By Zach Cavanagh
It’s a legitimate question to ask if this is the best JSerra team in program history.
It’s also a strange question to ask of a team that graduated its starting quarterback, top three receivers, top two tacklers and co-leader in sacks.
However, it’s all there for the Lions: a dynamic running back in senior Chris Street, an imposing offensive line led by senior Jeffrey Persi, a polished quarterback in junior General Booty, explosive offensive options including junior Sammy Green, an aggressive defensive front with the likes of juniors Siale Suliafu and Jaden Genova and depth at all those positions.
The only thing JSerra lacks that will be integral to its success this season is experience and maturity.
“We’re a very young team, but very talented team,” JSerra coach Pat Harlow said. “Our season will depend on how we grow and mature early. We’re just hoping that they gel together as a team and figure it out sooner than later.”
The Lions made great strides last year with a senior-heavy group. JSerra nearly upset the balance of power in the Trinity League and played nationally ranked St. John Bosco to a seven-point game. The Lions also came within a point of their first ever CIF-SS semifinals.
“We’ve proven we can play with some of the best teams in the country,” Harlow said. “The thing is to get over that and continue to work. You think you’ve reached it, that you’re kind of there . . . It’s up to these guys to go, ‘Hey, we were knocking on that door, and it’s time for us to kick that thing in.’ ”
The memory of those games sticks with Harlow, seniors including Street and Persi and juniors who made impacts as sophomores including Suliafu and Genova. Those memories show how close JSerra is to a breakthrough and how hard it is to play at the level to which the Lions aspire.
“After the (Oaks Christian quarterfinal) game, I was pretty upset, because I knew we had that game,” Street said. “It was little mistakes and mental errors that set us back. After the game, I told the team this can’t happen again. We can’t slack off. We have to go full force. It will be let go at a certain point, but we have to realize that that’s not OK.”
Going forward into 2019, the two key areas where JSerra needs that maturity and experience to grow is at quarterback and on the defense.
JSerra is the third school in three years for Booty, who led Corona del Mar’s freshman team to a 10-0 record before transferring to Cornerstone Christian in San Antonio, Texas, where his father Abram coaches. Booty is the nephew of former USC quarterback John David Booty.
“General’s looked great,” Harlow said. “He’s a very polished kid, very bright kid. It’s just a matter of repetitions for him now. He is learning a new offense, getting to learn his receivers. He’s got the opportunity to be a really, truly great quarterback.”
Booty will be protected by a beefy offensive line, including the 6-foot-7, 270-pound Michigan commit Persi, and has plenty of options to work with paced by the Cal-committed Street. Street ran for 1,342 yards and 17 touchdowns last season.
On defense, Genova made a major impact last season as a co-leader in sacks with nine and with a third-best 78 tackles. Suliafu contributed five sacks, and Malaki Te’o was fourth in tackles as a freshman. Junior Zamajay Duncan had two interceptions last season.
Those players had impacts as young players last season, and JSerra will need similar results from its new crop of young players at other positions. The Lions made plenty of defensive adjustments last year to make those players shine, and there’s no reason to think it couldn’t happen again. It still remains to be seen.
JSerra would love to strike while the iron is hot with forces such as Street and Persi, but it’s clear the Lions program is also filled with potential for the future.
Date Opponent Location, Time
8/23 East (UT) East HS, Utah, 7 p.m.
8/31 St. Joseph Regional (NJ) Cathedral Catholic HS, San Diego, 3:30 p.m.
9/6 Bishop Amat JSerra, 7 p.m.
9/14 Milton (GA) St. John Bosco HS, 4 p.m.
9/20 Calabasas JSerra, 7 p.m.
10/4* Santa Margarita JSerra, 7 p.m.
10/11* St. John Bosco JSerra, 7 p.m.
10/17* Servite Orange Coast College, 7:30 p.m.
10/25* Orange Lutheran Santa Ana Stadium, 7 p.m.
11/1* Mater Dei Santa Ana Stadium, 7 p.m.
*– Trinity League game
Zach Cavanagh is the sports editor for Picket Fence Media. Zach is a California Journalism Award winner and has covered sports in Orange County since 2013. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @ZachCav and follow our sports coverage on Twitter @SouthOCSports.