Football Preview: Sacred Heart Cathedral using the cards it’s been dealt

Sacred Heart Cathedral seniors Matt Hewitson (left) and Jerry Peralta (right), as well as junior Brett Rasso (center), will lead a group of largely new faces. (Photo by Devin Chen)

By Jeremy Balan

As a man of countless mantras, it’s no surprise Sacred Heart Cathedral head coach John Lee has another one ready for the 2012 season, but it’s far from a trite sports cliché.

The quote, which he has borrowed from Vince Lombardi, speaks directly to how the Irish are positioned heading into the 2012 season, as the school in the City that lost the most talent from 2011.

“The measure of who we are is what we do with what we have,” Lee said, repeating Lombardi’s words. “These are the cards we’ve been dealt. We can’t hand them back. I’m not going to let it faze me.”

The list of graduating seniors off last season’s team is so overwhelming that the West Catholic Athletic League coaches predicted the Irish would finish last in the league in their preseason poll, even behind Riordan, which has gone 1-20 in the last three seasons of league play and has lost to Sacred Heart in four straight years.

Sacred Heart Cathedral senior Jerry Peralta played meaningful minutes at times in 2011 as the backup quarterback, but will not be playing every snap at quarterback in 2012. (Photo by Doug Ko)

The talent lost is one thing, but most of those players were also in leadership roles.

“During the offseason our weightlifting coach got all of the returning guys together and talked to us about how we were going to lead this team and help these young guys convert from junior varsity,” said senior Matt Hewitson, the leading receiver returning. “We’ve been preaching to them to give it your all on the field and use the criticism to your advantage.”

The strength of the Irish, despite losing every piece of it’s standout linebacking unit from last year, will again be their defense.

The system designed to confuse opponents, where players are constantly shifting and alternating between down stances and stand-up positions, remains and will have to be just as good, if not better than last year’s unit for the Irish to remain competitive in the WCAL.

“Defense is again going to be a backbone for us. They have more experienced guys back,” Lee said. “We take our fastest kids and put them on defense. I don’t need the 6-foot-5, 280-pound defensive lineman. He wouldn’t fit in our system. Some of our guys are 180 pounds, but they can tackle.”

The onus is on the defense due to so many question marks on the other side of the ball.

Valentino Miles, who ran for over 1,600 yards and was named by this publication as City Player of the Year last season, is gone, as is quarterback Jack Harrington and four of the five starting offensive linemen from 2011.

Lee said he could rotate as many as six running backs into action this season, led by junior Brett Rasso, who will also play linebacker, line up at receiver and return punts and kicks in the mold of do-everything impact player Zach Tapel from 2011.

“There’s no real running back,” Lee said. “There is no Miles. We don’t have that guy. What we do have is guys who can play a lot of positions and that’s how we have prepared.”

Rasso, who played late in the 2011 season and had an impact immediately as a junior varsity call-up, was also a first-team All-City baseball player and has off-the-charts athleticism.

“You’re only in high school once and not many people get this opportunity,” Rasso said of his presence in every phase for the Irish. “I have big shoes to fill and I don’t want to just fit in the shoe. I want to exceed and really fulfill my potential.”

Sacred Heart Cathedral’s Brett Rasso brought some much-needed versatility and athleticism to the Irish as a junior varsity call-up in 2011, and may be the most important player for the team 2012. (Photo by Eric Luis)

Quarterback is also up in the air, even though Lee admits senior Jerry Peralta will be the starter. Strong-armed incoming sophomore Logan White will get playing time as well, however, and Lee said Paralta will line up at receiver when White is under center.

Peralta has the varsity experience and played significant and productive minutes in a backup role last season, but there is a sense of buzz around White, who was listed as one of the “Players to Watch” by the WCAL.

What both have is a deep-rooted football background. Paralta’s father Ken was the head coach at Marin Catholic before he left the program after the 2009 season and White’s uncle is Dan Hayes, the long-time offensive coordinator at City College of San Francisco.

“Jerry is a crafty runner and Logan has got the good arm, but Jerry’s arm isn’t bad,” Lee said. “Jerry is the vocal leader, because he’s a senior, and Logan is finding his way. It could be balanced, but we have to feel it out.”

It’s obvious WCAL coaches are skeptical of Sacred Heart this season, and the loss of tremendous senior talent is certainly valid evidence, but the Irish aren’t running away from the issue.

They know they have something to prove.

“They’re already writing us off, but we have to prove ourselves,” Hewitson said. “We fully understand that.”

