Editor's note: This is the first in a series of San Francisco prep football previews that will run over the next month leading up to the start of the season.
Like every football coach in the Central Coast Section, John Lee has to wait until Aug. 16 before his Riordan team can hold its first official fall practice in pads.
But judging from his players' attitudes and commitment during the summer lifting and conditioning program, Lee already likes what he sees.
"We had two 7-on-7 [passing drills] with Lincoln in July, and you could tell we've got some good athletes," said Lee, who became the Crusaders' fourth coach in six years when he was hired in the first week of May. "We've already had some kids do some phenomenal things in terms of showing leadership as well as being a playmaker on the field."
At the top of that list is senior quarterback Zach Masoli, who will be a threat to run for a big gain on every play. Lee expects the 6-foot-1, 190-pound Masoli to be a dual threat in Riordan's power-zone offense. Offensive line should be a source of strength for the Crusaders, who finished 3-8 overall and 0-7 in the vaunted West Catholic Athletic League last season.
In returnees Eddy Vega, Matt Solorio, Marvin Gochez and Elliot Baker, Riordan's "lightest" lineman tips the scales at 255 pounds.
Throw in tight end Rob Valencia, an athletic 6-5, 260-pound senior, and it's no wonder Lee feels his team will be able to assert its will on opponents this season.
"You look at Elliot, and he looks like a junior college lineman," Lee said. "I'm looking at him and saying, 'Holy smokes.'"
Vega and Valencia will also double up on the defensive line, and they will be joined by a potential standout in Riko Tamasese, a 6-4, 280-pound senior who couldn't suit up last year because of transfer rules.
"He's the real deal," Lee said.
Other key returnees include fullback-linebacker Ivan Cardenas and Chris Hall, who is the team's most versatile player. Hall, a 6-1, 170-pound senior, plays safety and flanker while also returning punts. Riordan's receiving corps also look strong with Jake Cochrane and Vincent Lockwood leading the way. Lee is extremely high on junior Adan Pena, a playmaking junior receiver-linebacker.
More than anything else, however, Lee's first goal is to change the team's mentality. The Crusaders have only one WCAL win in the past four years.
"The athletes are here, and the desire is there," Lee said. "The mentality for them is to overcome bad days by just being a football player. Live and play in the moment, and let's see where it takes us."