In the 2010 season, Mission High School went through a process of development, from upstart to
Cinderella to unlikely juggernaut.
But despite their success, an undefeated Academic Athletic Association season and a regular-season league title, the mention of one game is met by returning Mission players with clenched jaws and shaking heads.
As the top seed in the AAA playoffs, the Bears dropped their semifinal matchup to fourth-seeded Balboa, missing out on an opportunity to win their first Turkey Bowl title since 1954.
“That game hurt everyone’s feelings,” said senior Laron Davis. “We’re mad that we lost in the playoffs last year, so we have to come back and win every game this year.”
Due to the graduation of four first-team All-AAA players on both sides of the ball, including AAA Receiver of the Year Alec Tatum and standout running back Devonta Gaines, there will be plenty of new faces for the Bears, but there will be one notable constant — quarterback and safety Davon Hargraves.
“He’s our best defensive player and he’s kinda a running back playing quarterback, but he can throw the ball,” said second-year Mission coach Joe Albano. “He puts the ball some places sometimes that it just amazes me, and then when I call a play and it doesn’t go, he’ll get me out of it. You wouldn’t think of him as a quarterback, but he’s just a football player, all around.”
A first-team All-AAA selection himself, the senior will be the quarterback on defense as well, directing the plays and calling audibles from the safety position.
“I’m taking that responsibility,” Hargraves said. “We’re expecting everyone to come out hard on us [because we went undefeated], but I think we can handle it.”
Taking over much of the ball-carrying load will be Davis and fellow senior Algeron Malbrough.
“Devonta was the man last year and got a lot of the touches, but this year, we have a lot more quicker kids, so we probably won’t run as much between the tackles,” Albano said. “We’ll use our speed on defense and on offense.”
The pair will also fill important roles in the linebacker corps, with Malbrough at outside linebacker, where he earned first-team All-AAA honors in 2010.
“Algeron does a great job holding the edge,” Albano said. “If you can’t stop the sweep [against option offenses] you can’t contain the outside.”
With an athletic group of linebackers and senior defensive Darius Gray controlling the line of scrimmage, the Bears could be dominant on defense again. In 2010, Mission allowed just 13 points in its first four AAA games of the season.
“We do have a lot of kids who are pretty skilled and I’ve been with them for a while on JV and varsity,” Albano said. “One thing I always stress is tackling. You’re not going to be on defense if you can’t tackle.
Like many other programs, Mission has plenty of questions entering the season. Those all pale in comparison to where the Bears were just two years ago when the team had to cancel its season due to a lack of players.
With an injection of pride and success, numbers are back up, and one thing is clear: Mission football is back.
“We proved to the world last year that we weren’t a joke,” Davis said. “We’re going to bring it again this year.”
Preps sports coverage provided in partnership by The San Francisco Examiner and www.SanFranPreps.com.