2012 Schedule – WCAL games in bold

Week 0: Fri. 8/31 – @ Terra Nova (Pacifica), 7 p.m.
Week 1: Fri. 9/7 – vs. Campolindo (Moraga) @ Kezar Stadium, 7 p.m.
Week 2: Fri. 9/14 – @ Bishop O’Dowd (Oakland), 7 p.m.
Week 3: (Bye)
Week 4: Sat. 9/29 – vs. St. Francis (Mountain View), 4 p.m.
Week 5: Fri. 10/5 – vs. St. Ignatius @ Kezar Stadium, 7 p.m.
Week 6: Fri. 10/12 – vs. Valley Christian (San Jose) @ Kezar Stadium, 7 p.m.
Week 7: Fri. 10/19 – vs. Serra (San Mateo) @ Kezar Stadium, 7 p.m.
Week 8: Fri. 10/26 – @ Mitty (San Jose) @ Foothill College (Los Altos Hills), 7 p.m.
Week 9: Fri. 11/2 – vs. Riordan @ Kezar Stadium, 7 p.m.
Week 10: Fri. 11/9 – @ Bellarmine (San Jose), 7 p.m.

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25 Comments

  1. JJ says:

    Along with the always tough WCAL schedule, SHC’s pre-season schedule looks pretty tough too. I believe Campolindo won their league and went to a high school “bowl game”. BOD is always a top East Bay team too. As far as the QB situation, I guess we will have to wait-see, but it seems like SHC has to put their best athletes and talent on the field and that includes playing Peralta and Logan White at the same time. However, the coaches comments seem to insinuate that SHC will use a 2 quarterback approach like what the NY Jets are doing with Tebow and Mark Sanchez.

  2. Big guy 24 says:

    Good luck to the Irish this year and go out and earn your respect the old fashion way by kicking some butt. Keep working hard and never stop believing!! Go Irish…

  3. Jon Goldsmith says:

    Maybe the Marshall coach should take notes on how an established and respected coach goes about his business in the media.

  4. Ari Gold says:

    John Lee the academic teacher, GOOD. John Lee the football coach, NOT GOOD. Neither was Frank Lee before him. His love for our alma mater is unquestionable, but he is not a good coach primarily as a play caller or game manager. Whether its him or the offensive coordinator thats calling the plays, it falls on him as having the last say on what plays are run.

    Lastly I wouldnt say hes that he uses the best choice words when theres someone in the media asking him a questions. Besides the fact that SHC is playing at a disadvantage year after year because we just arent a football school or can get football players to come SHC consistently, he says stupid stuff like this: “I don’t need the 6-foot-5, 280-pound defensive lineman. He wouldn’t fit in our system. Some of our guys are 180 pounds, but they can tackle.”

    Oh really? REALLY!?!?!?! YOU dont need a 6’5, 280 lb lineman? OKAY!!! Let him go to SI so every predictable run play call time after time after time gets stuffed in the backfield for minus 3 yards. That is absolutely the dumbest thing he’s ever said. So you dont want 5 Kevin Greene’s on your team? I bet you it would make your team a whole lot better. I bet your “SYSTEM” would adapt pretty quick if you had those kinds of guys on your roster.

    I just cant wait to hear what he says next when asked another question. He is unbelievable.

    Good luck to Rasso and the rest of the team on the year. I pray for no 30 point blowouts during league play.

  5. The truth says:

    Ari I couldn’t agree more. If you think he says dumb stuff to the media you should hear the nonsense that comes out of his mouth on the field or in the classroom. Only 10 more games for the old Lee brothers. Frank dropped out of the league and set the program back 10 years in the 90’s and John is working on quite and encore, no body wants to play for him. 40 freshmen will be 10 by next summer. Good thing we have a hoops program.

    Nova by double digits.

  6. Jon Goldsmith says:

    Point #1: My comments were directed more toward the Marshall Coach (who in earlier articles talked about winning 70-0 and they said they will be champs) than to commend Coach Lee. I like that Coach Lee is playing the “poor us” card. And to be clear, he said we dont NEED 6’5″….doesnt mean he doesnt WANT 6’5″. Its obvious he builds his system around the players he has. What do you expect him to say, “our small guys arent good enough, we need 6’5″?”

    Point #2: Hey Ari, Coach Lee has some pretty good endorsements. If Coach Lee was as bad as you say, do you think Coaches Peralta and Hayes would allow their children or grandchildren to play for him?
    In short, you are just a blogger. Coach Lee is the man in the arena, stop being a critic.

  7. The truth says:

    Endoresment or Realist? Where else would JP play QB?MC? SI? SERRA? Wouldnt even start at Riordan. He is sharing time with a sophmore. Don’t think either went to SH for Lee’s coaching. When your the face of a program your fair game for the critics.

