The Pittsburg High football team may be the team to beat in the Bay Valley Athletic League this season. But there are also indications that this is a league on the rise.

Consider that the BVAL's bottom three teams last year, fourth-place Liberty, fifth place Heritage and sixth place Antioch all expect to be improved, which should make for an entertaining title chase.

The defending champion Pirates have a rebuilt offensive line, an experienced defensive line and some highly regarded talent. Freedom has big plans in the post-Joe Mixon era, with an experienced front line and a polished quarterback in Joe Sweeney. Sean Pinson, a transfer from Colorado, bolsters the run game.

Deer Valley, led in 2013 by twin seniors Nsimba and Nzuzi Webster, is rebuilding after a scintillating run to the North Coast Section Division I semifinals. Emerging Liberty looks to take another step under second-year coach Jeff Walters.

Everyone expects Antioch to make a big jump with a young, talented cast.

Heritage, which lost four BVAL games last year by a combined 28 points, is another team not to be overlooked.

The BVAL made a big mark in 2013 as Freedom, Deer Valley and Pittsburg, one of the East Bay's premier programs, advanced to at least the NCS quarterfinals, and the Wolverines and Pirates made the semifinals.

Antioch

COACH: John Lucido, eighth year

2013 RECORD: 1-9, 0-5 BVAL


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TOP RETURNEES: MLB/TE Kobie Beltram, Jr.; QB Harrison Ong, Sr.; RB/MLB Michael Gray, Sr.; RB/OLB Najee Harris, So.; RB Nick Perry, Jr.; WR/DB KJ Wilson, Sr.; WR/S Ryan Payne, Jr.; OL/DL Jonathan Gaytan, Sr.; OL/DL Michael Fonteno, Sr.; C Scott Adams. Sr.; TE/OLB Iosefa Papalagi, Sr.; OL/LB Will Elsberry, Sr.

TOP NEWCOMERS: QB Abram Karnthong, So.

KEY LOSSES: OL/DL Cranberry Gato; OL/LB Leonard Grillo; QB Isaac Lewis.

OUTLOOK: After gaining valuable experience in 2013, the still-young Panthers lost just three starters on offense and defense and are focusing on making the playoffs. Harris, a sophomore, has five Division I offers, and Beltram, a junior, was in on 100 tackles last year. Perry leads a talented group of runners. "This team is coming along very well," coach John Lucido said.

Deer Valley

COACH: Rich Woods, 10th season

2013 RECORD: 11-2, 4-1 BVAL

TOP RETURNEES: OL/DL Troy Decuir, Jr.; OLB Jon Farmer, Sr.; DL Antwon Evans, Sr.; RB/DB Gozie Obunse, Sr.; OL Noah Capolungo, Sr.; WR James Hutchings, Jr.

TOP NEWCOMERS: QB Devin Gould, Jr.; QB/WR/DB Jhalil King, Sr.;.WR Elijah Womack Jr.; LB Brandon Faatalale, Jr.; OL Jovanni Tuitosi, Jr.; OL Bosah Osawje Jr.; C Brian Bhelan, Jr.

KEY LOSSES: QB/DB Nsimba Webster; WR/DB Nzuzi Webster C; LB/TE Malik Hutchings.

OUTLOOK: The Wolverines graduated 29 seniors after making the NCS semifinals. A talented junior-laden class figures to improve with seasoning, but Woods is not selling this bunch short. They expect to be in the thick of things.

Freedom

COACH: Kevin Hartwig, 13th year

2013 RECORD: 6-6, 3-2 BVAL

TOP RETURNEES: QB Joe Sweeney, Jr.; WR/OLB Scotty Sanders, Sr.; OL/DL Dom Fredrickson, Sr.; OL/DL Arturo Hurtado, Sr.; OL/DL Tyler Burton, Sr.; TE/DT James Allen, Sr.; WR/S Brandon Birk, Sr.; FB/OLB Noah Thompson, Sr.; OL/DL Alex Camilli, Sr.; LB Stevie Costello, Sr.; DB Michael Wright, Sr.; RB/DB Ronnie Rivers, So.

TOP NEWCOMERS: OL/DL Rangle Lowry, Sr.; RB/S Sean Pinson, Sr.; DB Ivan Collaco, Jr.; OL/DL Derrick Furr; LB Kyle Harmon, So.

KEY LOSSES: RB Joe Mixon; WR Nick Garcia; DE Patrick Choudja

OUTLOOK: The ambitious Falcons lost Mixon, but return a large group from last season and expect to be in the title hunt. "The thing I like best about this team is the team atmosphere," Hartwig said. "It's a real close team, and that does a lot toward the end result."

Heritage

COACH: Don Sanders, second season

2013 RECORD: 1-9, 1-4 BVAL

TOP RETURNEES: RB LeeAndre White, Sr; RB/S Sam Hinn, Sr.; C/NT David Laasamo, Jr.; RB Cre Edwards, Sr.; QB Sohail Monsini, Sr.

TOP NEWCOMERS: QB/LB/WR Ezra Magalei, Jr.;

KEY LOSSES: NT/TE Aaron Austin; DB Fulton Selien; OLB Jordan Ruelas; LB Cole Caladari; OL Jacob Smith.

OUTLOOK: The Patriots came close a lot last year, dropping four games by within a touchdown and falling to Pittsburg 10-7. After making the playoffs from 2007 to 2011, Heritage came up short the last two seasons. They boast three solid running backs and a promising quarterback in Monsini. "We're gonna be competitive," Sanders said. "I think we'll surprise some teams teams looking over us. It's a hard-working team."

