With Notre Dame-bound defensive tackle Matt Dickerson as the headliner, the Serra High School football team returns some of the most high-profile players in the Bay Area.
As such, the Padres — who finished 9-3 overall, 5-2 in the West Catholic Athletic League and were a Central Coast Section Open Division semifinalist last year — were picked to finish No. 1 in the talent-rich WCAL this season, as voted on by the league coaches. While outside expectations for Serra might be sky high, 13th-year Padres coach Patrick Walsh said his team hasn't proven anything yet.
“I would say it's more the opposite to be honest with you,” Walsh said when asked if he's ever felt better about a team coming into a season. “I know a lot of people have high expectations of us, but we've got a new quarterback, we're replacing four-fifths of our offensive line, and we've got all new receivers. And right now for some reason, we're severely banged up.”
Walsh said three of his standout players are battling nagging injuries, and star safety Hamilton Anoa'I is still recovering from an ACL tear he suffered in October. A dynamic talent, Anoa'I has been ruled out for the team's season opener on Saturday against De La Salle.
In Walsh's ideal scenario, the Padres will get healthy, improve as the season goes along and peak for the CCS playoffs. One thing is for certain: Serra is loaded on defense, starting with returning linemen Daniel Lavulo, Jericho Tufono and Dickerson. If the defensive line is the alpha group of the Padres, then the secondary is a close second.
Led by ball-hawking safeties Tyson Terreros, Nick Maka and Anoa'I, along with a blanket-covering cornerback in Kava Cassidy, and it's no wonder why Walsh expects his defense to lead the team as the offense progresses to a potential elite unit. Offensively, look for Serra to pound teams with the run game, as it did last season when it set the single-season WCAL rushing record.
The Padres return tailbacks Kevin McGee and Cassidy, and newcomer Kelepi Lataimua can rip off a big gain every time he touches the ball. While the offensive line did lose four starters, Serra tends to reload rather than rebuild when it comes to the big boys up front. Ryan Rudolph, a 6-foot-2, 265-pound right guard, returns and is joined by newcomer Thomas Meredith, a 6-4, 260-pound right tackle.
After serving as the backup last year, Matt Fa'aita takes over at quarterback. Athletic and strong, Fa'aita will be tough to stop in Serra's option attack. If Fa'aita runs the offense well — with limiting turnovers being the top priority — then Serra has a chance for a historic season.
Saturday vs. De La Salle, 1 p.m.
Sept. 20 at Encinal, 7 p.m.
Sept. 26 vs. Buhach Colony, 7 p.m.
Oct. 4 vs. Bellarmine, 7 p.m.
Oct. 11 vs. Sacred Heart Cathedral, 7 p.m.
Oct. 19 vs. Valley Christian, 1 p.m.
Oct. 26 at St. Ignatius, 1 p.m.
Nov. 1 at St. Francis, 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 9 at Riordan, 1 p.m.
Nov. 16 vs. Mitty, 1 p.m.