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Prep Football Teams Begin Preparations for Week Zero Games, Season

Powerful running back John Harris leads a strong senior class at Bishop Diego. Click to view larger
Powerful running back John Harris leads a strong senior class at Bishop Diego. (Barry Punzal / Noozhawk photo)

In the last days of old Peabody Stadium, the Santa Barbara High football team held its first official practice for the 2017 season on Monday.

The Dons normally train on the baseball field’s outfield in order to preserve the Peabody grass for Friday night games.  But now with a construction bid accepted to rebuild the stadium, JT Stone’s football team is taking advantage of the opportunity to use the field before the bulldozers dig it up.

Senior Natani Drati is a big-play receiver for Santa Barbara. Click to view larger
Senior Natani Drati is a big-play receiver for Santa Barbara. (Barry Punzal / Noozhawk photo)

Santa Barbara will be playing its home games at SBCC’s La Playa Stadium this season. The opener is against Saugus in Week Zero on Saturday, Aug. 26.

Teams that play Week Zero games could start practicing on Monday in shorts and helmets. After three days, they can put on the pads. Santa Barbara, San Marcos and Bishop Diego took the field on Monday. Dos Pueblos starts on Wednesday, while Carpinteria, which plays its first game in Week 1, begins practice next week.

The Dons received a big boost when wide receiver Natani Drati returned for his senior year. He left the area when his father, Ben Drati, the former school district’s assistant superintendent for secondary education, took the job as the superintendent at the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified District.

“He just felt like this is where he grew up. This is his home,” Stone said of Drati’s decision to return to Santa Barbara.

His return gives Santa Barbara a potent passing combination with junior quarterback Franky Gamberdella.

Franky Gamberdella quarterbacked Santa Barbara to a share of the Channel League title as a sophomore. Click to view larger
Franky Gamberdella quarterbacked Santa Barbara to a share of the Channel League title as a sophomore. (Barry Punzal / Noozhawk photo)

“We got some good kids, good offense,” Stone said. “I feel we have an opportunity to do something this year. That’s all based on the hard work we’ve put in.”

Stone worked with Gamberdella before they both arrived at Santa Barbara High.

“I’ve been with Franky for a while,” he said. “He got quality reps as a sophomore. Going back and watching film, he did really well. He went through some growing pains but he knows how to play football. The expectations are high for him. I think he can be one of the better quarterbacks in the area, and he’s got some weapons to throw to this year.”

Standout running back John Harris leads a senior-heavy Bishop Diego squad. The Cardinals will have 20-22 senior players on their roster.

“It’s a pretty experienced group, which is nice to have,” Bishop coach Tom Crawford said. “I can’t recall ever having that many seniors. And the positive, of course, is many of these guys have had multiple years playing varsity.”

All that experience will be vital with the challenging schedule the Cardinals tackle this season. They open with a Week Zero game on Friday, Aug. 25 against Las Vegas-Desert Pines, the Division 3 State Champion of Nevada, at SBCC and play at Arroyo Grande the following week. They also play Nipomo, St. Joseph and San Diego small-schools power Santa Fe Christian.

“Since spring started we kind of made it pretty clear to the guys that they don’t have the opportunity to work into the season because they’re going to be challenged right out of the box,” said Crawford. “They responded to that message very, very well.”

With so many experienced players, Crawford is counting on accomplishing more in less practice time.

“We’ve told them we’d like to be in position of keeping practices shorter this year and still get a high volume of rep work in,” he said. “With the experience level, if the older guys keep doing their job and keep coaching the younger guys, we can work at a pretty good pace. For our roster size, it’s important for us to be in condition.”

He’s been impressed with the focus of the team. 

“I don’t whether it’s a fact we have so many seniors or the reality that’s looming that explains the focus level. We’ve had a real good focus level in spring and summer, and I think again today,” Crawford said.

The Cardinals return two experienced quarterbacks, senior David Gladish and junior Jake Engel.

“They both have improved in part because they’re both stronger,” Crawford said. “We’re going to see how it goes. Both of them, I’m pretty confident, can do a good job for us. And it might be one of this situations where we start splitting time with them early on in the season. And then in a particular game, if somebody gets a hot hand we ride them for that game

“They're supportive of each other, which is great.”

Bishop Diego starts school on Aug. 16 and two days later the football team scrimmages at Pioneer Valley. The following week is the opener against Desert Pines.

“The season is going to be here rapidly and the guys are excited about it,” said Crawford.

San Marcos coach Jason Fowle begins his second year at the helm.

The Royals open Friday, Aug. 25 at Santa Ynez.

“We had a really outstanding off season,” Fowle said. “I would say these guys worked their behinds off in the weight room, in the classroom, in the community, setting goals individually and as a team. We’re out here trying to get better one day at a time. Our confidence is up and we’re optimistic for the year. We’re excited for Santa Ynez.”

Fowle has an experienced quarterback in senior Jacob Villarreal and solid two-way players in center/linebacker David Kesablyan and linebacker/running back Steven Corona.

Noozhawk sports editor Barry Punzal can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk Sports on Twitter: @NoozhawkSports. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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