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.
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.”
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.