Had Chris Vasseur’s career as a rock ’n’ roll drummer worked out, the Serra Padres would have a completely different look these days.
Fortunately, for the world of Padres football, Vasseur’s dream of becoming the next Dave Grohl went by the wayside. But Serra’s fifth-year defensive coordinator has been making excellent music as part of the “Vass and Lo Show,” along with Serra offensive coordinator Steven Lo.
Vasseur and Lo have been running their respective departments since 2013, when the two joined the Serra football coaching staff after working together for one season as assistant coaches at St. Francis. Now, the tandem will be going up against their former program as rivals Serra and St. Francis square off for the Central Coast Section Open Division II championship Saturday night at Independence High School at 7 p.m.
The last time St. Francis won a CCS title was in 2012, during Vasseur and Lo’s one season there. “Vass and Lo” have since found a home at Serra, where they earned a second CCS title last season, helping the Padres to an Open Division II crown.
“I love it here,” Lo said. “This is such a great community. [Head coach Patrick Walsh] is fantastic. The kids are great. Everyone here is great.”
Vasseur wasn’t so optimistic when he first started showing up at Serra. It was the offseason following 2012, and he had recently struck up a kinship with Walsh. Vasseur was known as a man to innovate defense strategies, something he learned while working on staff for one season at Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi in 2011.
“I was expecting everyone to start hissing me,” Vasseur said. “And they welcomed me.”
That welcoming turned in to a formal job offer when Vasseur and Lo resigned from St. Francis with former head coach Nick Navarro leaving to take the job at Tim Tebow’s alma mater Nease High School in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. Vasseur and Lo each interviewed for the head coaching job at St. Francis, but it went to current coach Greg Calcagno.
And — with Vasseur and Lo heading north to Tom Brady’s alma mater — the rest is history.
Vasseur’s innovative defense stems from Texas Christian University’s famed 4-2-5 system, one mimicked at Millsaps. Vasseur soaked up the system during his one year there, then brought it to the West Catholic Athletic League.
“[Walsh] wanted to switch defenses, so he said: ‘I’ll pay you to come teach defenses to us,’” Vasseur said.
Vasseur took up Walsh’s offer formally when he accepted the defensive coordinator position in April 2013. Two days after he was hired, the offensive coordinator job at Serra opened up. And Vasseur immediately recommended Lo.
“I called Lo and was like, ‘this is the greatest day ever,’” Vasseur said.
The “Vass and Lo Show” started in 2009, when the two started coaching together at Gilroy High School. Serra marks their third high school assignment together, though they also coached together for one season of semipro football with the Central Coast Barnstormers, who play out of Gilroy High School.
And while Vasseur was innovating Serra’s three-tiered defense, Lo quickly transformed Serra from the wing-T offense it utilized for many years to a more pass-intensive spread.
“[Walsh] wanted to go up-tempo and wanted to start throwing the ball,” Lo said.
Serra’s aerial attack spiked in 2013. After a 2012 season in which the Padres gained 4,538 total yards — but only 647 of those were passing yards — the 2013 Padres gained 5,749 total yards with 2,586 coming by way of the pass. Serra surpassed both those marks last season with 6,034 total offensive yards, including 3,186 passing yards; each of those marks set new all-time program records.
This year, the simpatico between Vasseur and Lo is evident in the performance of senior Isiah Kendrick. A renowned running back who surpassed the 2,500-yard career rushing mark in last Saturday’s CCS semifinal win over Valley Christian — he is currently sitting on 2,555 career rushing yards — but has emerged as a key defensive played as a free safety, something stemming from his early underclassman work in the backfield.
“Basically, after he learned the running back position, he didn’t need to practice much (on offense), so he’d just come play defense with us,” Vasseur said.
Another key two-way player was senior lineman Nio Mafi, who was lost for the season in Serra’s CCS playoff opener against Mitty. He was a central figure in Serra’s regular-season win over St. Francis — a hotly contested 31-21 victory — but will be sorely missed against the Lancers’ stellar defensive front, including three Division I commits in senior linebacker Junior Fehoko, junior outside linebacker Josh Pakola and senior defensive tackle Tyler Manoa.
“They’re a very stout front seven,” Lo said. “Even with Nio, it’s tough moving them. … So, it will definitely be a challenge.”