A capsule look at how the teams stack up this season:
» LAST YEAR: 5-6 (5-2 AAA; lost to Lincoln 29-8 in San Francisco Section semifinals)
» COACH: Keith Minor (fifth year, 22-19-1)
» RETURNING LETTERMEN: RB-WR-DB Luther Gary, WR-CB Shaun Jones, FB-LB Gen Kurakata, QB Eric Lara, C Jorge Mendoza, DT Marquez Smith
» KEY NEWCOMERS: OL-DL Danny Rinaldi, RB-LB John Weekly
» OUTLOOK: Another solid offseasonhas expectations high again at Balboa, where the Buccaneers have made the playoffs in three straight seasons despite fielding one of the smallest rosters (around 25) in the AAA.
“We’re kind of the underdogs, the pirates, and that just plays into the Buccaneer way,” Minor said. “We feel like we work hard enough that the goal should always be to have something to say come playoff time.”
Of course, optimism is easier to come by when you have talent and experience at the skill positions. QB Lara was a pleasant surprise in 2006, leading the league in both passing yards (1,288) and TD passes (11) and feels even more confident entering his senior season. RB-WR-DB Gary and FB-LB Kurakata are threats in both the running and passing game, while RB-LB Weekly, a dynamic transfer from Atlanta, could be a big wild card. The trio will be joined by DT Smith and CB Jones to anchor a defense that pitched three shutouts in seven league games a year ago.
» KEY GAME: Oct. 12 vs. Lincoln at Kezar Stadium, 7 p.m. The Bucs look to stop a Lincoln team that has knocked them out of the playoffs in each of the past two years.
» LAST YEAR: 2-7-1 (2-5 AAA)
» COACH: Duane Breaux (sixth year)
»<b> RETURNING LETTERMEN: OL-DL Chris Arzadon, QB-LB Lonnell Britton, WR-DB Tyre’ Ellison, RB-DB Jesse Robinson, WR Tony Sok
» KEY NEWCOMERS: RB Michael Blackburn, LB Devante Elder, WR-DB Martin David-Jacobs
» OUTLOOK: The 6-foot, 215-pound Britton gives Burton one of the most unique weapons in the league — a QB powerful enough to absorb contact in the pocket and still find receivers deep down the field. Breaux hopes to take advantage of those skills by using a form of the spread offense designed to get the ball in the hands of big-play threats such as Ellison, a 6-foot-1, 170-pound WR being scouted by Division I programs Arizona State and Nevada. The X-factor on offense is sophomore RB Blackburn, a speedster Breaux calls “our Reggie Bush” who will be used all over the field. Mix in a bigger, more physical line, newcomers including LB Elder and a sparkling new home field and the Pumas are feeling good.
“Man for man, I think we have as good a group of athletes as any team in The City,” Breaux said. “If they play together we’ll be there on Turkey Day. And not watching.”
» KEY GAME: Sept. 28 vs. Galileo at Kezar Stadium, 3:30 p.m. Burton’s 28-14 win over the Lions in 2006 gave it two league wins in the same season for the first time in the five-year history of the program.
» LAST YEAR: 1-9 (1-6 AAA)
» COACH: Kevin Adams (15th year)
» RETURNING LETTERMEN: QB-DB Javohn Cherry, RB-LB Jacob Freeman, OL-DL Jonathan Funegra, TE-LB Tyler Nelson, WR-DB Willie Thomas
» KEY NEWCOMERS: WR-DB Artem Skartseskul, WR-DB Holland Gage
» OUTLOOK: It’s literally a rebuilding year at Galileo, where construction at the school has made the football field unusable for games, severely limited practice space and cost the Lions one of the most unique home-field advantages in The City. But instead of sulking, the players are using the adversity as a rallying cry to restore the program to its once-lofty level.
“Teams don’t know the things we’ve gone through and I don’t think anyone in the league is as hungry as we are,” QB Cherry said. “Until the last few years, Galileo has always been a powerhouse and we want to get back on track for coach Adams.”
Cherry will play a key role in the Lions’ quest for a revival and Adams said the senior has impressed with his work ethic and throwing ability this summer. The rest of the roster is filled out with two-way talents including RB-LB Freeman, OL-DL Funegra TE-LB Nelson and WR-DB Thomas — versatile, athletic players capable of filling multiple roles.
» KEY GAME: Sept. 28 vs. Burton at Kezar Stadium, 3:30 p.m. A win over the improving Pumas in this league opener would do wonders for Galileo’s confidence.
» LAST YEAR: 10-3 (6-1 AAA; beat Lowell 29-22 in Turkey Bowl, lost to McClymonds of Oakland 78-37 in Transbay Bowl)
» COACH: Phil Ferrigno (sixth year)
» RETURNING LETTERMEN: OL-DL Greg Foote, OL-DL Steven Gallardo-Brown, RB-DB David Henderson, OL-DL Marquese Lewis, QB Ronnie Marania, OL-DL Ricky Ohlssen, WR-DB Mike Paolucci, TE-LB Ramiro Raygosa, RB-DB Jsymel Tiongson
» KEY NEWCOMERS: RB-DB Eric Beverly, TE-LB Michael Chavez
OUTLOOK: No sooner had Paolucci turned in his pads last year than the WR-DB began daydreaming about getting back on the field.
Such is life right now for the Mustangs, who have won two straight Turkey Bowls and appear just as hungry to claim a third.
