Editor's note: This is part of a series of San Francisco prep football previews that will run leading up to the start of the season.
The Balboa High School football team last won a San Francisco Section-Academic Athletic Association regular-season championship in 2005 — it finished in a tie for first with Lowell — but fifth-year coach Alvaro Carvajal seems hopeful that the Buccaneers are close to ending their title drought.
"There's a lot of things I want to say because I'm so excited and pumped, but let's just wait to see how the season progresses," Carvajal said. "I love the energy we have on this team, the commitment and the work they've put in so far."
Balboa finished 2-7 overall and 2-4 in league play last season, missing the league playoffs by one game. Carvajal feels the sour taste from that experience has only fueled the returning players with a greater sense of urgency to treat every game as if it's their last. The Buccaneers don't plan on being left out of the postseason picture in 2013, not with improved quarterback Eli Smoot under center. Smoot, a standout baseball player, fully immersed himself in football in the offseason after playing on traveling club baseball squads for the past couple of summers.
"Overall, he's just a better athlete," Carvajal said. "He's making better reads, his movement has gotten better and because of that I believe we'll be more efficient with our passing game. I think our offense is geared for a big year."
Especially with the 1-2 punch of junior running backs Jeremiah Iuli and Will Barnett, whom Carvajal refers to as "Thunder and lightning." Iuli, a 5-foot-10, 220-pounder who also plays linebacker, rarely goes down on first contact, and the 5-5, 150-pound Barnett has tremendous speed, often making multiple defenders miss every time he carries the ball.
Carvajal feels excited about his offensive line, particularly with guards Matthew Leiea and Osberto Mejia. Leiea, a 5-10, 225-pound sophomore, has quick feet and plays with a physical style belying his grade level. Carvajal said Mejia has made so many improvements in his game that he has the potential to be a dominant lineman.
Leiea and Mejia also play on the defensive line, where they'll be joined by massive 6-2, 330-pound sophomore nose guard Dartanyan Bishop. In Marlon Canaya, James Woods and Iuli, Balboa boasts a strong linebacking corps capable of making plays all over the field.
"Marlon is going to be a stud at middle linebacker," Carvajal said.
Woods is one of the most versatile players in the AAA. When he's not playing linebacker, Woods will be playing free safety. On offense, Woods is a starting slot along with Canaya, and Carvajal is counting on the duo to make plays in the open field.