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.
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.
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.