He is returning his starting quarterback, two dynamic running backs, a three-year starter at center and several other key contributors from a team that qualified for the semifinals of the San Francisco Section playoffs last year.
Yet Mission football coach Joe Albano isn't exactly brimming with confidence. A perennial issue with city teams, Albano has been dismayed at the low player turnout for his team's preseason workouts this summer. He was hoping that motivation from the team's tough 18-12 overtime loss to Lincoln in last season's playoffs would propel the Bears to dedicate themselves to getting better during the offseason.
"People and other coaches in the football community tell me that I should be happy that we at least have some guys showing up to practice," Albano said. "I don't want to take them for granted or anything, but I thought at this point, we'd have a lot more players participating."
Despite the low numbers, Albano still has plenty of reasons to be optimistic. After a disastrous 0-4 start last year, the Bears rolled off five straight regular-season victories, proving to be a formidable team in Academic Athletic Association play.
Leading the effort last season was quarterback Jerrel Stancil, who returns after showing marked improvement during the course of the year. Running backs Anthony Sauceda, a senior, and Anthony Porter, a junior, will accompany Stancil in the backfield after garnering significant playing time in 2013. Clearing the way for that trio will be senior Elijah Oliver, a three-starter at center who also lines up on the other side of the ball as a defensive tackle.
Much like coach Mark Huynh at Galileo, Albano has helped engineer a turnaround at Mission since taking over as head coach in 2010. That year, he inherited a team that went 0-9 and led them to a 7-4 finish. The Bears won the Turkey Bowl the following season, and have been consistent city championship contenders ever since.
Albano's track record as a proven winner combined with the Bears' core group of returning players has some coaches in the AAA tabbing Mission as the preseason favorite. However, Albano isn't buying that, saying the league is wide open as always.
"It's always hard to predict what's going to happen in the AAA," Albano said. "Burton and Balboa struggled at times last year, but they're bringing back a bunch of good players. Lincoln will always be solid. Our goal is always to make the playoffs. I think we have the pieces to do that -- it just depends on our level of commitment."
LAST SEASON: 5-6 overall, 5-2 in Academic Athletic Association (third place; lost to Lincoln 18-12 in playoff semifinals)
Three things to watch
- Mission was the only team to place two underclassmen on the MaxPreps.com San Francisco Section first team last year. Both running back Anthony Porter and center-defensive tackle Elijah Oliver garnered first-team honors, and quarterback Jerrel Stancil was named to the second team, along with all-purpose player Frank Hall and lineman Jeff Branner, who are now juniors.
- The Bears play back-to-back games against Galileo and Lincoln -- their two likely chief challengers for the AAA crown -- in October.
- Stancil is a cousin of Miami Dolphins defensive end Dion Jordan.
Sept. 5 at Ygnacio Valley* 7 p.m.
Sept. 13 vs. Menlo School* 7 p.m.
Sept. 20 at Mout Eden* 1:45 p.m.
Sept. 27 at Harbor* 1 p.m.
Oct. 4 Marshall 11 a.m.
Oct. 11 at Lincoln 2 p.m.
Oct. 18 at Galileo 2 p.m.
Oct. 25 vs. Balboa 2 p.m.
Nov. 1 at Burton 2 p.m.
Nov. 7 at Lowell 2 p.m.
Nov. 14 vs. Washington 2 p.m.
* nonconference game