Riordan football coach John Lee walks around campus with a wooden locomotive in a pants pocket — a prop that he can blow into it, making that “choo-choo” sound that we all familiarize a train with.
Lee — in his second year at Riordan after spending the previous 23 years coaching at Sacred Heart Cathedral, including the last nine of those years as head coach — uses the prop to bring his team together, to emphasize that they are together.
By any chance should members of the Crusaders ignore that choo-choo sound, like in reality, they’ll miss the train and the destination it is headed to.
“We emphasize the word ‘we,’” Lee said. “Either you’re onboard with us, or you’re staying on the platform. Get on the train of success and good things will happen.”
It’s no secret Riordan has struggled recently as the Crusaders haven’t had a winning season since 2007. But after competing at the Sonny Dykes Football Camp at Cal this summer, there is hope that those good things Lee envisions will start happening this season.
“We got to compete and play some really good teams, and we held our own,” Lee said. “Had the opportunity to stay in the dorms, meet other players and coaches, and the kids were excited about it. Just a great experience for our kids.”
Despite the optimism heading into this season, the Crusaders — who play in the meat-grinder called the West Coast Athletic League — have plenty of positions up for grabs.
With first-team All-WCAL quarterback and three-year starter Zach Masoli (1,148 yards passing, 597 rushing, 14 touchdowns) now at City College of San Francisco, vying for the starting QB job will be senior Raul Callero and junior Jack Luavasa. Junior wide receiver-safety Cedric McAfee will be looked upon to replace the explosiveness first-team All-WCAL pick Chris Hall provided at those positions. Hall joined Masoli at CCSF.
Senior Stephen Stasko will anchor an offensive line that will be introducing four new starters, and senior middle linebacker William Plantz will provide the leadership on defense, a unit that gave up 39 points a game in 2013.
“Replacing all of those guys is going to be tough,” Lee said. “We have an idea of who we want to play, but we have open competition across the board and that’s exciting. If you have the mindset that you’re set, in gold, you’re sadly mistaken.”
Despite the position battles and schedule that has Riordan playing South Bay powers Milpitas, Sacred Heart Prep and Menlo-Atherton before entering the gauntlet that is the WCAL, Lee expects his team to be all aboard with his expectations.
“We want to have a winning record after our nonleague games, and we want to make the CCS playoffs and compete for a sectional title,” Lee said. “We think that’s a realistic goal. Anything past that is gravy.”
Last season: 3-7 overall, 1-6 in the West Catholic Athletic League (seventh place)
Three things to watch:
– Riordan’s first three games will be against Milpitas, Sacred Heart Prep and Menlo-Atherton, who were a combined 32-8 last season. This will be a steep challenge for Riordan before WCAL play.
– Oct. 10 against Sacred Heart Cathedral and Nov. 8 against St. Ignatius. City bragging rights, Stanfel Cup, enough said.
– Senior receiver-defensive back Jake Cochrane and his 5-foot-9, 165-pound frame will be asked to be a leader while sparking Riordan’s offense with his shiftiness.
Sept. 5 at Milpitas* 7 p.m.
Sept. 12 vs. Sacred Heart Prep* 4 p.m.
Sept. 20 vs. Menlo-Atherton* 1 p.m.
Oct. 3 at St. Francis 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 10 at Sacred Heart Cathedral 7 p.m.
Oct. 18 vs. Valley Christian 1 p.m.
Oct. 25 at Serra 1 p.m.
Oct. 31 at Bellarmine 7 p.m.
Nov. 8 vs. St. Ignatius 2 p.m.
Nov. 15 vs. Mitty 1 p.m.