Garfield passing competition provides memorable moments

Jayden Barnes just had to do it. There were no officials in sight, so after the Garfield High receiver caught a touchdown pass against City Section nemesis Lake Balboa Birmingham on Saturday morning during a seven-on-seven passing competition, he launched an NFL-style celebration, dunking the ball over the crossbar of the goal posts as teammates roared their approval.

It was a memorable moment on the final day of summer football for City Section teams. Official practice begins Monday with three days of conditioning, followed by putting on helmets and shoulder pads. Games start Aug. 17 and 18.

“I’ve been grinding and grinding, whether at practice, in the weight room or on my own time,” Garfield quarterback Damian Cabrera said.

Birmingham quarterback Javen Hall throws during a passing competition at Garfield High on Saturday.

Birmingham quarterback Javen Hall throws during a passing competition at Garfield High on Saturday.

(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Venice wide receiver Nathan Santa Cruz takes part in a passing competition at Garfield High on Saturday.

Venice wide receiver Nathan Santa Cruz takes part in a passing competition at Garfield High on Saturday.

(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

The memory of a 49-13 loss to Birmingham in last season’s City Section Open Division championship game is ample motivation for Cabrera and teammates.

“We don’t want that to happen again,” he said.

Garfield coach Lorenzo Hernandez decided to invite the Patriots, Venice and Franklin to a four-team passing competition to end the summer. It was a morning of dust and dirt because the Bulldogs’ field has large patches of no grass caused by a broken water pump that required a special part be ordered and left no watering for more than a month, delaying the annual re-seeding of the field.

“I don’t know how old school fields were back in the day, but this is probably one,” Cabrera said.

Garfield players have a little fun during a four-team passing competition hosted by their school on Saturday.

Garfield players have a little fun during a four-team passing competition hosted by their school on Saturday.

(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

“Our field is probably the Rose Bowl compared to this,” Franklin coach Narciso Diaz joked.

“It’s throw-back day,” Hernandez said. “Everyone indulge.”

Garfield has only two home games this fall and is supposed to start construction on a new all-weather field in December.

Proving once again that players love to compete on any surface and against any opponent, Saturday’s competition brought together four teams that each won a league title last season and will probably rank in the top 10 of any City Section poll for this fall. The fact each head coach has been at the same school for at least 10 years shows how important stability is to be successful in the City Section.

“I would say stability and monumental commitment to have the longevity to go through all the hoops we have to go through in our section to be successful,” Hernandez said.

There were many quality players in action. Washington-bound Peyton Waters of Birmingham, the reigning City Section player of the year, is moving from cornerback to safety this season. He’s also ready to cause havoc as a receiver and wildcat quarterback.

“I’m ready to put the pads back on,” Waters said.

Junior middle linebacker Eddie Plaza of Birmingham sometimes forgot he was playing touch football. He kept pushing opponents to the ground. Coach Jim Rose thinks he can be one of the best he has coached.

Franklin junior quarterback Eduardo Cuevas helped guide his team to a 10-0 regular-season record even though it was his first year of tackle football. “I always avoided it,” he said of tackle football.

Now he loves it. At 6 feet 4, he also plays basketball and baseball. He threw six shutout innings in last season’s City Division II baseball final.

Venice could be turning to a freshman at quarterback in Jaiden Noel. But the biggest news of all is that Nathan Santa Cruz has resumed playing football even though he suffered a serious head injury in the first game last fall, requiring brain surgery. He’s playing receiver and has been practicing for several weeks.

“It felt normal,” he said. “When I caught that first ball, I knew it was game time.”

Santa Cruz said he informed coach Angelo Gasca last month that he wanted to play again and received clearance from his doctor and mother.

Gasca’s response: “You’re a miracle.”

Santa Cruz is one of Venice’s fastest players and a member of their 4×400 relay team that made it to the state track championships in the spring.

Franklin linebacker Brian Villareal put it best how he feels about the season ahead with his team facing a tougher nonleague schedule: “It’s going to be fun and challenging and if we don’t face challenges, we won’t get better.”

Most City Section teams playing in their first season of girls’ seven-on-seven flag football are not expected to begin playing games until September, even though games are allowed starting Aug. 18. The West Valley League will have a single round of matchups beginning Sept. 28. The City Section will crown its first City girls’ champion in November.

Rose, who is also head coach of Birmingham’s girls’ team, expects his team to be playing on Thursdays. It certainly won’t be on Fridays, because his quarterback is daughter Jessica Rose, who still intends to compete in travel softball games on weekends.

Crenshaw, which competed well in a club seven-on-seven competition, is considered the City title favorite. Former Gardena 11-man coach Jim McElroy is helping coach the team.

Beach star

Sophomore Olga Nikolaeva of Manhattan Beach Mira Costa has been named the AAU beach player of the year in girls’ volleyball. The 30th AAU Beach National Championships are taking place this weekend in Hermosa Beach.