The Push for a Spring Season in California, Plus COVID Casualties of the 2021 cycle

“No, not that Serra. The Other Serra”
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SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. -- If you haven’t seen it, California is having a spring high school football season. SI All-American was curious, given the signing period had passed and scholarships are mostly accounted for in the class of 2021, what this meant for the seniors that hadn’t yet bagged an offer via film they’ve already accumulated.

One program, the Padres of Junipero Serra High School in San Mateo (not Gardena) Calif. had plenty of insight to offer inquiring minds, plus their head football coach Patrick Walsh was one of the forces that cemented a spring schedule for the most populous state in the country. The next ~1500 words give you a quick synopsis of how a season came to be, the players that are being affected, and Serra High School’s blossoming program.

The drive up I-280 from San Mateo, Calif., to Archbishop Riordan High School in San Francisco is brief. However, the journey from the time all California seniors were told their final high school football season might be canceled, to now, was a winding trail of let-downs and adversity.

‘Overcome adversity’

A commandment preached by seemingly every football coach that’s ever blown a whistle. But never in his life did Coach Walsh think a virus would bring this much adversity to his state, his community, and his football team. SIAA was at Riordan High on April 10th to take a look at Coach Walsh’s visiting Padres to better understand how this spring season was orchestrated.

“Kids are my life.” Walsh said. “I coach football, I coach youth sports, and that industry seemed to bear a big brunt of the pandemic pain”.

California made a habit of pushing back the start date for youth sports as the number of COVID infections kept rendering a traditional fall season unsafe, according to the state. When Walsh noticed Colorado prep football started up in October, he felt helpless.

“I didn’t know who to call or who to tell. But, I was seeing that the numbers are good, so we should be playing.”

Not only was he seeing his team struggle to cope with the disappointment of delays to a season, Walsh himself developed some “serious mental health issues, plus tinnitus.” With clear eyes, a full heart, and a stacked roster, Walsh decided he needed to act.

He started researching. His research led him to the Texas High School Coaches Association (THSCA), or “the principle advocate and leadership organization for Texas high school coaches.”

Walsh then linked up with Ron Gladnick, head coach at Torrey Pines High School (San Diego), and Justin Alumbaugh at De La Salle High School (Concord) to get the ball rolling on salvaging a football season. Modeled after the THSCA, these three coaches founded the Golden State High School Coaches Community (GSHSCC) to “put strength behind the thought concept.”

Now organized, they needed to get the word out. Enter the parents and youth sports advocates via #LetThemPlayCA, a social media show of support backed by a 60,000 member-strong Facebook page. “GSHSCC was for the coaches, LetThemPlayCA was for the parents to show their support.” Everybody in Bay Area high school sports that SIAA spoke with credits both organizations, and specifically Walsh himself, with being a significant catalyst in the February 19th announcement from the California Department of Health that allowed high schools and their leagues to move forward with a spring football season.

“We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for him.” said one Bay Area coach.

Walsh’s 2021 varsity spring football roster is loaded with talented and forever-humbled young men across all four classes, from rising-seniors in the class of 2021 to freshman in the class of 2024.

SIAA spoke with a few of the reasons that kept Walsh motivated through the darkest days of the pandemic.

Joseph Bey (Santa Clara, Calif.) is a 2024 safety that, despite the awkward season, has still managed to pull in an offer from the University of Pittsburgh. “Pitt watched my film, saw what I was doing and they liked what they saw.” said Bey. Three games, that was all Pitt needed to see. His other offer, Arizona State, came prior to his first high school snap. But Bey isn’t the lone Serra freshman turning the heads of division one coaches.

Joseph Bey

Joseph Bey

Danny Niu (East Palo Alto, Calif.) and Jabari Mann (San Francisco, Calif.) are two 2024 athletes garnering division one attention; Each holds an offer from Pitt, with Niu tacking on an ASU offer as well.

