City Section football teams begin practicing with helmets and shoulder pads

After being dropped off at Reseda Cleveland by his mother, sophomore Tristan Cordero was carrying his new shoulder pads from the parking lot to the locker room Thursday afternoon, on the first day City Section players could wear helmets and shoulder pads at practices.

Cordero had never put on shoulder pads before, but he was confident he wouldn’t have trouble.

“The coaches showed us a video,” he said.

Thank goodness for YouTube.

Assistant coach Mario Guzman still said it was about an hour of chaos helping players with shoulder pads, helmets and mouthpieces. The big issue with helmets is the chin straps. Some were ending up over the player’s lip, not allowing them to speak. Players were supposed to have molded their mouthpieces by taking them home, putting them in boiling water, then cool water and biting down to get them to fit.

And just wait until the tackling drills begin.

The good news at Cleveland and other schools is that participation numbers are up. Coach Peter Gunny remembers he had nine players for his first practice during the pandemic in 2020 and 27 overall in his program for the 2021 spring season with no junior varsity team. Now he has 102 players.

Yes, there’s still lots of paperwork required before players are even allowed to practice, so there were about 85 players on the field. It’s up to athletic directors and nurses to get players cleared. No one is allowed on the field without a physical, and that has increased in importance as more stories come out about previously undiscovered ailments in athletes, particularly with the heart.

“It’s extremely important,” Gunny said of the physicals.

There is humor in seeing first-year players learning about football. Take Cleveland’s new kicker, Fernando Almendarez, a senior soccer player.

Tristan Cordero of Cleveland showing off his new shoulder pads before practice on Thursday.

Tristan Cordero of Cleveland showing off his new shoulder pads before practice on Thursday.

(Eric Sondheimer / Los Angeles Times)

“I don’t know no rules,” he said.

That was after a Cleveland assistant coach explained to him, “As long as you kick the ball into the end zone, you don’t have to worry about tackling.”

Cleveland, led by Colorado State commit Kory Hall, is expected to be one of the challengers to Birmingham in the West Valley League.

Two freshman twins showed up from Omaha, Neb., and enrolled. Cobe and Cameron Green are both 5-foot-10. One’s a linebacker, the other a receiver. Gunny is hoping they turn out as well as Hall, who showed up unexpectedly from Las Vegas and has become one of the best players in the City Section.