With a heavyweight West Catholic Athletic League schedule already staring him in the face, one might wonder why Serra High School football coach Patrick Walsh would want anything to do with perennial powerhouse De La Salle High School.
After all, isn’t playing Bellarmine, Archbishop Mitty, St. Francis and Valley Christian enough of a grind to work through without starting the season off with a bruising battle against the defending state champions?
That is one school of thought, but not one Walsh ascribes to as he prepares his Padres (3-4 WCAL, 6-6 overall in 2009) for Saturday afternoon’s season opener against the Spartans at Serra High.
“I can see both sides of the argument [to play or not play such a tough opponent],” Walsh said. “We are going to play seven brutal games in league, so I can see why some would say not to play De La Salle. But it is a 10-game season and I am here to push us to be the best with any schedule.”
It will be the sixth straight year the two teams have played, with De La Salle claiming victory in all five of the previous contests, including a 61-13 win in the initial meeting in 2005. But the last two games have been close contests, with the Spartans barely edging the Padres 29-28 in 2008 and escaping with a 14-7 win in Concord last year.
The fact that Serra has been closing the gap over the past two seasons is why Walsh keeps bringing his team back for more against the Spartans.
“Every game we play against them,” Walsh said, “we find out a lot about ourselves.”
What Walsh already knows is that he has eight returning starters on offense, led by senior quarterback Andy McAlindon, senior running back Alex Bravo and junior running back Erich Wilson. And that should translate into a Serra team that will surprise some teams this year — maybe even De La Salle.
“We are going to have a balanced attack of passing and running,” Walsh said. “We are not going to be as predictable as in the past.”
The other thing Walsh already knows about his team is that they need a lot of help on defense. Only three defensive starters return to this year’s team and one of them is Bravo, who also serves as a linebacker.
“We lost a lot on defense to graduation,” Walsh said. “We are going to need people to step up.”
So, with a tough season-opener, a tough league schedule and questions on defense staring him in the face, what is Walsh thinking about the upcoming 2010 season?
“We know it’s a grind,” Walsh said. “And we are looking forward to it.”
And that is the second school of thought, the one Walsh definitely ascribes to. If you want to be the best, play the best. More importantly to Walsh and his Padres, beat the best.
Serra at a glance
Coach: Patrick Walsh (10th season, 61-40 overall)
Section: Central Coast Section
League: West Catholic Athletic League
2009 record: 6-6 overall, 3-4 WCAL
Key players: QB Andy McAlindon, DL-OL Michael Tatola, OL Johnny Maurino, RB-LB Alex Bravo
Key newcomers: FB-LB Brandon Bochi, RB-LB Nick Alspaugh
Season opener: Saturday, vs. De La Salle, 1 p.m.
League opener: At Valley Christian (Oct. 2)