Class of 2023 receiver Joey Villaroman (San Mateo, Calif.) was described by some teammates as the most athletic person on a roster that currently totals around 40 division one offers. 2022 dual-threat quarterback Dominque Lampkin (San Francisco) is a twitchy athlete, and had a fantastic varsity debut in Serra’s 2019 playoff run, after stepping in for an injured starter. He currently holds two offers, from Fresno State and Illinois State. Beside him in the backfield stands running back Hassan “The Missl3” Mahasin (Daly City, Calif.) who’s about as fast as they come. Mahasin’s talents translate well to the slot too, and he’s a lot of fun to watch run the fly-sweep. Mahasin currently holds offers from ASU, Colorado, and Boise State to name a few.

Tight end Christian Pederson (San Mateo, Calif.) and defensive tackle Sioeli Helu (San Mateo, Calif.) are two 2021 guys signed to Louisville and New Mexico State, respectively. Pederson is a fantastic blocker and carries his 6-5, 250 frame extremely well through his routes.

Serra offensive coordinator Darius Bell tells SIAA that regret is a common theme of conversations he has with power 5 coaches who still inquire about these two seniors.

“Pederson might’ve still ended up going to Louisville, but he would’ve got more offers,” Bell said. “Sioeli Helu, in all of the coach’s opinion, would’ve gone way bigger if we had a full season.”

Bell continues, “No doubt Fynn Williams as well, is a COVID casualty. That kid has absolutely balled this year, he has a nose for the ball and he’s become a leader” a distinction echoed by everyone in the Serra program.

A decisive, downhill linebacker, Williams’ (San Mateo, Calif.) film is refreshingly box-heavy. His situation, to oversimplify, is one that can be copy-and-pasted for many across the 2021 class in California. 

SIAA caught up three more “COVID casualties” from the city of San Francisco, and one former West Catholic Athletic League (WCAL) standout, now playing his senior season in Southern California’s famed Trinity League.

Tyrice Ivy Jr. is a long, athletic cornerback from Sacred Heart Cathedral (San Francisco). He’s probably the best cornerback in the WCAL. Saint Ignatius (San Francisco) safety Jahsai Shannon is a two-way standout at running back and safety that was hoping to put together more film at safety to nail down an offer. Archbishop Riordan tight end Leo Maranghi is a 6’4-220 pound swiss army knife that Riordan deploys all over the field when they need a key block or a sure set of hands.

Leo Maranghi

Leo Maranghi

All three of these players have seen their contact with FBS colleges, including power 5 programs, dwindle since summer 2020. According to these three, most recruiters cited the lack of senior film as the reason they aren't extending scholarships. 

Santa Margarita (Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif.) wide receiver Reymello Murphy (Newark, Calif.) was the WCAL sophomore and junior player of the year and recently dropped some impressive film from his first couple of games in the Trinity League. As of April 16th, though, he has yet to learn of his first scholarship offer.

With the NCAA extending eligibility to college seniors in fall sports and the transfer portal overflowing, a spring football season in California has not yet translated to scholarships for many athletes that likely would’ve otherwise been offered.

So, who stands to benefit from this talent congestion in California? Mirroring what’s happening in many parts of our society, the rich are getting richer. The same football programs that, pre-pandemic owned talent funnels across the Bay Area were much better prepared to handle the adversity the virus presents. San Francisco’s public high school sports league, the Academic Athletic League (AAA) has plans in place, but has yet to actually play a snap of football this spring.

Talent is following the opportunities to put film online. Some kids have traveled far within the state, and even across the country for the opportunity to play. Where will these kids end up if they don’t accept a highly unlikely last-second offer? 

California junior colleges, already backlogged with the class of 2020 guys (who haven’t played since 2019) are plucking up in these COVID casualties at a steady pace. Places like City College of San Francisco and College of San Mateo are now brimming with clear FBS prospects, but what else is new?

Still, a universal sense of giddiness was present amongst the crowd, the players, and coaches on that breezy spring afternoon at Archbishop Riordan in The City. Getting a spring season, Walsh says, if only five games, was “The most important thing I have ever been a part of in my life.” His entire program, especially his seniors, are fiercely thankful for the opportunity to take the field one last time for their high school.