Eric Sun/Special to The S.F. ExaminerSt. Ignatius guard Trevor Dunbar (10) will be playing in the Pac-12 Conference next year at Washington State.

Mission football team facing uphill climb to match success of seasons past

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of San Francisco prep football previews that will run over the next couple of weeks leading up to the start of the season.

Ever since Joe Albano took over the coaching reins at Mission High School prior to the 2010 season, the Bears have been in contention for the San Francisco Section Academic Athletic Association championship.

In that span, Mission has gone 23-11, won the Turkey Bowl in 2011 and nearly repeated that feat last season before dropping a heartbreaking 22-21 decision to Lincoln in the final seconds on a two-point conversion. For the Bears to experience similar success this season, it’s going to take a monumental effort, something Albano didn’t see from a lot of his players during the offseason.

“We’re still rebuilding, I guess,” said Albano, whose team graduated eight first- or second-team All-AAA players from a team that finished 7-4 overall and 5-1 in AAA action last year. “There’s definitely been a bit of a drop off [in talent and numbers], but we’ll see how the team progresses. I’m actually really happy with how practice has gone in the last couple of days.”

Albano said he was disappointed that some of his players weren’t as dedicated in the spring and summer as in years past, but Mission’s fourth-year coach had nothing but praise for running back-linebacker Roy Sauceda, two-way lineman Isaac Straznickas and defensive tackle Elijah Oliver. Sauceda will be the team’s go-to back in the ground game, Straznickas should be a force on both lines and the 5-foot-11, 230-pound Oliver has the potential to wreak havoc on opponents with his strength and physicality.

“Roy has a good burst of speed, he’s low to the ground, and once he gets through the line he’s got big-play ability,” Albano said. “He and Isaac definitely lead by example with their work habits and coachability.”

Perhaps the biggest question lies at quarterback, where junior Jerrell Stancil looks to be the frontrunner to win the starting role. Albano said Stancil is far from a finished product, but the signal-caller is picking up the offense and showing good things in practice.

If Stancil can fill the void at quarterback — former Mission QBs Davon Hardgraves was the AAA’s Player of the Year in 2011 and Antoine Porter was co-Player of the Year last season — then the Bears will be sitting pretty. Albano also is high on senior offensive guard-linebacker Shane Smith, who became a starter toward the end of last season.

Although Mission’s numbers are down — it had 17 to 20 players in practice last week — don’t be surprised if it makes another strong run for a league title.

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