ANTIOCH -- The Antioch High football team couldn't have started the 2012 season any better. The Panthers raced out to a 5-0 start, beating their opponents by a combined score of 212-62.

Then the Bay Valley Athletic League schedule, which included games against three of the toughest teams in the East Bay in Pittsburg, Deer Valley and Freedom, began.

Circuit play saw Antioch go 1-4, and after a loss to San Ramon Valley in the North Coast Section Division I playoffs, the Panthers finished the season 6-5.

BVAL play is typically tough, but Antioch certainly has other reasons for struggling once the league season began. The biggest one being, for the second straight year, it entered league play with a number of injuries, and not having a tremendous amount of depth took its toll.

"Our league is tough every year," Antioch coach John Lucido said. "The last two years, we've lost a few key guys to injury before league started, but this year we have a lot more depth. We really need to focus on getting other guys reps so we can stay healthy."

The Panthers are not only hoping to prepare to challenge in the BVAL by being deeper and healthier, but they are stepping up the nonleague schedule a bit as well. This yeay they add Franklin-Stockton, Granada and Santa Rosa to the list of nonleague games.

"We've stepped up our schedule this year," Lucido said. "We want to build confidence and take it into league play with us."

And if Antioch wants to step up its level of play to equal the toughness of the schedule, the key will be the offensive line, where they return four players who started on the line last year.

"Our offensive line is a lot faster off the line and they are the key," Lucido said.

"They have good experience, I've noticed the leadership and they've been dominating so far. I hope it keeps up."

Leading the way for the line are a pair of seniors in center Cranberry Gato and left tackle Leonard Grillo.

The Panthers are young at the skill positions, both age wise and experience wise.

Senior quarterback Isaac Lewis takes over the signal-calling duties, and his big target could be sophomore wide receiver Ryan Payne.

Payne will play both ways, featuring as a safety as well.

"They're coming along great," Lucido said. "As a coaching staff we've had to teach them all the fundamentals and get back to basics. They're young, but they're really good athletes."

2013 schedule

Aug. 30 at Franklin-Stockton 7 p.m.
Sept. 6 GRANADA 7 p.m.
Sept. 13 SANTA ROSA 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 20 at Dougherty Valley 7 p.m.
Sept. 27 NORTHGATE 7 p.m.
Oct. 11 at Liberty* 7 p.m.
Oct. 18 DEER VALLEY* 7 p.m.
Oct. 25 at Heritage* 7 p.m.
Nov. 1 FREEDOM* 7 p.m.
Nov. 8 at Pittsburg* 7 p.m.

Home games in CAPS

*BVAL game

More football coverage

Look for more high school football preview stories in next week's Brentwood News, and online at www.contracostatimes.com/high-school-sports