BERKELEY -- New Berkeley High football coach James Barnes has returned home.
Barnes, who coached at Arroyo for the past three seasons, was born and raised in Berkeley and graduated from Berkeley High in 1997. He played on the Yellowjackets varsity team for three years.
He is inheriting a very talented Yellowjackets team, particularly on the defensive side of the ball.
Its linebacker unit is among the most impressive in the East Bay. It is led by a pair of stars in Michael Lazarus and Marlon Walker.
Lazarus, a 6-foot-2, 215-pound senior who is a three-star inside linebacker according to rivals.com, has offers from Arizona State, Cal and Washington State, among other universities.
"He's very big, he's physical, ... He plays with a motor," Barnes said. "We will have him outside the box more this year to make plays."
Walker, a very physical player, was the West Alameda County Conference-Foothill Division Defensive Player of the Year last season for the Yellowjackets, who won the initial WACC-Foothill title last season.
Nose tackle Zairre Robinson anchors the defensive line, which also has returning starters in Omari White, Jordan Carroll and Max Agress. Berkeley also has a talented defensive backfield led by Jakari Simpson and Yamvo Teague.
Berkeley's defensive coordinator also has extensive head coaching experience. Curtis McCauley was the head coach at McClymonds for the past four years, including three straight Oakland Athletic League titles.
Offensively, the Yellowjackets will take advantage of their athleticism with a spread offense
"We will be wide open offensively and take advantage of the skill players we have," Barnes said.
The Yellowjackets are led by returning first-team all-division quarterback Lamont Smith.
"He's a leader. He works hard. He has a strong arm," said Barnes about the 6-foot-1, 200-pounder. "He has the experience in running an offense."
At running back, seniors John Adams and Hiram Hairston will get a number of carries, as will Walker.
The Yellowjackets have a number of talented receivers in Travis Dennis, Simpson and Teague. White and Lazarus will see time at tight end.
Berkeley's offensive line is anchored by left tackle Carroll (6-3, 240).
Berkeley has won league or conference titles in each of the past two seasons. With its depth and talent this year, it would not be a surprise if the streak continues.
Barnes said that the team is focusing on competing with Division I teams. The Yellowjackets' nonconference schedule this season includes games against James Logan, Pittsburg and Monte Vista, which all made the North Coast Section Division I playoffs last year. Berkeley was undefeated in conference play but did not win a non-conference game last season in finishing with a 5-5 record
"We feel competing with those teams can boost us for league and prepare us for the playoffs," Barnes said.