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Intersectional match-ups headline preseason for San Francisco prep football

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Galileo’s state football title is just one sign of the rise of competition all around the Academic Athletic Association. (Photo: Robert Schnitzer, special to the S.F. Examiner)

While the end of the summer is a mournful occasion for some, the conclusion of the break does mean the return of high school football. In fact, Friday marked the first official day of practices for many area teams as they gear up for what should be a wide-open season.

If there’s one favorite to be found on paper across any of San Francisco’s teams, it would have to be defending 6-A state champion Galileo. Running back Yarvell Smith and wide receiver/defensive back Ronald Fox will get tons of attention, but if the Lions are going to go on another historic run, it’ll be because of unsung heroes stepping up — a common theme throughout the 2017 run as playoff opponents constructed their gameplans around the duo. The Lions kick off their season at Ygnacio Valley on September 7, and play their first home game on the 15th, an intriguing NorCal championship rematch with Rio Vista.

Defending Academic Athletic Association regular-season champion Mission will also once again be a force to be reckoned with. The Bears open at small-school power Menlo on August 24 and face another Peninsula Athletic League team in Sequoia on September 14. Other intriguing nonleague tilts featuring AAA teams include the Lincoln Mustangs’ opener with Capuchino on August 25 and their trip to El Camino on September 21.

The three City teams in the West Catholic Athletic League once again have a tough hill to climb and a grueling schedule, but the league’s makeup has changed in recent years. Whereas there used to be a strech a stretch in which the San Francisco schools were chasing the rest, the situation has changed. The entire league will be chasing the trio of Serra, St. Francis and Valley Christian. It’s just about anyone’s game from there. Last year, St. Ignatius suffered heartbreaking losses to both Riordan and Sacred Heart Cathedral, leading many observers to write off the Wildcats’ playoff chances, but surprising wins over Mitty and Bellarmine put SI in the conversation, though they ultimately missed the postseason.

For the first time in recent memory, SHC is the one defending the hardware as the new season begins. The Fightin’ Irish hold both the Bruce-Mahoney Trophy and the Stanfel Cup, but will defend them both with a much less experienced roster than last season. LeVar Watkins Jr. and Evan Dere lead the small group of returners. Their first two games are on the the road, traveling to Fernley (Nevada) and CCS power Palma to open the campaign. The Irish will run through the smoke and play in the fog at Kezar Stadium on September 7, when they host Homestead in their final nonleague affair.

The Bruce-Mahoney Game is set for October 5, and SHC will battle Riordan two weeks later at Kezar for the Stanfel Cup.

Playing football in San Francisco means all sorts of great tradition, and nobody has a better sense of that than St. Ignatius head coach John Regalia. The Wildcats will be as battle-tested as anyone entering WCAL play, opening nonleague play with Palo Alto and Campolindo, the latter of which has been a regular fixture on the schedule. Rather than facing Marin Catholic this year, SI will travel to Spokane, Washington to round out the nonleague slate with fellow Jesuit school Gonzaga Prep.

Riordan will try to defend the Gil Haskell Trophy against SI on October 27 at Kezar, as the Crusaders, under second-year head coach Jay’Sen Morris, look to improve from a 2-8 season in 2017. This year’s nonleague schedule includes East Bay power San Ramon Valley. Once again, the boys in purple and gold will be the City’s nomads, splitting their games between Kezar, City College and Terra Nova in nearby Pacifica.

The public and private schools are once again not on each other’s schedules, so debates over which side is truly the City’s best will be purely hypothetical in nature. Those debates are surely already underway, but they’ll really gain traction in three weeks’ time when games begin.

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