    It time to look at THE TRUTH!

  8. fan says:

    Jerry Peralta do your thing man. Go to work!!!

  9. New commenter says:

    Coach Lee IS the man in the arena. He has the dedication, heart, love of the game and sheer love for his players. A love that is returned despite what you “the truth” says. He has past players visit him year in and year out, asking to come back and coach for him, if they can help out in any way, talk to the current players about college, life in general. He can give his players the answers to the test (watching game film, scouting reports) but he doesn’t play the game.

    There has been much talk about him not being a good coach, and maybe he should be replaced. With who is the question? Who else would want to coach at a school that is not looked at as a football school, doesn’t have a football field on campus, and from the outside looking in doesn’t have much support from the administration? If you have a better candidate, please share!

  10. Chris says:

    Ari, I don’t think Coach Lee does not want 6’5 280 lb players. Coach Lee is simply using what he has if he does not have 6’5 280 lb defensive linemen. I agree with Jon Goldsmith with this comment. As for Logan White and Jerry Peralta going to SHC only for football, this is obviously not the truth. SHC has more to offer than just football. However, for the “Truth” to say Peralta wouldn’t start at Riordan, Serra or MC, is false. Jerry Peralta is a good athlete and could play another position if not QB. SH has never been a powerhouse in football but I think it is safe to say John Lee has made some strides with the football program. The 70s 80s 90s we did not always field above average teams. Can you name any other coach other than Lee who was able to take SH teams to CCS championship games?? As a alumnus of the school, I do not agree with some of the play calling or what person plays, but I do agree that Coach Lee does put his heart and soul to SH football. For a school, with no field, no track, etc and still be able to win and be competitive says a lot of the players and the people behind the program.

  11. Old School SH says:

    Ari we need to set the record straight. SHC dropped from the WCAL in Decmeber 1989, after Jim Connolly got fired as football coach and at least a few months BEFORE Frank Lee took the job. The SHC administration originally said they’d stay out of the WCAL for 2-3 years and then reevaluate things… Multiply those numbers by 8 or 9 and you get the Irish returning in 2008. If the Lees didn’t come back to coach at SH, I doubt there would be a football program at all. Frank essentially juggled knives in the early 80’s balancing 2 careers and a young family to make SHC football competitive again. He committed 5 years and just as it started to bear fruit, Phil Freed enjoyed a great ride on Frank’s coattails. The 1997 team was probably good enough to win the WCAL, having beaten Bellarmine, but the administration liked beating up lower tier teams on their October and November BYE weeks! John pushed very hard to get back in the WCAL, and finally moved the boulder. SHC’s hurdle to getting players is a lack of people who want to spend half of the afternoon in transit, schlepping to Crocker or Westmoor. The Lees even helped get the Presidio practice field up and running until the suits dropped the ball and it ended up becoming University’s lacrosse/baseball facility. Many members of the SH football staff coach there because they want to give their players something better than they had. Do you think the Harley Rider from Berkeley High or some hotshot DLS assistant could make SHC football compete the way these guys do?

    • Ari Gold says:

      I agree. I didnt question Lee’s love for the school. I questioned his ability to be a very good football coach. The numbers dont lie, he’s probably accumulated more wins than either Frank and Phil Freed combined. His play calling works against non-league teams. Against the peninsula and south bay teams, its just too easy for them. Yes having big linemen helps alot and thats something he just cant make appear out of thin air.

      Im just not a fan of what comes out of his mouth. 1) the i dont need the 6’5 guy was icing on the cake. Do you hear Darrell Barbour saying I dont need guys taller than 5’8 because they dont fit my system? and 2) how he threw the punter Lawlor under the bus for the CCS championship game. “It was his call” … Even if it was HIS call, youre the coach! you take responsibility on that one. Not some 16 year old kid. Ridiculous.

      1997 was a great team. Love Leo Fialos grit and team leadership. That was a real team from top to bottom.

  12. The truth says:

    I will pose the question. Which of the last 4 head coaches at SH have been proven guys? Connelly? F.lee? P.Freed? J. Lee?

    Proven. Have had a head coaching job before. Have won before. Have Played at a high level before.?Where on a staff that had won before.

    The answer is NO!

    All are allumni who played or worked at SH.

    You know why SH is not a football school? All the same people who have never won are the ones perpetuating the cycle. Look outside the lunch room for the next HC. Barbour seems to be working just fine for the hoops program. But it took hiring Burke and Perez after a million years of Phillips to figure it out.