“I was anxious to get started as soon as football ended last year,” Paolucci said. “It was harder to wait for this than my driver’s license.”
Lincoln appears to be driving in the front of the pack again, led by the game-changing abilities of RB-DB Henderson — who rushed for 2,431 yards and 26 touchdowns as a junior last year. Linemen Lewis and Ohlssen are back to create the running lanes, while Marania enters his second year as the Mustangs’ QB and has a weapon out wide in Paolucci.
Defensively, returning linebackers Raygosa and Foote will be counted on to pace a unit that dominated at times in 2006 but lost graduated stars Michael Clayton, David Garcia, Phillippe Lewis and Jose Medina.
» KEY GAME: Nov. 2 vs. Lowell, 3 p.m. The Mustangs have lost to Lowell in the regular season in each of the last two years only to beat the Cardinals in the playoffs.
» LAST YEAR: 10-2 (7-0 AAA; lost to Lincoln 29-22 in Turkey Bowl)
» COACH: Danny Chan (fourth year, 25-11)
» RETURNING LETTERMEN: OL Kevin Hansen, QB-K Matt Jew, OL Peter Liu, OL Ian Maguire, DB Spencer McDonald, RB-DB Bismark Navarro, TE-LB Jairo Rueda, LB Shant Siyahian
» KEY NEWCOMERS: OL John Finnegan, WB Wang Han, S David Kwan
» OUTLOOK: Success has paid off in numbers for the Cardinals as a team that’s been to two of the last three Turkey Bowls (including a win in 2004) has seen its roster swell to 40 after fielding just 23 two seasons ago. That depth could be tough to contend with, especially considering the way Lowell’s physical, clock-melting offense can wear down opponents.
Line play should again be a strength as Hansen, Liu and Maguire return to anchor an offensive line that paved the way for four 400-yard runners in 2006. Included in that group is RB-DB Navarro, a varsity player since his sophomore year and one of the AAA’s fastest athletes. Two other third-year varsity players are also in key roles, as QB Jew will take control of the offense after splitting time in each of the previous two years and TE-LB Rueda returns to lead the defense.
“We’re all humble and working hard,” Rueda said. “Because we’ve been to the Turkey Bowl before and we have so much motivation to get back again and win.”
» KEY GAME: Nov. 2 at Lincoln, 3 p.m. Playoff positioning could be on the line in this late-season matchup of last year’s Turkey Bowl participants.
» LAST YEAR: 5-6 (4-3 AAA; lost to Lowell 22-14 in San Francisco Section semifinals)
» COACH: Carl Sullivan (fourth year, 14-16-1)
» RETURNING LETTERMEN: OL-DL Ronnell Foster, WR-DB Harry Howard, RB-LB Mario Martinez, WR-DB Grant Thomas
» KEY NEWCOMERS: QB Dwayne Davis, FB-LB Stephon Jackson, QB Lawrence Richardson
» OUTLOOK: Returning WR-DBs Howard and Thomas were asked what Mission’s strength would be this year — and their simultaneous response could bode well for the Bears.
“Defense,” Howard said.
“The offense,” replied Thomas.
If they’re both right, Mission could be poised to finally break a frustrating streak of reaching the playoffs but losing in the first round in each of the past three years. The 6-3, 190-pound Foster will be a force on both lines, while newcomer Jackson will be counted on to step in and make a number of tackles at linebacker.
Sophomore Davis and senior Richardson are battling for the starting quarterback job and whoever emerges will have options out wide in Howard and Thomas. Senior RB Martinez saw some time last year as a backup to star back DeAngelo Winston and will now step into the feature role.
“Everyone’s been working hard,” Howard said. “It’s our senior year, so we’re trying to have fun and go all-out.”
» KEY GAME: Oct. 4 at Washington, 3 p.m. Mission won last year’s clash 30-13 to clinch the final playoff berth.
» LAST YEAR: 3-7 (3-4 AAA)
» COACH: Karl Finley (first year)
» RETURNING LETTERMEN: RB-DB Maurice Barton, QB Derf Butler, QB Solomon Habtu, TE-DL Anthony Marshall, TE-DL Chris Marshall, OL-DL Alex Martin, OL-DL David Maxie, OL-DL Yoyci Medina, RB-DB Grandville Taylor, TE-DL Solomon Walker
» KEY NEWCOMERS: FB-DL Richard Faafiu, RB-DB Damon Jones
OUTLOOK: Finley was finally given the top job in late August, ending an awkward and uncertain coaching situation that had loomed over the Eagles since the spring.
Still, Finley supervised structured workouts throughout much of the summer and was impressed with the dedication and discipline shown by his soon-to-be players.
“They’re all really great kids with a lot of talent,” Finley said.
One of the leaders should be FB-DB Taylor, a junior who said the tenuous coaching situation was not a distraction.
“We just put everything aside and got to work,” Taylor said. “We’re excited and the coaches bring that out in us.”
Taylor will team with Barton (who rushed for 782 yards and 12 TDs a year ago) to form a potent backfield duo, running behind a young but talented line led by Martin and Medina. The athletic, experienced Marshall twins look to be the defensive leaders, along with DL Walker and newcomer Faafiu.
» KEY GAME: Oct. 26 vs. Lincoln, 3 p.m. The Eagles were one of the few teams to keep Lincoln running back David Henderson in check during last year’s Bell Game, and lost just 11-6.
— All AAA capsules by Matt Elliser