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Valley Christian looks to be class of powerful WCAL

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The cliche of taking football games “one week at a time,” has been so overused, it’s almost a cliche to call it a cliche. But for the West Catholic Athletic League, that stale bit of verbiage always holds true.

The deepest, most competitive league in Northern California — and possibly the state — the WCAL is a brutal endeavor, where teams find each other battling a regional powerhouse week in and week out. Competing in this exhausting league is more daunting than running a Tough Mudder with Nick Fairley (in preseason shape) strapped to your back. That’s why the league title is usually decided on ultraclose wins and a few fortunate bounces. Or, perhaps most importantly, the championship team is the one that manages to avoid injuries throughout the season.

“I think, more than anything, staying healthy is the key to this league,” St. Francis coach Greg Calcagno said. “The way that all the teams play — by running the ball a lot — really punishes players. You can succeed with injuries if you have depth. But injuries definitely make things a whole lot more difficult.”

Here’s a look at the prospects of the WCAL schools from the Peninsula and the South Bay:

MITTY (11-2 overall, 6-1 WCAL): If it weren’t for Serra, the Monarchs would have marched through the 2013 season undefeated as they suffered their only two losses to the Padres, the last one being a 21-7 defeat in the Central Coast Section Open Division championship game. Mitty will have one of the WCAL’s most talented players in Dakari Monroe, a lightning-quick all-purpose athlete who led the team with 737 yards rushing last season on a gaudy 9.33 yards per attempt. Monroe also hauled in 19 catches for 406 yards last year. Coach Matt Haniger departed following the Monarchs’ 11-win season, but he was replaced by Dave Brown, who led the school for 25 years before taking a leave in 2006. The transition between the two coaches should be seamless.

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BELLARMINE (8-4, 4-3): It’s always weird to see a Bellarmine team without a Carta-Samuels quarterback leading the team, but that will be the case this season. K.J. Carta-Samuels, a two-year starter and four-star recruit, has graduated and is now suiting up for Washington in the Pac-12 Conference. K.J. succeeded his brother Austyn, another successful Carta-Samuels quarterback at Bellarmine. Still, coach Mike Janda’s teams typically reload with ease, and he’ll have a slew of gifted juniors contributing after garnering valuable playing time as sophomores last season. The leader of the Bells will be senior running back-linebacker Curt Calomeni, entering his third season as a starter.

SERRA (11-3, 6-1): Patrick Walsh said this could be his most challenging season at Serra since he began coaching the Padres in 2001. Don’t believe him. Serra, which narrowly lost the California Interscholastic Federation Division I NorCal championship game to Del Oro of Loomis last season, is a legitimate Northern California powerhouse, and Walsh consistently churns out winners. Despite heavy losses on the defensive and offensive lines, the Padres have oodles of talent, led by explosive senior running backs Kava Cassidy and Kelepi Lataimua. Those two will shoulder the load offensively while Walsh’s young team develops. The Padres will have to grow up quick though, as their annual date with De La Salle — which Serra always plays tough — is slated for Friday’s season opener.

ST. FRANCIS (9-4, 4-3): As the only WCAL team to defeat Serra last season, St. Francis was the embodiment of the league’s “anything can happen in any given week” mantra. The Lancers advanced to the CCS Division II final last season, and coach Calcagno brings back plenty of talent, led by senior fullback Devin Hurtado, who ran for more than 500 yards in 2013. Dennis Green, another skilled runner, returns, as does Devon Canty, who will also get some carries in the backfield. After dominating the WCAL for large portions of the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s, the Lancers have now gone 10 years without winning a league title. Breaking that streak will be a tough task in another loaded year in the league.

<p> VALLEY CHRISTIAN (8-4, 5-2): It’s always tough to pick a favorite in the ubercompetitive WCAL, but if any team could claim that mantle this season, it would probably be Valley Christian. The Warriors return Kirk Johnson, a beastly runner who churned up more than 1,400 yards rushing last season and has already committed to play at Texas, where his dad, Johnnie, is in the Longhorn Hall of Fame. Even scarier — Kirk’s little brother, Collin, a 6-foot-5 junior wide receiver who struggled with injuries last season, is also going to Texas and is probably more physically gifted than his older brother. Those two will get help from a massive offensive line, anchored by 6-5, 300-pound senior Trevor Thomas.

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