Football

High school football 2023 preview: West Catholic Athletic League

WEST CATHOLIC ATHLETIC LEAGUE

(Predicted order of finish)

No. 1 SERRA

Coach: Patrick Walsh

Record in 2022: 13-1

What to expect: Serra was the clear No. 1 in Northern California last season, edging Folsom and De La Salle on the road to open the season and going 13-0 before losing to national powerhouse St. John Bosco-Bellflower in the Open Division state title game. The Padres bring back most of the key players from that team, including four-year starters Jabari Mann (RB/LB), Danny Niu (RB/LB) and Joseph Bey (safety). QB Maealiuaki Smith also is back, as is LB Marley Alapati, WR Kyon Loud, DL Timo Poloka and a host of others for a team that could represent NorCal in the Open game for the third consecutive season. The Padres once again start the season against Folsom and De La Salle, this time at home in San Mateo.

Season opener: Aug. 26 vs. Folsom, noon

No. 2 ST. FRANCIS

Coach: Greg Calcagno

Record in 2022: 8-4

What to expect: St. Francis finished second in the WCAL last season and is expected to be near the top again, even though this year’s team has little varsity experience. Coach Greg Calcagno, in his 11th season, will rely on a running attack led by last year’s late-season breakout star, Kingston Keanaaina, now a junior. Senior FS/WR Mack Mrowka will have an important role as he’s the only returning starter on defense. QB Aaron Knapp, filling in for injured starter Matthew Dougherty Jr., led the Lancers to regular-season wins over Bellarmine and Archbishop Mitty last fall. The junior takes over as the starter after beating lymphoma in the off-season. St. Francis has finished under .500 in WCAL play just once under Calcagno. The Lancers will be tested early as their non-league schedule includes Helix-La Mesa, Monterey Trail-Elk Grove and De La Salle. 

Season opener: Aug. 25 vs. Helix-La Mesa, 7 p.m.

No. 3 ST. IGNATIUS

Coach: Lenny Vandermade

Record in 2022: 6-7

What to expect: Lenny Vandermade, an assistant at USC for the past four years and a Mater Dei-Santa Ana and USC alum, was hired last winter to replace longtime coach John Regalia. He takes over a program that tied Bellarmine for fifth place in the WCAL last season and then lost to the Bells in the CCS Division II final. Among the returning players for SI is OL/DL John Mills, a 6-6, 315-pound junior whom Vandermade said “has the size and ability to be an all-league player and possibly one of the best OL in the CCS.” He has offers from Cal, UCLA and Washington. Senior WR/DB Pierce St. Geme could play a significant role in the offense, Vandermade added. Another player to watch is LB/RB Suitulaga Gallegos-Hunkin, a first-team all-WCAL pick as a sophomore last season. The Wildcats get a big test in the opener as reigning NorCal Division 2-A champion San Ramon Valley pays a visit.

Season opener: Aug. 25 vs. San Ramon Valley, 7 p.m.

No. 4 VALLEY CHRISTIAN

Coach: Mike Machado

Record in 2022: 2-8

What to expect: One of the Bay Area’s longtime powers, Valley Christian took a big step back last season as it continued to pick up the pieces after numerous kids departed during the pandemic. “Obviously we’re going to be a little different – we’ve got seniors,” coach Mike Machado said about this season’s team. One of those seniors is 5-10, 195-pound Uchenna Eke, the WCAL’s running back of the year last season. “Good size, good speed,” Machado noted. Eke will run behind four-star junior lineman Champ Taulealea, who measures 6-4, 330, and three-star senior lineman Rayne Mayo, who is 6-3, 295. Taulealea, who has 10 Power 5 offers, is moving to left tackle. WR Kai Hamilton also should make an impact. He has an offer from Washington State. The Warriors also have a handful of strong linebackers, senior Remy Hernandez among them. Ten sophomores started last season for VC. Senior Joseph Stephens and junior Adrian Cossy are competing to play QB.

Season opener: Aug. 25 vs. Wilcox, 7 p.m.

