Daily Journal Sports
Serra’s Kelepi Lataimua was one of the best defensive backs in the WCAL last season and still managed to accumulate nearly 600 yards on offense. He will carry more of a load this year.
Many media outlets are choosing Serra to repeat as West Catholic Athletic League champions. While the Padres return plenty of talent from last season’s Central Coast Section Open Division title team, coach Patrick Walsh knows just how difficult it is to compete for a league — and section — title year in and year out.
“The hardest thing for any team in any sport is winning back-to-back championships,” Walsh said. “It’s always easier to play the underdog role.”
Walsh may try to instill that underdog attitude in the 2014 edition of the Padres. The return of 1,400-yard rusher Kava Cassidy from a 2013 record-setting offense, along with two-way standout, junior defensive back/running back/slot receiver Kilepi Lataimua and Stanford-bound left tackle Jack Dreyer give the Padres some star power offensively, but Walsh is more concerned with holes that are left to fill.
“Who is going to block for those guys (Cassidy and Lataimua)?,” Walsh said. “We’re going to have to replace the offensive line. I have to replace those guys first before we can worry about running the ball.”
Kennedy and Lataimua both have the potential to accumulate 1,000-yard seasons, but Walsh is worried about having to replace at least three starters up front. Joining the 6-8 Dreyer is left guard Creighton Felise — who is also one of the team’s best defensive players and will see action both ways regularly. Walsh said the same five linemen played every significant snap for the Padres last season.
Adding pressure on the offensive line is the fact the Padres will be breaking in a new quarterback. Leki Nunn is a sophomore and will be playing the position for the first time and learning it at the varsity level can be a daunting task.
“[Nunn] didn’t even play quarterback on the freshman team. (But) he’s done a great job of being a quarterback,” Walsh said. “He’s a very good athlete. A good kid. He’s taken on the role of being the Serra quarterback with everything that goes along with it.”
Walsh believes Nunn has the athleticism to manage Serra’s run-heavy offense for the first half of the season before Hunter Bishop is eligible to take over. Bishop is a transfer from St. Francis and has to sit out the first five weeks of the season because of CCS transfer rules.
“Hunter, if he were eligible, he would be our starter,” Walsh said.
That is not such a bad thing because Walsh believes Nunn can be more valuable at other positions.
“By adding Hunter to the mix at quarterback, we also gain (at other spots) by allowing Leki to play other positions,” Walsh said. “[Nunn is] one of our best receivers and one of our best cornerbacks.”
Whoever is under center should have the outside targets necessary to develop a passing game. Brandon Monroe returns for his second season of varsity duty and should provide some leadership for the group. Walsh said Demetri McCoy’s potential is explosive.
The defensive line will be anchored by Felise, who will be one of several Padres to play both sides of the ball this season.
“In a perfect world, I’d have 22 different starters,” Walsh said. “In high school, it’s very hard to do.”
Billy Tuitavake saw some playing time on the defensive line late in 2013 as a sophomore. Walsh said his senior linemen — Nick Fitzgerald and Alan Smolgovsky — will have to step up their game.
The linebacking unit returns second-year starter James Outman, along with the emergence of senior Justin Tatola. The defensive backfield could be in a bit of flux as no one has taken the reins at the safety positions. One corner should be locked down with Lataimua and the other will be manned by Monroe.
The Padres will find out real quick where they stand when they face De La Salle in the season opener tonight in Concord and follows that with a road trip to Sherman Oaks to face another state power in Notre Dame. While Walsh said he would love to beat his alma mater at DLS, he said it’s more important to identify his team’s strengths and weaknesses before entering WCAL play in Week 4.
“I’ve always subscribed to the, ‘You can win in losses and lose in wins’ (mindset). I think every game can help us prepare … for our first league game against Valley Christian,” Walsh said. “To me, (playing teams like DLS is) more of a mirror, a reflection of who we are. I’ve always looked at an opponent as an opportunity to look inward. I want to know before October where the holes are and also want to know where our strengths are.”
Coach: Patrick Walsh, 14th year
2013 record: 6-1 WCAL, 11-3 overall
Key returners: Jack Dreyer (sr., OL/DL); Kava Cassidy (sr., RB); Creighton Felise (sr., OL/DL); Kelepi Lataimua (jr., RB/DB); James Outman (sr., LB).
Key newcomers: Leki Nunn (so., QB/DB); Hunter Bishop (jr., QB); Justin Tatola (sr., LB), Billy Tuitavake (jr., DL).
2014 schedule (home games in CAPS): Sept. 5, @ De La Salle-Concord, 7:30 p.m.; Sept. 12, @ Notre Dame-Sherman Oaks, 7 p.m.; Sept. 20, SOUTH CITY, 1 p.m.; Oct. 3, @ Valley Christian-San Jose, 7 p.m.; Oct. 10, ST. IGNATIUS, 1 p.m.; Oct. 18, ST. FRANCIS, 1 p.m.; Oct. 25, RIORDAN, 1 p.m.; Oct. 31, vs. Mitty at Foothill College, 7 p.m.; Nov. 7, vs. Sacred Heart Cathedral at Terra Nova, 7 p.m.; Nov. 15, BELLARMINE, 1 p.m.