full speed, I just try to see the defense while I’m mentally taking reps,” Howorko said. “That’s a big thing in football. It’s not all about just throwing the football, you’ve got to get mental reps before you even get the football. I really wish we could be throwing the football, but you’ve got to look at the positives.”
Howorko has had the opportunity to work with his new teammates over the past few weeks, giving them an opportunity to start building a rapport for the upcoming season, whenever it may come.
“From day one we started putting plays in, and we’ve probably put in about half our playbook in the past two weeks, just off of air,” Howorko explained. “I think it’s coming together tightly, everyone’s working together. We’re working on a lot of stuff but it’s going well.”
After months in isolation, away from both school and football, the camaraderie of practice has been the biggest benefit for the players, including senior wideout and safety Victor Gomez.
“It feels great to be out here,” Gomez said with a smile. “After being home and by ourselves, it feels good to be with the brothers working out.”
While the start of the 2020 fall season remains in question, Morales said his team will continue taking advantage of the practice time until the CIF delivers its updated plan for the upcoming sports season on July 20.
“We’re treating this like our spring football, just without an actual football,” Morales said. “We’re trying to get the kids in shape again, and it’s a slow process since they’ve been out for so long…There’s no sense of urgency at this point, which is good, but nonetheless we’d like to know what’s going to happen (with the season). We just won’t know until July 20.”