It’s hard to say just how good Zach Masoli could have been on the Riordan High School football team last season.
As a sophomore, most of his athletic ability on the field was shown scrambling, but not by choice.
He was running for his life.
The Crusaders had the worst offensive line in the West Catholic Athletic League last season and the opponents exposed that weakness, putting Masoli under constant pressure.
Protecting him and giving him time to make plays is of the utmost importance for the Crusaders this season.
“It starts upfront,” second-year Riordan coach Rich Sweeney said. “That will help Zach [and] that will help our running game. It’s part of the excitement around here.”
Although Sweeney admits the line is a work in progress, the group will be better, led by senior Nicholas Reese, a 6-foot-5, 260-pound left tackle.
“Our whole team has just worked harder,” Reese said. “We’ve all lifted, we’ve all ran, we’ve all worked harder than we ever had before. We just want it to pay off.”
Add new offensive line coach A.J. Poti, who played at Penn State and is coming off a season with the San Jose SaberCats of the Arena Football League, and there is a reason for optimism.
“The majority of these kids are juniors and there are five or six really solid players,” Poti said. “As far as protecting our talent, I think they’ll do a lot better than last year.”
Even with pressure coming after nearly every snap last season, Masoli was still able to throw for 1,205 yards, nine touchdowns and just three interceptions, and was named the WCAL’s Sophomore of the Year.
Already visibly bigger than last season, Masoli has taken a leadership role on an offense that still has plenty to prove.
“Whether it’s fair or not, that is what comes with the quarterback position,” Sweeney said of Masoli’s leadership expectations. “He’s an extremely outstanding athlete and he has all the tools, but I explained to him that he needs to be the Andrew Luck of Riordan football. That is the growth and maturity needed at the quarterback position.”
With protection and a few weapons, like 6-foot-5 junior tight end Robert Valencia, his numbers could spike significantly.
Another issue for the Crusaders last season was the defense, which allowed 42.6 points per game in WCAL play.
The strength of the defense will again be senior linebacker Mark Mulligan, who finished third in the league in total tackles (116) in his junior season.
Mulligan will also be a part of an inexperienced running back committee. Senior Trey Gunter is the lead returning rusher, with 60 yards on 23 carries last season and Masoli is second with 55 yards on 88 carries.
But Mulligan’s workload also speaks to Riordan’s most significant obstacle: depth in a league that is arguably the deepest in Northern California.