High school football and underdog stories are two of the most romanticized aspects of American sports. The thing is, they don’t usually go together.
The same powerhouse programs typically dominate state and national rankings, and it’s rare for a plucky small-town team to knock off one of the giants. A simple computer ranking program, like the one used on Calpreps.com, can predict 80% of games correctly just by analyzing scores of prior games. Upsets like St. Ignatius’ 14-13 win over Serra to claim a share of the West Catholic Athletic League (WCAL) title in 2019 are so special because they’re hardly commonplace. The strongest teams typically win, and they stay on top of the mountain for years.
With that in mind, there’s real parity in San Francisco entering the 2022 high school football season as three new head coaches bring fresh energy to schools around town. Terrill Vinson is now in charge at Mission, taking over after Tobias Whitley left to take an assistant coaching job in Dallas.
Barry McLaughlin stepped down after a state championship victory at Sacred Heart Cathedral, choosing to spend more time with his family while maintaining his role as an on-campus biology teacher. In steps Antoine Evans, a San Francisco native who had served as McLaughlin’s defensive coordinator. While the Fightin’ Irish do have to replace quarterback Ray-John Spears, who now attends City College after graduating SHC as one of the best multi-sport athletes the city has seen in decades, they do have a pair of Pac-12-bound linebackers anchoring their returning core.
Perhaps the biggest splash of all, though, is at Riordan. A program that has posted just two .500 seasons over the last 14 years sent shockwaves around the Bay Area in February with the hiring of Adhir Ravipati, who won a state championship at Menlo-Atherton and helped transform the Bears into one of the top public school programs in all of Northern California. His arrival in the city has brought attention to a Crusader program that’s been starving to one-up rivals SHC and St. Ignatius.
All of these changes should help create a more competitive scene all across San Francisco. Yes, the three city WCAL teams will once again open the 2022 season in pursuit of top dogs Serra and St. Francis-Mountain View, but the gap is nowhere near as titanic as it was during a 2021 season, when St. Francis became the first Northern California team to beat De La Salle since 1991 only to be upset by Serra in the Central Coast Section (CCS) Division I Championship Game. Both will be strong once again this year, fueled by the long-term strength of their programs, but all three of their city foes will have a puncher’s chance against them.
In the public school Academic Athletic Association (AAA), it would be reasonable to expect Balboa and Lincoln to line up once again for City superiority in the Turkey Day Game, just as the two teams did in 2019 and 2021. But any of the other five competitors could emerge from the pack to claim the other two playoff spots.
Lowell came painfully close to reaching the title game last year, but will need to rely on large roster numbers to replace senior leaders. Mission is aiming to return to the Turkey Day Game for the first time since appearing in four straight from 2015 through 2018, while Washington has one of the most experienced passing attacks in the league. Galileo is set to make major strides forward in head coach Nick Naudain’s second season, while Burton aims to compensate for low roster numbers with a group of mammoth linemen.
With so many factors coming together, 2022 is likely to be the most competitive football season San Francisco has seen across the board in decades.
The Standard is here to help fans prepare for an exhilarating season with a helpful guide to all 10 of the city’s 11-man football teams.
Ethan Kassel can be reached at [email protected]