St. Anthony will continue its tradition of playing a Moore League team this season by opening the year on Friday night against Lakewood at Clark Field. Ninth-year coach Mario Morales works at Lakewood during the day and has had his team play Wilson, where he used to coach, since 2014.
“It allows people to see the kind of talent we have here in Long Beach and Lakewood,” Morales said. “It also gives us a chance to display what we can do. It’s healthy to play local teams and that’s something I thought when I first got here. I’d see those guys pretty much every day going to practice. We have a great relationship and it’s going to be a fun night.”
Despite not having much depth, St. Anthony has an interesting mix returning starters and newcomers who have all shown up to practice ready to work.
“They’ve been very resilient,” Morales said. “They don’t care what the situation is, they just show up. That’s to their credit. Not only here but in the virtual classroom. All of the things they’ve been through, when they show up to practice it’s like, ‘What do we get to do today coach?’ Instead of, ‘What do we have to do?’”
Running back junior Sone Aupiu is coming off a break-out season, and although the junior was shaking off a rugby injury last week, Morales expects him to shine again for the Saints. He also said that bigger private schools were looking to get Aupiu at their schools during the extended offseason.
“They were knocking on his door and he didn’t answer so that’s a good thing,” Morales said “We just have to continue to create a special place so these kids want to stay here. He’s got some family here now and the future is looking good with him staying here.”
Aupiu’s cousin, Anakin Aupiu, has transferred in and is an improvement at linebacker where Morales hopes they solidify a strong front seven featuring a few other transfers.
Sophomore Sau Lewis will be a big addition on both offensive and defensive line. The 270-pound transfer from St. John Bosco is a strong underclassman with quick feet. On offense, he will be surrounded by returning starters Sam Suluai and Gary Jondle. Liam McCarty and Giovanny Damian will also play both sides of the ball, and Valley Christin transfer D.J. King is another good looking athletic addition.
Another transfer, Joey Howorko, is coming in with high expectations for himself. He started at St. John Bosco and left Saddleback Valley Christian when the school changed ownership. The 6’4” 220-pound junior said he didn’t feel fulfilled by the club football experience.
“It didn’t click like high school football does,” Howorko said. “It was more of an All-Star eighth grade football game. It’s not the same team bond… I just want to show what I can do on the field.”
Morales likes Howorko’s cerebral approach and is excited to see him move around the pocket when it’s necessary to extend plays. Howorko said he and some of the Saints receivers have been getting in extra work in at local parks.
“The most important thing is he’s a great leader,” Morales said. “The kids really follow him. He leads by example and I think he’s really gonna help us the next two years.”
“We’re as tight as we can be,” Howorko added. “I don’t think any preparation chemistry wise that we haven’t already done already.”
Senior Victor Gomez, a returning starter who will play receiver and defensive back, said that connection is imperative on both sides of the ball for the Saints.
“We play different sports together and that chemistry helps us get along and helps us know what each other are thinking,” Gomez said.
He and fellow returner Jason Porter will be joined by an exciting sophomore in Darius Davis. Returner T.J. Miller will be moving down to tight end to effectively use his 6’3″ 235-pound frame.
Gomez will be joined by Tyler Henry, Daniel Franklin and Kweku Claybrook in the defensive secondary to round out a very capable defense.
Schedule (All games at 7 p.m. unless noted)
Friday, March 12
St. Anthony vs. Lakewood at Clark Field
Friday, March 19
St. Anthony vs. Mary Star of the Sea at Clark Field
Friday, March 26
St. Anthony at Salesian
Saturday, April 3
St. Anthony at Harvard-Westlake at 4 p.m.
Friday, April 9
St. Anthony vs. Orange at Clark Field
Friday, April 16
St. Anthony vs. La Salle