Mission surprising again

Despite dropping their first three games to start the Academic Athletic Association season, there was no panic among a core group of players on the Mission football team. They had experienced a similar back-against-the-wall scenario in their careers, albeit on a different playing surface.

Four players who keyed Mission’s underdog run in the San Francisco Section basketball playoffs last winter are again playing big roles again for their school, only this time they’re doing it on the football field.

Junior Demaree Hampton and seniors Harry Howard, Grant Thomas and Ronell Foster have been the catalysts behind another remarkable late-season march by the Bears. Led by big contributions from its four multi-sport stars, close-knit Mission has won three straight games to finish out the season, helping the school earn its fourth consecutive trip to the San Francisco Section playoffs. The fourth-seeded Bears (5-3) will play at No. 1 Lincoln (7-3) today at

2 p.m.

“It’s a small school, so we hang out in the hallways and see each other in class all the time,” Howard said. “But we really form that bond when we’re out in practice, playing football and basketball.”

A converted wide receiver, Howard has flourished in his first season playing quarterback, throwing for 572 yards and eight touchdowns. When he’s not connecting on passes with his favorite target, Hampton, Howard anchors a stout defensive unit from his safety position.

Hampton, the basketball team’s leading scorer as a sophomore, played football for the San Francisco Seahawks in the Senior Pop Warner league last fall. After some coaxing from Foster, Howard and Thomas, Hampton joined the Bears this season and the junior defensive back and wide receiver has made an immediate impact. Hampton led the AAA in touchdown receptions with eight and finished third in receiving yards (564) and receptions (25).

Unlike his sprightly teammates — defensive backs who also formed the three-headed backcourt on the basketball floor — Foster is a bruiser on both lines who relishes his role down low on the court and in the trenches on the field.

“I have to be careful in basketball because I don’t want to pick up any fouls,” Foster said. “But in football, I just go out looking for punks. I’m always looking to hit someone and make plays.”

Thomas, a defensive back and wide receiver, is the only three-year varsity football player among the quartet, and although he hasn’t racked up huge numbers, his leadership has been a steadying presence for a young team that lost several key players from the 2006 squad that lost to Lowell in last year’s section semifinals.

“With basketball and football, we’ve been around each other a lot, so we know how to keep each other focused,” Thomas said. “All we can think about right now is getting to the Turkey Bowl. After we do that, we can think about basketball.”

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