No. 5 ARCHBISHOP RIORDAN

Coach: Adhir Ravipati

Record in 2022: 3-7

What to expect: It’s no secret that Riordan added top-line talent since the end of last season, highlighted by four-star receiver Chris Lawson and four-star lineman Tommy Tofi. Lawson, a junior, transferred from Foothill in Pleasanton. Tofi, a 6-6, 320-pound sophomore, is a transfer from Sheldon-Elk Grove. The San Francisco school also added three-star receiver Cynai Thomas from Menlo-Atherton and three-star lineman Peter Langi from Mater Dei-Santa Ana. They join a team that also includes last season’s WCAL freshman of the year, QB Michael Mitchell Jr., and three-star senior receiver Tyrone Jackson. If all these players seamlessly blend together, Riordan under its second-year coach Adhir Ravipati could finish higher than this projection.

Season opener: Aug. 25 vs. Sacred Heart Prep, 3:30 p.m.

No. 6 ARCHBISHOP MITTY

Coach: Danny Sullivan

Record in 2022: 9-4

What to expect: The Monarchs were one of the feel-good stories of the 2022 season, going from one victory in 2021 to the CCS Division I championship game. But the team was filled with seniors, including Bay Area News Group Santa Clara County player of the year Danny Scudero. Mitty hopes the foundation set by the departed players is ongoing. “No matter what we may have lost from the previous year, the expectation is to find new guys to have success and help the program,” coach Danny Sullivan said. RB AJ Cenizal will be counted on to run the ball behind a line that features junior Alex Bleszynski, who started at center last season. Senior Caden Allard is expected to have an impact at tight end. He also will play linebacker, joining a group that includes junior Antwann dos Santos Jurado, who could be primed for a breakout season. 

Season opener: Aug. 25 at James Logan, 7 p.m.

No. 7 BELLARMINE

Coach: David Diaz-Infante

Record in 2022: 8-7

What to expect: Hired in early June to replace the departed Jalal Beauchman, new coach David Diaz-Infante (Bellarmine Class of 1982) takes over a program trying to get back to the top of the WCAL. The Bells tied for fifth last season, then went on to win CCS Division II and NorCal regional championships. The top returning players include three-star athlete Parker Threatt, three-star lineman Bennett Anderson and TE/LB Joe Fuqua. Threatt and Fuqua received second-team all-league honors in 2022. LB/FB Ben Coulter and PK Connor Tripp are two other notable players on a team that graduated standouts such as RB Ben Pfaff, DL Jae’Von Reels and LB Brandon Broch. The non-league schedule features Menlo-Atherton and two East Bay teams, McClymonds and Monte Vista.

Season opener: Aug. 25 vs. Menlo-Atherton at San Jose City College, 7 p.m.

No. 8 SACRED HEART CATHEDRAL

Coach: Antoine Evans

Record in 2022: 6-5

What to expect: The Fightin’ Irish tied Mitty for third last season and were selected for the CCS Division I playoffs. But the two best players from that team, WR RL Miller and LB Jerry Mixon, graduated. Coach Antoine Evans said he has depth at the skill positions but the team lacks experience. “We graduated a lot of seniors,” he said. SHC returns two solid linemen in Benjamin Hatch and Zaheer Young. Hatch was a first-team all-WCAL player last season and Young received second-team all-league recognition. QB Aiden McGrath also is back. He passed for 1,400 yards and 10 TDs in 2022. His top target will be WR Jackson Irons, whom Evans said had a really good off-season. Another player to watch is senior WR/DB Danilo Salgado. The non-league schedule – Pittsburg, Sacred Heart Prep, Wilcox – will tell quite a bit about SHC.

Season opener: Aug. 26 vs. Pittsburg at Kezar Stadium in San Francisco, 1 p.m.

Coming next week

This is the last of the Bay Area News Group’s 21 high school football league previews. We start our regular game week coverage on Monday, with the return of the Monday Morning Lights column. The week also will include rankings, predictions, top matchups and more. If you have not already, please subscribe. Your contributions keep us going.

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