The San Diego Section championships are played on the same turf where the Chargers decide NFL games, making the old stadium the desired destination of every local high school football program. But in the three decades since the school opened, Serra might as well have been located atop Mt. Shasta.
The Conquistadors have been that far removed from title contention.
Now comes another new Serra coach, and Desi Herrera thinks there is untapped potential for him to mine at the Tierrasanta school. One reason Herrera took the Serra job is it is a shorter commute from his San Marcos home. The other is he believes in Serra's potential so strongly, he left behind a winning program at Mission Bay after one year as the Bucs' head coach.
Herrera's move doesn't seem so dubious after the Conquistadors upset Western League favorite Mission Bay last week, 28-25. After a slow start, Serra has improved to 2-2-1 overall and 1-0-1 in league. Mission Bay dropped to 3-1 and 1-1.
"I really believe this could be one of the dominant programs in the county," Herrera said. "We have a strong booster club and support from the parents. I'm hoping this program is ready to take off."
Serra's talent base includes he upper-middle class neighborhoods as well athletes bused in via the San Diego Unified School District 's Voluntary Ethnic Enrollment Program. Increasingly in the past decade, parents from Southeast San Diego neighborhoods of Skyline and Lincoln Park -- areas that had stocked former powerhouses at Morse and Lincoln with talent in the past -- have opted to enroll their sons and daughters at schools north of Interstate 8 such as Mission Bay, Serra and University City.
Serra has little football tradition, but Herrera is even trying to pull from the Conquistadors limited history by adding Rico Curtis to the coaching staff. The Serra alum was a star safety at San Diego State , helping the Aztecs to their last bowl appearance, the 1998 Las Vegas Bowl. Another former SDSU player on Herrera's staff his Southwest alum Will Tate.
Herrera attributes this year's slow start to switching from a Wing-T offense to the I formation. Now the wins are coming with the yardage as junior running back Antoine Wilson topped 100 yards for the fifth straight game against Mission Bay. He finished with 26 carries for 104 yards and three touchdowns.
"(Herrera) has been an inspiration for us," Wilson said. "We had a new system and new coaches, so we hit some valleys early in the year. But it's going to be smooth riding the rest of the way."
MEYER'S LAST HOMECOMING
If coaching at Simcox Field for the final time when El Camino travels to Oceanside Friday will be an emotional moment for El Camino coach Herb Meyer, don't expect to see any sign of it on the sidelines. The only significance is it's an Avocado League opener, according to Meyer's son, Joe, an El Camino assistant.
"He'll only be thinking about is what team gets off the bus," Joe said. "He wants it to be the team that beat Helix and not the team that didn't show up last week against Rancho Buena Vista."
Meyer, the only coach El Camino has had since Oceanside 's second high school opened in 1976, first became a head coach at Oceanside during the Eisenhower administration, 1959.
"It's been so long, the kids playing now don't know anything about him having coached at Oceanside," Joe said of his father, who holds California's all-time record of 338 career wins.
Meyer has coached long enough that Oceanside 's First Family of Football -- the Paopaos -- have a grandson playing for Meyer. Nathan Paopao is a sophomore on El Camino's JV squad who played one varsity game so far against Helix. His grandfather, Junior, and father, Eric, have also played for Meyer at one of the two high schools.
ANOTHER SIDE TO THE RIVALRY
It's time to add Marian Catholic into a three-sided rivalry for Catholic school supremacy in San Diego .After all, Marian is the school wearing the Notre Dame-styled uniforms.
For years, Marian has been a poor stepchild to St. Augustine and University of San Diego High, who meet Friday in the Charity Bowl that annually draws a large crowd.
But the program at Marian (5-0), ranked No. 1 by the Union-Tribune in San Diego and No. 1 in the state by Cal-Hi Sports in Division IV, has surpassed unranked St. Augustine (3-2) and USDHS (3-2). The Saints and Dons have only scheduled Marian on rare occasions.
All three programs have never been in more capable hands at the same time, with Marian coach Matt White, Saints coach Jerry Ralph and USDHS coach Sean Doyle. All three coaches played or coached under former USDHS coach Ron Hamamoto, now Rancho Bernardo's head coach.
THIS WEEK'S FIVE-PACK
El Camino (3-2) at Oceanside (4-1) -- The football gods won't allow El Camino coach Herb Meyer to lose his final appearance at his alma mater, will they? Meyer played quarterback at Oceanside with C.R. Roberts -- a Pirates legend and who became an NFL running back -- and began his coaching career at Oceanside in 1959 before he moved across town to El Camino in 1976. But Meyer will need a C.R.-like performance from one of his backs to beat Oceanside.
La Jolla (2-2-1 ) at Mission Bay (3-2) -- Another big Western League game for Mission Bay . This time the Bucs bounce back from last week's loss to Serra.
Sweetwater (1-4) at Chula Vista (5-0) -- San Diego 's oldest continuous rivalry heavily favors the Spartans in the Mesa League opener. Chula Vista , on the bubble in the Cal-Hi Sports state Division I rankings, returns from a bye week with too much talent and depth for Sweetwater.
Torrey Pines (5-0) at San Marcos (1-3-1 ) -- Torrey Pines, now ranked No. 20 in the overall Cal-Hi Sports state rankings, returns from a bye week for a Palomar League opener. The Knights are overmatched against Torrey.
Coronado (5-0) at Madison (3-2) -- The talent fluctuates drastically from year to year at Coronado, but Islanders coach Bud Mayfield makes the most of his talent when a good class comes around. Give the Islanders the edge.
Editor's Note: Tom Shanahan is the San Diego Section correspondent for Cal-Hi Sports. He wrote and covered San Diego high school sports and San Diego sports for 18 years for the San Diego Union-Tribune. We're honored to have his byline on our site and San Diego athletes and coaches should be honored that Tom still wants to continue to write about them in some capacity as he pursues other interests in addition to journalism.