With no games played and absolutely nothing proven on the field, the 2012 season looks like it should be a good one for the De La Salle High football team.
Of course, that's all conjecture at this point.
The Spartans certainly return enough proven talent to be projected in their usual spot as California's best high school football team. But, as longtime coach Bob Ladouceur is quick to point out, De La Salle still has to perform when called upon.
"On paper, they look good as far as returners and returning starters and guys that will be on the field with some game experience," Ladouceur said. "But you never know how that plays out until you get them out and start really playing in earnest, practicing and getting in games. I think we have the potential to be really good."
As usual, there are big holes to fill due to graduation. Quarterback Bart Houston, a constant in leading the Spartans to the last three California Interscholastic Federation Open Division bowl titles, is gone. Linebacker Michael Barton, playmaking receiver/defensive backs Anthony Williams and Josh Jenkins have moved on. And, there will be five new starters on the offensive line.
But if any team can plug the gaps, it is De La Salle. Chris Williams will replace Houston at quarterback, and Ladouceur said that Williams biggest responsibility will be managing the game and preventing turnovers.
If Williams can make a few plays along the way, he'll have a stable
Tiapepe Vitale returns as the lead back, fresh off a junior season that saw him run wild in the playoffs. Dasmond Tautalatasi, who played running back for the first part of the season in 2011 before getting injured, also returns to carry the ball. And Michael Hutchings, the heralded linebacker headed to USC, will also see time in the backfield.
"Right now, those three have experience. They're looking good right now in camp as we start," Ladouceur said. "We've got a couple young kids up off the JV team too that might show a little promise too. If we stay healthy, I'm happy with our running back spot right now."
Adding to the mix could be David Riopelle, who will miss the first part of the season after undergoing surgery to fix a leg injury sustained while playing rugby.
Defensively, the Spartans will try to be equal to or better than last year's unit that allowed a whopping 7.8 points per game.
That will start at the linebacker position, where Hutchings and D.J. Moffitt return as starters. Victor Egu will see time at linebacker as well as on the defensive line, and defensive end Austin Hooper also returns as one of California's best at his position.
"Our defense, on paper, has the potential to be the best defense we've ever had," Ladouceur said. "That's going to be determined by what kind of heart they have and how they rally to the football. We'll see how that plays out. If our defense is not well this year, there's something seriously wrong."
The Spartans have already been given the East Bay Athletic League's automatic bid to the North Coast Section playoffs. In exchange, games against the Spartans will not count against those teams in the standings, meaning De La Salle will play 10 nonleague games this season.