Liberty

COACH: Jeff Walters, second season

2013 RECORD: 5-6, 2-3 BVAL

TOP RETURNEES: RB Taitai Canady, Sr.; S Kyle Trego, Sr.; DE/OL Shane Goodwin, Sr.; QB Joseph Tolentino, Sr.; MLB Alex Espinosa, Sr.; DE Dillon Gilfoy, Sr.; WR/OLB Alex Hull, Sr.

TOP NEWCOMERS: WR/S Willie Williams, Sr.; G/DT Brandon Hocter, Jr.

KEY LOSSES: QB Ivan Oseguera; WR/DB Josh Jackson.

OUTLOOK: The senior-heavy Lions look to build off a coming-of-age season under Walters. The schedule will be tougher, beginning with a road game against Central-Fresno, which sent five to Division I programs last year. Walters' system is centered on defense, special teams and playing opportunistically on offense with good field position.

Pittsburg

COACH: Victor Galli, 13th year

2013 RECORD: 10-3, 5-0 BVAL

TOP RETURNEES: WR/S Shurod Thompson, Jr.; LB Noah Palega, Sr.; DE/OT David Lui, Sr.; TE/WR Armani Levias, Sr.; DB/WR Deante Fortenberry, Sr.; DL/OL Harlen Tautalatasi; OL/DE Saia Fonongaloa, Jr.; LB Isaiah Lopez; RB Jaylyn Morgan, Sr.; WR Andre Grisby, Sr.; RB/LB Nick Moore, Sr.; DE Gabe McCoy, Sr.; FB/DL Dejuan Watson, Sr.

TOP NEWCOMERS: WR/DB Jordan Parker, Jr.; WR/DB Isaiah Johnson, Sr.; RB/S Carlos McClure, Jr.; OL Anthony Franks, Jr.; LB Charles Ramirez, Jr.

KEY LOSSES: OL/DL Renee Cordona, OL/DL Larry SantaCruz, OL/DL Tony Baldazo, OL/DL DeAngelo Powell, OL/DL Fernandez Nunes, RB Harris Ross; TE Marcus Franks

OUTLOOK: Galli says the Pirates are talented enough individually, but have to put it together collectively. Last season, an experienced offensive line and the brilliant Ross carried the load. This year, the defense is experienced and the offensive line is being remade. Three year-starter Palega leads the defense, Thompson, a junior, has multiple Division I offers and Lui has committed to BYU. Morgan stepped in strongly for the injured Ross last year and Lopez was an all-league pick.

PREDICTED FINISH
1. Pittsburg
2. Freedom
3. Liberty
4. Deer Valley
5. Antioch
6. Heritage

2014 SCHEDULES:
Antioch
8/29 at Acalanes 7 p.m.
9/5 at Granada 7 p.m.
9/12 at Santa Rosa 7 p.m.
9/19 at Wood-Vacaville 7 p.m.
9/26 at Northgate 7 p.m.
10/10 at Freedom* 7 p.m.
10/17 LIBERTY* 7 p.m.
10/24 at Deer Valley* 7 p.m.
10/31 HERITAGE* 7 p.m.
11/8 PITTSBURG* 7 p.m.
Deer Valley
8/29 at Elsie Allen 7:30 p.m.
9/5 OAKLAND TECH 7 p.m.
9/19 SANTA ROSA 7 p.m.
9/26 at Concord 7 p.m.
10/3 COLLEGE PARK 7 p.m.
10/10 PITTSBURG* 7 p.m.
10/17 at Freedom* 7 p.m.
10/24 ANTIOCH* 7 p.m.
10/31 at Liberty* 7 p.m.
11/7 at Heritage* 7 p.m.
Freedom
8/29 at Tracy 7:15 p.m.
9/5 at Foothill 7 p.m.
9/12 GRANITE BAY 7 p.m.
9/19 SAN LEANDRO 7 p.m.
9/26 WOOD-VACAVILLE 7 p.m.
10/10 ANTIOCH* 7 p.m.
10/17 DEER VALLEY* 7 p.m.
10/24 HERITAGE* 7 p.m.
10/31 at Pittsburg* 7 p.m.
11/7 at Liberty* 7 p.m.
Heritage
8/29 CAMPOLINDO 7 p.m.
9/5 at Pacheco 7 p.m.
9/12 MARIN CATHOLIC 7 p.m.
9/19 COLLEGE PARK 7 p.m.
9/26 at Berkeley 7 p.m.
10/10 at Liberty* 7 p.m.
10/17 PITTSBURG 7 p.m.
10/24 at Freedom 7 p.m.
10/31 at Antioch 7 p.m.
11/7 DEER VALLEY* 7 p.m.
Liberty
8/29 at Central-Fresno 7 p.m.
9/5 CHICO 7:15 p.m.
9/12 BERKELEY 7:30 p.m.
9/19 at Monte Vista 7 p.m.
9/26 at San Leandro# 7 p.m.
10/10 HERITAGE* 7 p.m.
10/17 at Antioch* 7 p.m.
10/24 at Pittsburg* 7 p.m.
10/31 DEER VALLEY* 7 p.m.
11/7 FREEDOM* 7 p.m.
# at Burrell Field
Pittsburg
8/29 at California 7 p.m.
9/5 SAN RAMON VAL. 7 p.m.
9/12 MONTE VISTA 7 p.m.
9/19 BERKELEY 7 p.m.
9/26 vs. Arch. Mitty-S.J.# 7 p.m.
10/10 at Deer Valley* 7 p.m.
10/17 at Heritage* 7 p.m.
10/24 LIBERTY* 7 p.m.
10/31 FREEDOM* 7 p.m.
11/8 at Antioch* 7 p.m.
# at Foothill College
* BVAL game