Jessica Christian/Special to the S.f. ExaminerWith four starters from last year’s offensive line returning to the team

Jessica Christian/Special to the S.f. ExaminerWith four starters from last year’s offensive line returning to the team

Led by experienced offensive line, Balboa optimistic for 2014 season

It's an unglamorous job being a lineman. The grunts in the trenches never get to make spectacular catches, bask in the glory of a touchdown run or rack up impressive offensive statistics.

But every high school football coach in San Francisco knows that without a cohesive and effective offensive line, all those flashy skill-position players can look very, very normal.

With that wrinkle in mind, Balboa coach Alvaro Carvajal is particularly bullish on the prospects of his Buccaneers making the San Francisco Section playoffs for the first time since 2010, and possibly playing for the Turkey Bowl this season.

Carvajal brings back two veteran offensive linemen in seniors Tuni Ropati and Eric Pocasangre, both of whom started for the Buccaneers the last two seasons. He's also returning starters Max Sutton and Matthew Lelea on an offensive line unit that will rank among the absolute best in Academic Athletic Association this season.

“These guys have been in the weight room all offseason, really showing their leadership and commitment to this team,” Carvajal said. “They know that we're building our squad around them, and they're reading to accept that challenge.”

That veteran offensive line will be clearing the way for senior running back Jeremiah Iuli, who ran for 683 yards last year. On the perimeter, tight end Robert Sankey and wide receiver Giovanni Norori are back to stretch defenses after combining for more than 700 yards receiving and 11 touchdowns last season.

Defensively, Balboa will be led by Lee Lelea, who was All-AAA honorable mention last year after snagging three interceptions as a sophomore.

Last season, Balboa suited up just eight seniors. This year, Carvajal will trot out a much more experienced group.

“I think a lot of these seniors came into high school thinking they'd make the playoffs every year,” Carvajal said. “They all know that it's their last chance, and I think that urgency is helping them really prepare for this season.”

The Buccaneers do have one major question mark entering this season. Last year, quarterback Eli Smoot threw for 1,607 yards and 20 touchdown passes, leading a balanced offense that averaged 160 yards on the ground and 162 yards through the air. Smoot is gone, but Carvajal is real high on junior Devin McFarland, who won a heated quarterback competition in preseason practice.

“Devin went out and earned the starting position,” Carvajal said. “He's a great athlete, and he's turning into a real leader. And we're real lucky to have a great bunch protecting him.”

Buccaneers breakdown

Last season: 4-6 overall, 3-4 in Academic Athletic Association (fifth place)

Three Things to Watch:

– Along with being a promising quarterback prospect, Devin McFarland is a standout track and field athlete, ranking among the top AAA sprinters in the 100 and 200 meters.

– The Buccaneers will certainly miss departed linebacker Marlon Canaya, who is now suiting up for Contra Costa Junior College.

– Of Giovanni Norori's 22 receptions last season, six went for touchdowns, meaning one out of every 3.6 catches went for a score. To put that in perspective, Jimmy Graham led the NFL last season with 16 touchdown catches, or one in every 5.4 catches.

Balboa schedule

Sept. 5 at San Rafael* 7 p.m.

Sept. 13 vs. Oakland Tech* 2 p.m.

Sept. 20 vs. Tomales* 2 p.m.

Oct. 4 at Burton 2 p.m.

Oct. 11 vs. Lowell 2 p.m.

Oct. 18 vs. Lincoln 2 p.m.

Oct. 25 vs. Mission 2 p.m.

Nov. 1 at Galileo 2 p.m.

Nov. 8 vs. Washington 2 p.m.

Nov. 14 vs. Marshall 2 p.m.

* nonconference game

Alvaro CarvajalBalboa High SchoolPrep SportsTuni Ropati

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