SAN RAMON -- The muscular California High football team looks great getting off the bus and in short-yardage situations.
The Grizzlies' broad shoulders come in handy on long drives.
"We're a run-first and throw-second kind of a team, so a lot of what we do in the offseason and in the summer is geared towards doing that," Grizzlies coach Eric Billeci said. "I've seen some pretty decent progress from our running backs and our offensive line."
The Grizzlies, who finished fourth in the East Bay Athletic League last season, fell to Freedom 29-28 in the first round of the North Coast Section Division I playoffs.
In 2010, the Grizzlies had a memorable run to the section championship game before falling to De La Salle, the only team to beat them all season.
Don't be surprised if senior tailback Karris Johnson runs to daylight this season. With speed and power, Johnson is being recruited by Army, Cal Poly and a few others.
"I'm just working hard on the field, as hard as I can," said Johnson, who is 6-foot-0, 200 pounds. He attended camps at Cal Poly, Colorado and Washington over the summer.
Billeci gives Johnson high marks.
"I think he's gotten better and better each season," Billeci said. "We pulled him up for the playoffs in 2010, and we got a good look at him each week. He's someone who should now be polished and ready to be the guy in the Cal High backfield."
Of the team's fitness factor, Johnson, who runs
Juniors Matt Lorenz and Cameron Owen have been vying for the quarterback spot, both looking good.
"They both had outstanding summers," said Shane Haley, a standout tight end/strong safety. "They've made it tough on coach (to decide) because they're both doing extremely well. It's always a good situation if you have two guys doing well."
Moreover, Haley (6-3, 225) said the big offensive line will give either signal-caller enough time to throw.
Haley, who is being recruited by San Jose State and Sacramento State, thinks the team is more unified than last year's squad, which finished 7-4 overall and 4-3 in the EBAL.
"We've been in the weight room since the end of the (2011) season, working hard," said Haley, a three-year varsity player. "It's definitely one of the strongest teams we've had in awhile.
"I think the double-days and the summer camp have gone really well. We definitely have some good leadership out here and some young guys that are willing to follow."
Team leader Brett Higbee (6-2, 275), a two-way lineman along with Kevin Leathley (6-1, 210) and Mario Diaz (6-2, 255) agrees that the offensive line, which has been working hard on the blocking sled, is probably the strength the team, but not the only strength.
These Grizzlies carry a blue-collar approach.
"We've been spending countless hours in the weight room and out on the field," Higbee said. "We're all just like sweating together. It's a team effort. There's no one guy who is too selfish or too off by himself.
"We've really been trying to focus on playing as a team, and that will help us."
Follow Matt Schwab on Twitter @schwab_matt.com
Aug. 24 WASHINGTON 7 p.m.
Aug. 31 PITTSBURG 7 p.m.
Sept. 7 at Castro Valley 7 p.m.
Sept. 21 AMADOR VALLEY* 7 p.m.
Sept. 28 at Foothill* 7 p.m.
Oct. 5 MONTE VISTA* 7 p.m.
Oct. 12 at S. Ramon Valley* 7 p.m.
Oct. 19 LIVERMORE* 7 p.m.
Oct. 26 at Granada* 7 p.m.
Nov. 2 DE LA SALLE 7 p.m.
* EBAL games
Home games in CAPS