    Just speaking THE TRUTH

    • Chris says:

      Hey, the Truth, look a little further, than that…When we had Mike Holmgren, did we win, NO, we did not! SH now has a Strength trainer that use to coach the Oakland Raiders, I can say we never had that when we were going there. The sad truth is you have some points, but you can not tell me the past and future kids who play for John Lee are not dedicated, nor can you say Coach John Lee is not dedicated to SH football. I hope SH becomes like Serra one day and becomes a football school too but until we get a real field and some other things settled, we will always average 1 good team every 2-3 years, those are the facts and reality of SH high school football. Yes, Barbour is a very good coach, no dispute on that, he will be tested this year too, but I don’t think he should go either, if they don’t win another CCS.

  13. The truth says:

    Chris, no question that there are way more things going against the football team than just the HC. No field on campus is never going to change. There are many things that are better than other places too.

    My point is that I’m tired of hearing about it not being a football school. Put a good coach in place and watch the difference. If you get a proven coach and he can’t do it then I will eat my words. Someone who can get the best athletes in the school out. Even Lee had good seasons(5-5) when the studs came out. See what a culture change would do. The old boys network is not the answer.

    The kids that play and have played are great for all they put out and their commitment. There are some quality coaches on staff but way to many that stink. If J. lee loves SH like you say than he should step aside.

    • FBC101 says:

      Don’t know Coach Lee personally. From what i hear he does an excellent job of preparing those boys at SHC to play ball in the most competitive league in Norcal, but from what the posters are saying that may not be the truth?

      San Francisco is not a hotbed for football at all. Maybe parents should start their kids off earlier so that they have knowledge of the basic skills prior to entering high school. Soccer Players don’t transition into good football players… Pop Warner lies to kids with their weight restrictions. A 165lb lineman in Pop Warner will not be a lineman at the WCAL level. I hear that unlimited weight program in San Francisco (WARRIORS) is turning out some fine football players especially lineman who would not have had a chance to play football with Pop Warner.

      That is the advantage most schools down the peninsula, and in San Jose have. They get Lineman who already have an understanding of the game.

      Can’t win football games without a good offensive line….

  14. Former SHC Player says:

    There’s a reason the numbers keep dropping every single year: no one wants to play for this guy, John Lee. Look at the 49ers and Jim Harbaugh. There’s mutual respect and the players love to play for him. He’s not their best friend but he’s a reasonable man who knows how to get the best out of his players. Football is a fun game and Lee often takes the enjoyment out of the game with the way he is. He has discouraged me from playing at the next level. Lee tries to intimidate in order to get it done his way. He is the self-proclaimed “General”. When did you serve our country, “General Lee”? Just like Riordan has, SH needs a makeover. It is not something that is going to happen overnight. If Sacred Heart wants to beat the Peninsula teams on a regular basis, there’s changes in need now. SH has had the talent to go far in football, but the coaching has been a hindrance of it all.

    • Ari Gold says:

      Im going to try to be as objective as possible @Former SHC, were you one of John Lee’s, for lack of better term “pet players”? Meaning did you fall under the category of Tino Miles, Dasarte Yarnway, Kevin Greene, Zack Tapel, Jack Harrington and the likes?

      Unfortunately if you arent one of those star caliber players, the big headed coach isnt going to pay attention to the rest of the roster nor give any recognition for that player that shows up every day, practices hard, does everything the coaches ask but still gets ZERO minutes in the game. Its like that at SHC and probably elsewhere to. I guess the mindset is just be happy to be part of the team. If you accept that then youre a better person and a great team player. If you dont, you might have the feelings you just shared.

      I only played… wait, check that, I only was on the Soph-Frosh team that one year I participated. Best I could muster was to be on Punt Coverage and since our punter wasnt very good, Coach Freed usually went for it on 4th down. But I love Coach Freed. I think he out of the John and Frank Lee was a fair coach. He of course played favorites, but he never gave off that GENERAL personality.

      I ran track also and the coach we had only cared about one two people on the team, Jamar Sheppard and Christon Rance. He could not give a rats behind about the rest of the team. Thats just how it is. Sorry you feel that way about John Lee. You are probably right about his General-like status and how kids just dont want to play for him.

      As mentioned before, I think a DLS assistant or former player would be great as head coach. Patrick Walsh, Serra’s head coach is doing just fine (of course he probably only would coach a team that year in and year out has a chance to win and gets football players every year). Some Christian Brothers school coach would be great. Maybe we can get Amani Toomer, or Aaron Taylor or Doug Brien to come couch SHC.

  15. JJ says:

    After SHC’s 1st game under their belt, I think sophomore QB Logan White will only get some snaps if SHC is getting killed, or if Peralta gets injured or throws alot of interceptions.

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