After experiencing a lot of frustration throughout the season, running back Lucas Meredith finally had the break-out game he was seeking — a 4-carry, 151-yard, one-touchdown performance in a blowout win.
But Meredith isn’t doing it for the Burlingame football team this season — for obvious reasons. Instead, Meredith is running the ball for Saguaro High School in Scottsdale, Arizona.
But the narrative “Meredith left Burlingame to play football” is only one aspect of a multi-layered family decision that had Meredith going from the Panthers to the Sabercats.
“It’s definitely a new experience (in Arizona),” said Meredith, who as a sophomore helped Burlingame to the 2018 Central Coast Section Division IV title. “It’s definitely a new atmosphere. It’s a different type of football.”
Saguaro (3-0 league play, 5-1 overall) is an Arizona powerhouse, winning three straight 4A state titles. Last year, the Sabercats lost in the Open Division championship game and they begin the 2020 Open Division playoffs as the No. 3 seed, taking on No. 6 Salpointe Catholic Friday night.
The decision to attend a state power is as nuanced as the decision to leave the Bay Area, all of which — basically — happened because of the pandemic. Lucas Meredith’s parents, Danny and Cherise, saw their income slow to a crawl as her job as a hair stylist and his career as a real estate broker were nearly wiped out.
Previously, however, the family had already been talking about moving away from the Peninsula.
“I’ve been wanting to leave the Bay Area for about five years,” Danny Meredith said. “This was in the works for a while. We were going to make a move. … It wouldn’t have happened (at this point in time) if not the pandemic.”
Danny Meredith said his dream was to move to a state where he could fish more. There was talk of a move to San Diego, or possibly Florida or Texas. But when the pandemic-induced shutdown hit, the urgency to find some place other than California really took hold.
At the same time, the family was keeping Lucas Meredith’s football career in mind.
“Watching him play (at Burlingame), I came to the conclusion that he’s not going to be challenged in the Bay Area. If he’s not being challenged, are we seeing 100% of his potential?” Danny Meredith said.
Football not the determining factor
The move was not strictly about Lucas Meredith’s senior season. As Danny Meredith pointed out, there were no assurances football was going to be played anywhere.
“To say we just moved for Lucas to play football, that would be inaccurate. Wherever you go, they could shut football down at any time,” Danny Meredith said. “Once I established residency, I contacted one of the coaches (at Saguaro) who said [the season] was up in the air.”
As for ending up at one of the best high school teams in the state of Arizona, it came down to three words: location, location, location. As a real estate broker, Danny Meredith is all about the quality of the neighborhood. He said Saguaro High just happened to be the school in the Scottsdale neighborhood in which the family decided to live. The decision came down between Paradise Valley and Scottsdale, and Scottsdale won out because Paradise Valley was too much desert for Danny Meredith’s liking.
Burlingame football coach John Philipopoulos said he was hearing rumors during the summer that Lucas Meredith was going to leave the Panthers, so he reached out to the family, who then verified the scuttlebutt.
While not happy to lose his bell-cow running back, Philipopoulos doesn’t begrudge the family.
“Luki is a football player in the very sense of the word. His family is very invested in football,” Philipopoulos said. “Who am I to say what is right or wrong?”
An unfamiliar role
But having a chance to be on a team that competes for state titles is a blessing and curse, which Lucas Meredith is finding out firsthand.
“There are over a hundred kids on this team and I think there are 12 running backs,” Danny Meredith said.
Being the new guy, as well as coming into the start of practice with a gimpy hamstring, Lucas Meredith started at the bottom of the depth chart. On top of that, he had to play the politics game — meaning he was dealing with teammates who had waited for their shot to move into the starting lineup, while those players brought up from the junior varsity squad were looking to move into backup roles, with the intent on becoming a starter next year.
Add in the most complex playbook he’s ever seen and Lucas Meredith has struggled with limited touches. In five games, Lucas Meredith has 13 carries. To put that in perspective, he averaged 19 carries a game last season at Burlingame. In two varsity seasons with the Panthers, 24 games, Lucas Meredith rushed for 2,827 yards on 385 carries, scoring 42 touchdowns on the ground.
Last week, he became Saguaro’s third-leading rusher with 233 yards — with 151 coming in the Sabercats’ 57-0 win over Gilbert. He is only one of two players with a 100-yard game under his belt for the Sabercats.
“It’s going fine. I struggled with the playbook a little bit. But in our most recent game, I did pretty good,” Lucas Meredith said. “I definitely proved to coaches what I can do in games.”
Danny Meredith theorizes that his son is the Sabercats’ secret weapon. That the coaching staff will unleash him now that the playoffs are here.
“I was thinking there was a chance, maybe, [the coach] is saving Luke and not showing Luke,” Danny Meredith said. “[Saguaro has] so many weapons. Everybody is involved. It’s not just a running team.”
Lucas Meredith essentially said he can only control what he can and, to that end, his biggest competition in practice is himself.
“There is definitely competition, but it’s competition of all the right things,” Lucas Meredith said. “If I don’t hit the hole right, if I don’t step the right way. Everything has to be sound and perfect.”
As for the future, Scottsdale will the Meredith’s home until at least the end of the school year, but there is still talk of another possible move.
“I’m here. I’ve moved here,” Lucas Meredith said.
Danny Meredith echoed his son: “I don’t think we’re going to come back and live in California. Possibly (move) to Southern California.
“There is no fishing out her (in Arizona). It’s hard to find a body of water. That’s the hard one.”