To look at Serra senior Ryan Mahe as he straddles the defensive line, one might think him an aggressive defensive back readying to blitz.

At 5-10, 205 pounds, Mahe isn’t exactly a prototypical defensive lineman. But, sure enough, that spot off the edge of the defensive line is his natural position, where he has manned the defensive end spot for the Padres now for two seasons.

“The guys who are undersized have the biggest hearts,” Mahe said.

Mahe demonstrated his heart — plus his desire, aggression, brawn, and a bunch of other qualities that make him an obvious choice as the Daily Journal Athlete of the Week — in Saturday’s 41-0 shutout of Bellarmine in the Central Coast Section Division I football semifinals. The senior totaled two sacks of Bellarmine’s versatile quarterback Wade Smith.

“Ryan for the past few years has combined speed and strength,” Serra head coach Patrick Walsh said. “And what I think is his No.1 asset is his effort. … He’ll do whatever it takes to make a play and keep a guy like Smith contained.”

But one of the biggest early plays to set the tone for the Padres came late in the first quarter on a blocked punt by Mahe blocked punt, who lined up inside the tackles for that one and blitzed straight through the A gap. The senior took a straight route to the punter as Bellarmine’s three up-blockers were busy holding off Serra’s other rushers from off the edge.

Mahe had never registered a blocked punt before, but with the Bells deep in their own territory, he got his hands up to hammer it back toward the end zone. At first, Mahe didn’t know where the ball was, and hurriedly looked around in hopes of recovering it himself. By the time he found it, it was secured in the hands of Serra sophomore Jabari Mann for a scoop-and-score to give the Padres an early 14-0 lead.

“It was just something that the whole team needed,” Mahe said. “We haven’t been doing good on punt returns. So, just showing our presence and showing we’re going to dominate the game from the beginning was important.”

When Mahe was promoted to the varsity level as a sophomore, he was strictly a linebacker. Walsh put a quick wrinkle in that plan, though, and set out to use Mahe’s ball-hawking speed in a hyper-modern capacity as a hybrid linebacker-defensive end.

“He has the strength to do both, and the speed and agility to play outside linebacker,” Walsh said.

Not that Mahe was too hip to the idea initially.

“At first, I was kind of disappointed that I had to switch positions form something I was familiar with … and really loved to play, which was linebacker,” Mahe said. “But at the end of the day, I was able to switch positions and learned to love it.”

It wasn’t just the highlight-reel plays that made Mahe a standout Saturday. The overall theme for the Serra defense was one of aggression. Two weeks prior, the Padres suffered their only loss of the year, a 41-30 defeat at the hands of St. Francis on the final day of the regular season.

The response in the Serra defensive huddle was to take no play for granted. The way this played out on the field was in the Padres relentlessly holding the Bells in check on third-down tries. Bellarmine was 0 of 8 on third-down conversions through the first three quarters and didn’t convert one until the fourth quarter with Serra just one point away from a running clock with a 34-0 lead.

“Ever since St. Francis week, it was kind of a wakeup call from the weeks before,” Mahe said. “We could play teams and if they converted on third down it was OK, we would be able to stop them. But we knew we couldn’t take that mindset into the games that were coming.”

Mahe certainly wasn’t the only defensive standout for the Padres Saturday. Bellarmine fumbled the ball away on each of its first two possessions, with senior defensive end K.C. Clark pouncing to recover both. Safeties Joseph Bey and Sam Goligoski also recorded sacks, Goligoski’s coming on the last play of the game to extinguish Bellarmine’s drive at the Serra 24-yard line and preserve the shutout.

“It was just really important for us that we stay disciplined and that we understand our jobs,” Mahe said. “And it showed on Saturday.”

A team captain on defense, Mahe was the first player elected as a captain by his teammates prior to the season.

“To me that says it all about who he is, who he is on the field, who he is in the offseason,” Walsh said. “He’s been just a great representative of Padre football.”

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