When breakthrough quarterback Raymond Price III said “later Gators” to Sacred Heart Prep, little did he know he’d be transferring from one former SaberCat to another.
Price landed at reigning CIF Division 3-AA champion Menlo-Atherton this year, just in time for a changing of the guard in the head-coaching department. With Adhir Ravipati stepping away after last year’s historic state title run, Steve Papin — a former San Jose SaberCats player, coach and broadcaster — takes over San Mateo County’s highest ranked football program.
Price emerged as the starting quarterback last year as a sophomore at Sacred Heart Prep, playing for head coach Mark Grieb, a former teammate of Papin’s with the SaberCats. Now a junior, Price will have to sit out the first four weeks of the season as per Central Coast Section transfer rules. Fortunately for Papin, he has depth at the quarterback position.
“With his transfer, he’s out the first four (games),” Papin said. “So, we’re letting [sophomore Matt Macleod] take all the reps. … We’re just bringing [Price] along slowly.”
With M-A slotted No. 5 in the San Francisco Chronicle preseason Top 25 metro football rankings — Serra in No. 7, rounding out the complement of San Mateo County teams listed — Papin will contend with a challenging non-league schedule, unlike any he experienced in his three previous seasons at Independence High School.
For the fourth straight year, the Bears will open against Bellarmine-San Jose at home Friday, Aug. 30 at 7 p.m., and that’s as good as it gets in terms of the five non-league opponents.
From there, M-A travels to Serra the following week; then to East High School-Salt Lake City for an out-of-state matchup with a 2018 Utah state Division 6A playoff qualifier; and after a bye, it’s off to CIF Division 1-AA state champion Folsom. The Bears close their non-league schedule — the first game Price will be eligible to play — at home Oct. 4 against Central Section Division I quarterfinalist Arroyo Grande.
Price’s chances of seeing time under center against Arroyo Grande depend on where the Bears are at, Papin said.
“If we’re rolling and things are going good, we’re going to stay with the hot hand,” Papin said. “We’ll definitely get [Price] involved in the offense at some point.”
Just like Price, Papin is learning the ropes at a new school as well. He was named M-A’s new head coach April 22, four months after Ravipati and the Bears reveled in the program’s first state championship win 21-7 over Lincoln-San Diego.
“Big shoes to fill,” Papin said. “But you’ve got to have confidence in yourself as a coach and as a coaching staff. But … there is so much talent, you’ve got to come in and just play football.”
In addition to retaining four assistant coaches from Ravipati’s staff, Papin said his predecessor has been a source of encouragement in the establishment of the new regime. Papin admitted he’s amped up about his new gig — even with eight years of head coaching experience, three at Gunderson-San Jose from 2009-11 and five more at Independence — but he’s acclimating with a little help from his friends.
“[Ravipati] has really been in my ear about just being myself,” Papin said. “He’s like, ‘coach, just do you. They’ll lead you.’ … He’s really been helpful just settling me down.”
Papin counts Grieb among those friends who have made him feel welcome in Atherton. The two not only played together with the SaberCats, when Papin returned to serve as the team’s assistant coach in 2011 — he actually coached concurrently at Gunderson and with the SaberCats — he got the chance to coach Grieb for one season in the Arena Football League.
“High school was definitely harder for me,” Papin said, “because I had Mark Grieb as a quarterback (in the Arena League); it was easy.”
While M-A graduated its two biggest superstars from 2018 in linebacker Daniel Heimuli and lineman Noa Ngalu — both of who are currently on roster at University of Washington — Papin still inherits a world of talent, including one of the top wide receivers in the Bay Area, junior Troy Franklin.
Among the 56 players currently in fall camp, senior linebacker Joey Posthauer seems the likely candidate to take over Heimuli’s old post at inside linebacker. Senior lineman Uate Uhila, at 6-1, 285 pounds, will anchor the front line both sides of the ball, moving between center, guard and defensive tackle.
With full contact practices opening last Friday around the CCS, the energy in the air was palpable, according to Papin, of a team that is out to stake its claim to a modern-day dynasty.
“It was a lot of excitement,” Papin said. “Guys are ready to hit. … It was exactly what I thought it was going to be, a lot of guys getting after it.”