CONCORD -- The record-setting running back is gone, but the Clayton Valley Charter High football team sees no reason why this year can't be even better than its historic 2012 campaign.
Last season, under new coach Tim Murphy, the Eagles won the first North Coast Section Division II football title in school history, then advanced to the inaugual regional championships.
But they don't plan to stop there.
The Eagles are shooting just as high this season, even without the services of 3,000-yard rusher and East Bay Offensive Player of the Year Joe Protheroe, who's now at Cal Poly.
"We're just working hard everyday to try to take that next step and take it to state this year," said quarterback Gabe Taylor. "We're just hungry to get one more step up."
An experienced offensive line, plus more familiarity with Murphy's system and innovative offense are some of the biggest reasons the Eagles look like the early favorite to repeat as Diablo Valley Athletic League champions.
"We're more used to his system and not taking as much of a learning period as we did last year," senior captain Justin Rogers said. "It puts a lot more pressure on us this year, though, because of what we did last year but we've got a confident looking team this year. We're going to be a lot smarter knowing the system better than last year, too."
"That's the main thing," he said. "It's just so much easier to coach it, it's so much easier for them to make adjustments because they're not large adjustments. The weight room has been totally different and I think the overall atmosphere of how we coach is not a shock to them."
Plus, the Eagles' big guys know what they're doing.
Rogers, Max Connor, Brenden Crabbe and tight end Dylan Jue all return as part of a line that paved the way for Clayton Valley to pile up 5,445 rushing yards last season, a mark just shy of a Northern California record.
Junior Miles Harrison, who rushed for about 2,000 yards on the junior varsity team a year ago, is expected to get the bulk of the carries. The Eagles are deep in strong runners with wing back Tanner Wraa also expected to factor into the running game.
The Eagles will have to adjust to a new quarterback this year, though, with Mike Protheroe not returning for his senior season. Taylor, a senior, takes over and Murphy calls him "a great surprise."
"He's really mobile, he's got a good arm and he's fast, too," Rogers said of Taylor.
The defense was hit harder by graduation, especially at linebacker, which will be filled by an entirely new set of starters.
The new guys won't get much of a break-in period, though.
The Eagles' first game of the season will be its toughest. They open against De La Salle, the defending Open Division state champions who haven't lost to a Northern California team since 1991.
Game times is 7:30 p.m. at De La Salle.
"(NCS) Division I champs versus Division II champs for an opening season game is the way it should be," Murphy said. "They are loaded this year and there's no better team to start out with than one as good them."
8/30 at De La Salle 7:30 p.m.
9/13 CASTLEMONT 7 p.m.
9/20 at Independence-S.J. 7 p.m.
9/27 SKYLINE 7 p.m.
10/5 at Hayward 1:30 p.m.
10/11 at College Park* 7 p.m.
10/18 YGNACIO VALLEY* 7 p.m.
10/25 at Mt. Diablo* 7 p.m.
11/1 CONCORD* 7 p.m.
11/8 at Northgate* 7 p.m.
More Football coverage
Look for more high school football preview stories in next week's Concord Transcript and online at www.contracostatimes.com/high-school-sports