The 2021 football season was a legendary one in the West Catholic Athletic League (WCAL), headlined by St. Francis-Mountain View’s upset of De La Salle and Serra’s playoff run, a journey that culminated in the Padres representing Northern California in the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) Open Division Championship Game. Both the Lancers and Padres are considered the favorites in the WCAL again for 2022, but the league’s other six teams, including the three that call San Francisco home, will have a serious chance to win the Bay Area’s most prestigious league. (See our citywide football preview here.)
No team has more buzz than Riordan, largely thanks to the introduction of new head coach Adhir Ravipati, who won a state championship at Menlo-Atherton in 2018. Speaking of state championships, Sacred Heart Cathedral won one in 2021 despite posting just a 3-7 regular season record. The Irish, too, have a new coach, with Antoine Evans accepting the promotion from defensive coordinator after Barry McLaughlin stepped down to spend more time with his family. The only returning head coach of the three San Francisco WCAL schools is John Regalia, who’s entering his 12th year at St. Ignatius and has overseen the Wildcats’ transformation from an old-school program to a modern spread offense.
As for the rest of the league, Bellarmine impressed in 2021 under first-year head coach Jalal Beauchman and expects to be a major player once again, returning quarterback Nate Escalada, running back Ben Pfaff and defensive lineman Jae’Von Reels. Valley Christian had lots of attention this offseason as wide receiver Jurrion Dickey announced his departure from the school. The Oregon commit will spend his senior season at Menlo-Atherton, leaving the Warriors without much of a returning core. Sophomore left tackle Champ Taulealea and junior Kai Hamilton will have to take on massive roles to keep the Warriors among the area’s top programs. Mitty finished in last place in 2021, but returns quarterback Wills Towers and lightning-quick wide receiver Danny Scudero. If the Monarchs can improve their offensive line, they’ll find themselves emerging from the depths in a WCAL where there’s no such thing as a guaranteed win.
2021: 5-5, 2-5 WCAL (7th)
Season opener: vs. Granada, Aug. 27, 2 p.m.
Head coach: Adhir Ravipati (1st season)
Players to watch: DE Isiah Chala (Sr.), WR/CB Zachary Jones (Sr.), G Losipini Tupou (So.), QB Tobey Weydemuller (Jr.), WR/RB/DB King-Njhsanni Wilhite (Sr.)
The Riordan football program is surrounded by optimism that hasn’t been seen in nearly two decades with the hiring of Adhir Ravipati. At the age of 35, Ravipati has already posted a remarkable record of accomplishments: as head man at Menlo-Atherton from 2015 through 2018, a span in which he led the Bears to a 38-15 record, two outright Peninsula Athletic League (PAL) Bay Division championships, a third shared league title, a pair of Central Coast Section (CCS) crowns, two NorCal titles and the 2018 California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) 3-A Championship. He then stepped away due to commitments to his day job, but with the advent of remote work, he’s a head coach once again, tasked with bringing the Crusaders back to relevance.
Ravipati plans for his team to employ a multitude of looks on both offense and defense. Though teaching a new scheme to a group of teenagers in less than six months is a challenge, Riordan is certainly armed with the personnel to do it. Zachary Jones may stand at just 5-foot-10, but he demonstrated blistering speed on the basketball court and will line up at both wide receiver and cornerback. He isn’t the only hoopster to take the field for the Crusaders; Isiah Chala, who received a scholarship offer from Cal after impressing at a workout that Ravipati orchestrated, lines up at defensive end.
King-Njhsanni Wilhite mostly operated as a return specialist last year, a move to help him stay healthy for basketball season, but he is expected to be a factor at receiver, defensive back and even running back. Tobey Weydemuller transferred over from St. Ignatius last December after a strong sophomore year quarterbacking the Wildcats’ JV team; he’s battling with freshman Michael Mitchell Jr. for the starting job and can also play safety on defense.
Whoever takes snaps for the Crusaders should be protected well behind Losipini Tupou, a guard who started as a freshman and has already attracted Division I interest. He’ll be accompanied by Daniel Keady, an El Cerrito transfer.
Sacred Heart Cathedral
2021: 8-7, 3-4 WCAL (5th), won CCS Division III Championship, Northern California Division 5-A Championship and CIF Division 5-A Championship
Season opener: vs. Sacred Heart Prep, Aug. 26, 7 p.m. at Kezar Stadium
Head coach: Antoine Evans (1st season)
Players to watch: T/DT Benjamin Hatch (Jr.), QB Aidan McGrath (Jr.), WR/OLB RL Miller (Sr.), RB/MLB Jerry Mixon (Sr.), WR/DB Kendric Sanders (Sr.)
The Sacred Heart Cathedral Fightin’ Irish may be defending state champions, but they certainly aren’t treating 2022 like a victory lap. Between a new coach and the fact that they posted just a 3-7 regular season record last year, the Irish head into the new season without any semblance of complacency.
Both the lack of entitlement and an abundance of continuity should work to SHC’s advantage. The Irish may be under a new head coach and may have just graduated quarterback Ray-John Spears, a two-sport standout, but new head coach Antoine Evans served as defensive coordinator under Barry McLaughlin for two years and the senior class is full of key contributors from the 2021 squad, highlighted by Oregon commit Jerry Mixon Jr. and Arizona State commit RL Miller.
Miller, who grew to 6-foot-4 during the offseason, has moved from cornerback to linebacker in a defense that has switched from a 4-2-5 scheme to a more traditional 4-3 after graduating Bruce Uperesa, a unique athlete who not only anchored the defense but also lined up at wideout despite having the body and physicality of a tight end.
Replacing Spears, Uperesa and defensive tackle Silas Bahlibi won’t be an easy task, but SHC does have an experienced secondary and receiver group to help soften the blow with the likes of Isaiah Keishk and Kendric Sanders. Ultimately, the biggest advantage the Irish may have entering the 2022 season is experience. Whereas most teams’ seniors are lucky to even have 10 games of varsity experience, many of SHC’s seniors have played in as many as 19 varsity contests.
2021: 5-7, 2-5 WCAL (6th), lost CCS Division II Semifinal to Wilcox
Season opener: vs. Palo Alto, Aug. 26, 7 pm.
Head coach: John Regalia (12th season, 55-66-1)
Players to watch: G/DE Santino Franco (Sr.), RB/MLB Alex Hartigan (Sr.), TE/OLB Luke Leupold (Sr.), QB Mac McAndrews (Sr.), C/DT John O’Brien (Jr.)
While the last two football seasons at St. Ignatius didn’t quite capture the glory of the 2019 WCAL Championship team, the Wildcats remained competitive in the Bay Area’s top league, proving that their return to relevance was no fluke. They enter 2022 once again looking to rely on depth across the board, with an experienced group of linemen and linebackers and better roster numbers than the program has seen in years.
Competing in the WCAL requires strength in the trenches to match up against the likes of Serra and St. Francis, and the ‘Cats have no shortage of muscle with players like Santino Franco, a three-year starter at guard. John O’Brien impressed as a two-way starter at center and defensive tackle before suffering a torn ACL early in the season, and SI returns two starting linebackers in Alex Hartigan and Luke Leupold.
Mac McAndrews saw time in a two-QB system as a junior and will take the majority of the snaps in his senior year, though offensive coordinator Mike Clark may also employ sophomore Soren Hummel. Top targets Ryan Ivers and Jackson Muzzy may have graduated, but head coach John Regalia spoke glowingly of his team’s depth at both receiver and running back. Opposing secondaries will have their hands full with not only Gus Parker and junior Nick Mann, but also with a solid group of second-stringers that can compete with most teams’ starters.