By Josh Levine
Two years ago Sacred Heart Cathedral was a solid team, going 8-5 and winning the CIF-Central Coast Section Small School Division championship. Last year they took a major dip in the standings and finished 2-8 which was not good enough for a playoff spot.
This year, the Fightin’ Irish, led by veteran coach John Lee, will look to make their way back to the playoffs.
“Our goal is to go back to the CCS playoffs,” said Lee. “The junior class is very talented and skilled and they mix well with the seniors.”
One strong spot for the Irish will be their offensive line, which has four returning seniors. Joe Keightley, C.J. Pardini, Daniel Stornaiuolo, and Kristofer Vukasin will take on the role of creating gaps for the running backs and keeping the quarterback safe.
“We’ve really bonded as a unit,” said Pardini. “We know the system and we’re only improving. Devon Villanueva, the fifth person on the line, is really picking things up quickly. Last year we really did have the talent to go far and we showed that in a couple games, but we weren’t in sync as a team.”
The Irish have not decided on a starting quarterback yet, which is something they hope to figure out in the upcoming weeks. There are three contenders for the starting position, including senior Jake Murphy and juniors Jack Harrington and Zach Tapel.
“As of right now, [Harrington] is out in front to be our quarterback,” said Lee. “We may do something similar to the wildcat formation with [Tapel] though, because he can run. We’ll see who steps up.”
During this past school year, the Irish learned that their starting quarterback in 2009, Seamus Finnegan, transferred to Monte Vista of Danville.
Even with that significant loss, the Irish may be shifting in offensive strategy.
“[Finnegan] threw for almost 1,500 yards last year, but in the end we finished out 2-8,” said Lee. “The year before that our quarterback barely threw for 700 yards and we went 8-5. This is truly a running league.”
Sacred Heart Cathedral plays in the tough West Catholic Athletic League, which is known for having a very run-heavy offense. With that in mind, the Irish need to have a strong defensive presence to keep other running backs out of their end zone.
Normally the Irish run a 4-4-3 defense, but Lee is looking at trying different formations such as a 6-2-3 or a 3-5-3. Both of the defenses are run stoppers, but do leave room for big air attacks.
“Our coaches talk to us about bending but not breaking on defense,” said Murphy, who also is competing for the inside linebacker spot. “We don’t always need to keep them from going more than three yards, but we can’t give up any gashes, such as a huge run.”
Looking ahead at their 2010 schedule, Lee pointed out that the two biggest games for the Irish are against San Francisco rivals St. Ignatius and Archbishop Riordan. The game against St. Ignatius is for the Bruce Mahoney trophy, and while the history of that rivalry can speak for itself, the game against Riordan is a personal one for Lee.
“The game against Riordan is for the Nick Stanfeld trophy, who was a player at Riordan and a coach there who died at the age of 27 of brain cancer. I knew Nick personally and we were best friends,” said Lee. “Right now the trophy is with us and I don’t intend on giving it back.”
For the Irish to bounce back after a disappointing 2009 campaign, they will need to surprise some of the WCAL elite.
“I’ll be honest, I think a lot of teams lost some respect for us after last season,” said Keightley. “It’s time for us to put [Sacred Heart Cathedral] back on the map where it belongs.”
2010 Schedule (WCAL games in bold)
Fri. 9/3 – @ Terra Nova (Pacifica), 7 p.m.
Fri. 9/10 – @ Justin-Siena (Napa), 7 p.m.
Fri. 9/17 – vs. St. Mary’s (Albany) @ Kezar Stadium, 7 p.m.
Fri. 10/1 – vs. Archbishop Mitty (San Jose)@ Foothill College (Los Altos), 7 p.m.
Sat. 10/9 – vs. Serra (San Mateo) @ Kezar Stadium, 2:30 p.m.
Fri. 10/15 – vs. Bellarmine (San Jose) @ San Jose City College, 7 p.m.
Fri. 10/22 – vs. Archbishop Riordan @ Kezar Stadium, 8 p.m.
Fri. 10/29 – vs. St. Francis (Mountain View) @ Kezar Stadium, 7 p.m.
Fri. 11/5 – vs. St. Ignatius @ Kezar Stadium, 7 p.m.
Fri. 11/12 – vs. Valley Christian (San Jose) @ Kezar Stadium, 7 p.m.