Heritage Football Team Opens Season Tonight vs. San Jacinto

It has been less than nine months since the Heritage High School football team played in the CIF Sou...

It has been less than nine months since the Heritage High School football team played in the CIF Southern Section Eastern Conference championship game, losing a 24-17 decision to Fontana.

It might as well have been a decade ago. To Coach Kraig Broach and his players, 2011 is ancient history. The Patriots are not trying to ride on the coattails of last season's players. They will make or break this season on their own merits.

"Last year was for last year's seniors," Broach said about the team's 12-2 record and appearance in the CIF finals. "This is a whole new year. You can't draw on past history and you can't look too far ahead. We have to focus on what we need to do now."

First up on the Patriots' to-do list is their season opener against San Jacinto High School tonight at Hemet High. Kickoff is at 7 p.m.

Heritage, now playing in the CIF Central Division and fourth in the preseason rankings, returns six starters on offense and seven on defense. Top players include senior running back and defensive back Jamal Morrow (5-foot-10, 180 pounds), last year's Sunbelt League Player of the Year, and senior defensive back and wide receiver Darius Allensworth (5-11, 175), who recently committed to play at Cal next year.

The offensive line is effectively manned by Nick Avne (5-9, 215), Levi Davison (5-10, 205) and Moises Valdivia (6-1, 270). Returning all-league linebacker Limihai Hifo (5-10, 205) will play a key role on defense.

Even with all this experience returning, a key to the Patriots' success will be the ability of senior Mat Bradshaw to step into the starting quarterback position. He played wide receiver and defensive back last season.

"His strength is his overall intelligence," Broach said. "He has a great understanding of the offense. We put a lot of verbiage on our quarterback and he needs to relay that to the rest of the offense."

The strength of the offense lies in the running game. With Morrow leading the way, the Patriots will try to control the ball on the ground. Even so, it will be up to the defense to give the offense the ball often enough to do so.

"The defense is still in the growing stages," Broach said. "We're not the biggest team, but our overall team speed is good. The kids run to the football."

Heritage's first home game will take place Sept. 7 vs. Beaumont.