WALNUT CREEK -- When the Las Lomas High football team opens its season Friday, a familiar presence will be absent from the sideline.
Doug Longero, who turned the Knights into a perennial contender in the Diablo Foothill Athletic League and won four North Coast Section championships in 14 seasons, stepped down as the program's head coach last December.
But his mark on the program lives on.
Mike Downing, the Knights' new head coach, learned a good chunk of what he knows about football from Longero. Downing played for Longero, graduating from Las Lomas in 1999, and immediately hooked on as an assistant coach at his alma mater after finishing college.
"I learned the game from him from a player's perspective but also from a coaching perspective," said Downing, who has coached at Las Lomas for the nine years, including the last three as the head freshman coach. "Stepping into those shoes is rather daunting."
Longero is still a teacher at Las Lomas, but is now spending his Friday nights calling the offense for the Diablo Valley College football team while he works on his master's degree, Downing said.
There will be fresh faces on the field, too.
Downing's first year on the job comes after Las Lomas graduated a massive senior class and lost a vast majority of its starters.
"We're just young," Downing said. "We need to get our guys some experience. When you graduate 15 (starters) it's going to be hard the next year. We spend a lot of time trying to build the team and making it about the team."
The Knights do have some key pieces returning, led by two-way starters Greyson Bromstad and Cole Gravitt. Bromstad is a fullback and linebacker while Gravitt plays wide receiver and defensive back.
Junior Ben Wood will step in as starting quarterback, taking over for his older brother, Adam. Wood, who started at defensive end last year, will still spend significant time on that side of the ball, despite his new offensive responsibilities.
Returner Zack Fulks will factor into the running game.
Max Nevis and Conner Nelson are returning starters on the offensive line, but the Knights are largely inexperienced up front. Newcomers Willie Amen, Aviv Elor, Greg Corbin and Noah Meyers are expected to help fill in up front.
While the Knights have a lot to prove on the field, Downing is pleased with his players' effort so far.
"Their work ethic is stupendous," Downing said. "They're tenacious in all they do."
Most of the varsity coaching staff has remained intact, but Downing did bring in a couple new pieces, including defensive coordinator Mike Nelson, who coached at San Ramon Valley for many years.
Most of Las Lomas' coaches are homegrown, though, like Downing.
"It speaks to Doug's legacy that most of the coaches here played for him," Downing said.
8/30 BISHOP O'DOWD 7 p.m.
9/6 vs. Miss. San Jose# 7 p.m.
9/13 at Foothill 7 p.m.
9/20 at Northgate 7 p.m.
9/27 at Alhambra* 7 p.m.
10/4 ACALANES* 7 p.m.
10/11 at Dublin* 7 p.m.
10/18 CAMPOLINDO* 7 p.m.
11/1 at Miramonte* 7 p.m.
11/8 DOUGH. VALLEY* 7 p.m.
#at Tak Fudenna Stadium