With the graduation of Serra football’s all-time leading passer Luke Bottari, the 2019 season sees the potential for a new era at the quarterback position at Freitas Field.
As the Padres stepped onto the field Friday for the first official day of practice throughout the Central Coast Section, the question of Bottari’s replacement was already settled. Serra will turn to senior Daylin McLemore, an all-West Catholic Athletic League honorable mention at defensive back last season who will convert to offense fulltime in 2019.
“He obviously didn’t get a lot of reps (at quarterback) because of Luke,” Serra head coach Patrick Walsh said. “But from Day One, since the day he walked onto the campus, he’s wanted to be a quarterback here at Serra.”
McLemore is a specimen as an athlete, at 6-3, 200 pounds. The wheels were evident last season when he’d get going in the open field of the Padres secondary. This year, he’s sitting at a 40-yard dash split of 4.8 seconds.
As for the arm, Serra enjoyed a big day at the San Jose State University 7 on 7 Shootout, a 16-team passing league tournament held June 21. The Padres won the tournament with McLemore under center, matching up against Pittsburg, Liberty-Brentwood and St. Mary’s-Stockton.
“It was good chemistry with the team,” McLemore said. “And it was good seeing other teams, other defenses.”
While the incoming senior quarterback already profiles as a dual threat, his ability to use his legs will loom even larger for the Padres with a recent injury to Dylan Eaton, a senior quarterback/running back who suffered a torn ACL two weeks ago during summer workouts.
Serra saw a similar injury last season when running back David Coker was lost to a season-ending knee injury during Week 2 against Elk Grove. Walsh said he’s hopeful Eaton’s injury won’t cost him the entirety of his senior season because it happened earlier in the year.
“I’ll have to do a little more (running) because of the running back situation,” McLemore said.
The Padres have amassed an impressive looking group, though, with some already established talent. Senior two-way standout Nate Sanchez will headline the depth in the backfield. The running back was Serra’s leading rusher last season — albeit a modest 498 ground yards in 12 games in the high-tempo passing offense — and earned first-team all-WCAL honors as a running back and a safety.
The air attack will still be essential to showing off senior wide receiver Terence Loville’s talents. As a junior in 2018, Loville went for 589 receiving yards on 31 receptions with seven touchdowns, ranking first for Serra in each category. He earned second-team all-WCAL honors as a receiver and corner back, and is slated to see two-way duty again this year.
The biggest buzz in Padres camp, though, surrounds senior defensive end Nusi Malani. At 6-6, 250 pounds, Malani is being recruited by several Division I programs, though he has yet to commit. Malani missed the first five games of the year in 2019, but made an impact in WCAL play. He went on to average four tackles per game and recorded two sacks on the year.
The most prevalent topic in Walsh’s overview, though, is the redemption theme. After a 2017 season that culminated in a CIF Division 2-AA state championship, Serra settled for a 7-5 overall record last year.
Heading into the final week of the regular season, the Padres still had hopes of writing a Cinderella story. Then came a loss to WCAL champion St. Francis-Mountain in the final week of the regular season. Two games later, St. Francis — en route to a CCS Open Division 2 championship — ended Serra’s season in the CCS semifinals.
“I think 2018 left a bad taste in a lot of the players’ mouths,” Walsh said. “So, the offseason has been a bit of a grinder.”
As has become tradition in recent years, the Padres will once again open the season with a powerhouse non-league schedule. Serra opens at home Saturday, Aug. 31 at 1 p.m. against Pittsburg, a team that has earned victories in three straight heads-up matchups for three years running.
After hosting reigning CIF Division 3-AA state champion Menlo-Atherton Saturday, Sept. 7 at 1 p.m., Serra will travel to St. Mary’s-Stockton for its final non-league game Friday, Sept. 13. The Padres have yet to top either Pittsburg or St. Mary’s in their history.
“We’d like to change that,” Walsh said. “They’re both great teams. … We certainly understand the strategy at Serra is to challenge early. But we by no means expect to lose.”