The BVAL football race is looking a little like one of those sprints in which everybody seems to have a shot at crossing the finish line first.
It’s always safe picking Pittsburg. The Pirates have one of the Bay Area’s most established programs under Victor Galli. They’ve won three of the past four league titles. Then again, the 2013 NCS Division I semifinalist only beat Heritage by three points last season, so the Pirates don’t seem like a bridge too far for the pack.
In the post-Joe Mixon era, Freedom coach Kevin Hartwig raves of his team atmosphere. Junior quarterback Joe Sweeney, who passed for 1,718 yards last season and showed poise in the playoffs, looks to take another step. A stout offensive line will pave the way for newcomer Sean Pinson of Lakewood, Colo., and promising sophomore Ronnie Rivers. Freedom won the 2012 BVAL title.
Pittsburg will counter with an experienced defense and a rebuilt offensive line and some top talent. Last year, the O-Line was experienced and the D-Line had some things to learn. Senior runner Jaylyn Morgan, who stepped in well for injured Harris Ross last year, could be ready to roll.
Senior-laden Liberty is on the rise under second-year coach Jeff Walters. The Lions won the Brentwood Bowl for the first time last season and made the playoffs for the first time since 2003. They also gave James Logan a scare in a 14-7 loss in the NCS Division I playoffs. Had Liberty prevailed, it would have marked the BVAL’s fourth team in the quarterfinals. Liberty’s 5-6 overall record was weighted down by two forfeits to start the season, after Walters self-reported the use of an ineligible player.
Deer Valley, the section’s coming-of-age story last year, is rebuilding after the departures of Nsimba and Nzuzi Webster to Eastern Washington. All Nsimba did was pass for 2,206 yards and run for 1,544 in helping the Wolverines advance to the NCS semifinals for the first time.
It is tough act to follow for a program that graduated 29 seniors, but the cupboard is far from bare.
“Those kids are not there, so we have to adjust,” Deer Valley coach Rich Woods said. He likes the potential of his new quarterbacks Devin Gould, up from the JV team, and Jhalil King, and would like to get them on the field at the same time.
Fresh off a last-place finish in 2013, Antioch is the X factor with its talented and versatile cast, a year removed from being about as green as the grass at the varsity level. Its field being renovated, the Panthers will be road warriors this season.
Heritage is fully aware that people may overlook them after a tough 2013 season. But that 1-9 mark came with a bunch of close defeats. One coach described the Patriots as the best 1-9 team he’d ever seen. Expect them to take a step forward.