Galileo looks to rebuild following Turkey Bowl title 

click to enlarge Galileo Lions
  • Nathaniel Y. Downes/special to the s.f. examiner
  • The Galileo Lions are expected to be contenders for the city championship this season.
What to do for an encore?

That’s the main question pressing the Galileo football team, which capped off an undefeated run through Academic Athletic Association play with a thrilling 34-30 Turkey Bowl win over Lincoln, a victory that that gave the school its second San Francisco Section championship in five years.

The Lions were certainly riding high in November, but the reality is beginning to sink in this summer: They lost a slew of big-time playmakers from that memorable 2013 team. Gone is all-world quarterback Kyle Nelson, who broke numerous school and city records while amassing 47 touchdown passes and 3,200 yards last season. Also departed are 1,000-yard rusher Ronzel Fox and 1,000-yard receiver Dontell Jackson, among others.

Despite the heavy losses, the Lions should be expected to contend once again for a city championship. After an extended period among the lower echelon of AAA teams, coach Mark Huynh has established a winning culture at Galileo and he has plenty of talent left over from last year’s team to make another successful run.

“The guys that we have coming back have seen what happens when you put in the hard work,” Huynh said. “They’ve been able to witness first-hand the results of that, so I think that will give them some confidence heading into the season. They won’t be overconfident, but they know what it takes to win now.”

Senior wide receiver Rodney Morgan returns after snagging nine touchdown receptions last season, despite missing two games. Morgan is also a formidable safety who picked off three passes and blocked a field goal in 2013. He’ll be joined defensively by Jamari Hilliard-Vasquez, a three-year starter who racked up an eye-popping 196 tackles from his middle linebacker position.

Huynh said his main concern heading into the season is the state of his offensive line. Last year’s senior-laden group opened up gaping holes for Fox and provided Nelson with ample time to operate. Cobbling the right collection of replacements is Priority 1 for Huynh, particularly during the early portion of the season, when quarterback Phillip Tran — a capable, but inexperienced signal-caller — learns the offense.

“A lot of our success will depend on how quickly the offensive line gels,” Huynh said.

Even though his team is the reigning AAA champ, Huynh said that Mission is the early league favorite. That’s not to say he doesn’t think his Lions aren’t capable of big things.

“We’ll definitely be smaller this season, but I think we’ll be quicker,” Huynh said. “Right now, the plan is to sneak into the playoffs and then see if we can make some noise.”

Lions breakdown

Last season: 12-1 overall, 7-0 Academic Athletic Association (first place; beat Lincoln 34-30 in Turkey Bowl)

Three things to watch

A rarity among AAA teams, Yanek Hakobyan was a reliable kicker for the Lions in 2013, nailing 54 out of 62 extra-point attempts. He’ll be tough to replace this year.

A good litmus test for Galileo will be the Oct. 18 meeting with Mission, the preseason AAA favorite. If the young Lions can compete with the Bears, their prospects for a repeat city championship will be bright.

Phillip Tran will be the first non-Nelson starting quarterback since 2008 at Galileo, following a five-year run by brothers Dylan and Kyle Nelson.

Galileo schedule

Aug. 30 at Tamalpais, 2 p.m.*

Sept. 6 vs. Sacred Heart Cathedral, 2 p.m.*

Sept. 12 at De Anza, 7 p.m.*

Oct. 3 vs. Lowell, 3 p.m.

Oct. 11 at Marshall, 2 p.m.

Oct. 18 vs. Mission, 2 p.m.

Oct. 24 at Washington, 3 p.m.

Nov. 1 vs. Balboa, 2 p.m.

Nov. 8 at Lincoln, 2 p.m.

Nov. 14 vs. Burton, 2 p.m.

* Nonconference game

Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of previews of local high school football teams.

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Will Reisman

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