PITTSBURG -- The Los Medanos College football team might be best described as the Young and the Restless.
The Mustangs, who have a new starting quarterback and a youthful look, are eager to build on the program's positive vibe. It all starts on Sept. 6 against host Merced College.
"We're a very young team, especially on defense," fifth-year coach Chris Shipe said. "We have some young guys on the offensive line, so we've been working together the last seven or eight months. We're definitely looking forward to Sept. 6."
Shipe's program has been trending upward. The Mustangs were 0-10 in 2011, 6-4 in 2012 and 7-3 last year, when they finished in a three-way tie for first place in the Bay Valley Conference with Contra Costa and Shasta.
The Mustangs are in the new Pacific 7 Conference, which looks a lot like the old BVC. Newcomer San Jose City joins Los Medanos, Contra Costa, Mendocino, Redwoods, Shasta and Yuba.
Los Medanos wants to start quickly to instill confidence in its young players.
"We look at the first game as statement for us to see where we are," Shipe said.
Sophomore R.J. Cellini of Alhambra, who played sparingly last season, is the new starting quarterback, and 2011 Pittsburg graduate Julius Mozee is the backup. Last year's starting signal-caller Adam Nesheim transferred to Diablo Valley College.
Despite his limited collegiate experience, Cellini has enjoyed success. He passed for 1,842 yards and 19 touchdowns in 2009 at Alhambra, leading the Bulldogs to a Diablo Foothill Athletic League title and an 11-2 record.
Center Alex Cabral of Freedom figures to play a key role in helping Cellini gain confidence in the pocket.
"He is a tough, hard-nosed kid who started all 10 games last season," Shipe said of Cabral.
Los Medanos boasts a strong secondary and a game-breaker in running back Jamal Lockett, a speedy unning back out of Pittsburg and an all-state kick returner who brought four back for touchdowns in 2013. Lockett had four kick returns for touchdowns in 2013. The Mustangs run game needs someone to shoulder the load after the departure of Shawn Vasquez. The Liberty graduate transferred to Texas A&M-Kingsville after rushing for 26 touchdowns and more than 2,000 yards over the previous two seasons.
Returning all-conference pick Jamon Ward of Pittsburg and Shecari Johnson of Deer Valley, who started about half of the games last season, lead the secondary. Jamon's brother, Keyshawn Ward, is a returning starter at free safety.
Shipe says the Ward brothers don't always need words to communicate effectively on the field.
"All they have to do is look at each other," Shipe said.
Middle linebacker Markie Beltram of Antioch, an all-conference pick last season, improved as a leader in the offseason, and the team is expecting big production from him.
Nose guard Chris Riccabona of De La Salle is like a "bowling ball" and "strong as an ox," Shipe said. "He's very physical and leads by example with his work ethic."
At wide receiver, all-conference selection Deon Pruitt of Deer Valley and Michigan native Justin Swims, who redshirted last year after playing in 2012, are key targets. Sophomore tight end Joe Cannon of De La Salle started 10 games last season.
9/6 at Merced 6 p.m.
9/13 Monterey 1 p.m.
9/19 at West Hills 7 p.m.
9/27 at San Jose* 6 p.m.
10/4 Contra Costa* 1 p.m.
10/18 Hartnell 1 p.m.
10/25 at Yuba* 1 p.m.
11/1 Redwoods* 3 p.m.
11/8 at Shasta* 5 p.m.
11/15 Mendocino* 1 p.m.
* Pacific 7 conference game