Sacred Heart Cathedral looking to close gap in WCAL this football season 

Against Mitty the difference was a point, against St. Francis it was three, against rival St. Ignatius it was 10. If one of those games swings the other way, Sacred Heart Cathedral could have been looking at a Central Coast Section football championship in 2010.

But they didn’t, and each loss compounded what was a season of missed opportunities for the Irish.

The disappointment of last season still stings, but with the most talented core of skilled players in The City returning, Sacred Heart figures to have some of those same opportunities again.

“We want to return to the postseason and to do that we need to be above .500,” said Sacred Heart coach John Lee. “We obviously want to compete in the [West Catholic Athletic League], but it has to start with [sweeping the nonleague schedule]. We got it done last year and then just came up that short. We don’t want to repeat that."

After a breakout season in 2010, senior running back Valentino Miles will occupy the spotlight, and Lee expects him to carry the ball 20 to 25 times per game in the Irish’s spread option attack.

The strong and compact runner excelled between the tackles with a tremendous burst of speed last season, and he is not short on his own expectations heading into the fall.

“If they keep giving me the ball, I’m going to keep producing yardage,” Miles said. “Two years ago, there was a SH running back named Dasarte Yarnway who put up some really big numbers. I want to beat those numbers and be Sacred Heart’s best running back ever.”

While Miles will be the constant on offense, an almost entirely different line will be in front of him.

The mammoth Irish offensive line was one of their greatest strengths last season, but this year’s version will be considerably smaller in comparison, headed by Devon Villanueva.

“We have a lot of inexperience on the [offensive line] and we’re small,” Lee said. “The smallest kid on the offensive line last season was [Villanueva] at 265 and he’s the biggest kid now.”

Villanueva is returning from a horrific knee injury in last year’s St. Ignatius game, and is now almost at 100 percent.

“Our line is going to be smaller in size, but heart-wise, we got it,” Villanueva said. “It’s our responsibility to get ‘Tino as many yards and touchdowns as possible. It starts with us first.”

The core of skilled position players may be returning, but one of the biggest hurdles for the Irish this season will be limited numbers. Used to seeing a roster total that pushes 50, Lee expects around 35 this season, accentuating the importance of do-everything senior Zach Tapel.

As he did last season, Tapel will be on the field nearly every down, as a running back and slot receiver on offense, linebacker and safety on defense, and as a kick returner on special teams.

“I’m just going to step up and do whatever the coaches want me to do, whether it’s catching the ball, running the ball or blocking,” Tapel said. “I’ll do whatever I can to help the team win. I’m trying not to leave the field at all.”

Another position of interest is at quarterback, where the Irish will be tasked with replacing first-team All-City quarterback Sean Murphy.

Senior Jack Harrington, Murphy’s backup last season, is the early favorite to take over, but Lee has not officially named him as the starter. Lee said that last season’s junior varsity starter, Jerry Peralta, could take the job as well.

“Jack Harrington has an early lead, but Jerry Peralta has worked his butt off all summer,” Lee said.

The pieces are in place for an Irish return to the postseason, but the elephant in the room is St. Ignatius. Lee has only won one game against the Wildcats in his seven years at Sacred Heart, and he downplays the importance of the game, but there is still a sense of weight and frustration with Lee and the rest of the team regarding their cross-town rival.

“Everyone brings that up. I’ve beaten them once in seven years,” Lee said. “Don’t get me wrong, it’s a big game, but Riordan is a bigger game for me, just being honest. The trophy we play for, I played college ball with that guy. There’s people out there who say, ‘SI plays to win and Sacred Heart just plays to compete.’ They’re not in my head. We play to win. This school puts too much emphasis on that game. We have rallies, for the baseball, basketball and the football game. Why don’t we have that for Mitty or for Valley Christian? Those games are just as important.”

Preps sports coverage provided in partnership by The San Francisco Examiner and www.SanFranPreps.com.

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Jeremy Balan

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