LAFAYETTE -- Some major changes to its offense and defense helped the Acalanes High football team complete last season with seven victories -- its best win total in years.
The Dons finished in a three-way tie for third place in the Diablo Foothill Athletic League standings and reached the North Coast Section Division III playoffs before losing a heartbreaker to Bishop O'Dowd in the first round.
Their four losses came by a combined total of 14 points.
"We left it all out on the field, we just fell a little short," coach Mike Ivankovich said. "We want to build on that, we want to take one more step forward but at the same time these aren't the same guys. These guys have to make their own statement. You build on it, but it's also a fresh start."
Can Acalanes continue to make forward progress? That's the hope, but like every team, the Dons have some holes to fill, especially on the defensive line.
Ivankovich said the 3-5-3 defense he installed last season was the right move for the program. It resulted in the Dons giving up an average of just 16 points per game.
Now they just need to find guys to replace defensive ends Gabe Newman and Buster Souza. Ivankovich called the graduated Newman one of the best defensive ends he's ever coached while Souza, a two-year starter, decided to focus on basketball instead of returning for his senior season.
But an athletic group of linebackers that includes returners John Lauth, Tommy Kresnak and Grant Henderson as well as a big secondary leaves reason to believe that the defense will once again be solid.
"The defense worked great," Ivankovich said. "On offense, we really just pushed the evolution of spreading it out and having a more dynamic offense."
Robbie Stern, last year's starting quarterback, returns, but he won't be playing under center. Instead, Stern shifts to play wide receiver and safety while junior Casey Harrington takes over as the Dons' starting quarterback.
Harrington went 9-1 as the junior varsity starter a year ago and Ivankovich is excited about his new dual-threat QB.
"He throws a great ball, he reads defenses really well and he's fast," Ivankovich said of Harrington. "He can really run. He's really shifty and deceptive."
Harrington will throw to a group of receivers that Ivankovich says has improved dramatically.
Though the Dons will be without productive running backs Deshawn Johnson and Aaron Edwards, Peter Mitchell returns to the backfield.
"He's super hungry, he wants more," Ivankovich said of Mitchell. "He's so physical and so explosive."
Other key returners include wide receiver/defensive back Andrew Bosshart, lineman Alexander Harper, center Drew Rule and tight end/defensive lineman Ben Kim.
8/30 HERCULES 7 p.m.
9/6 at Castro Valley 7 p.m.
9/13 IRVINGTON 7 p.m.
9/20 TENNYSON 7 p.m.
9/27 CAMPOLINDO* 7 p.m.
10/4 at Las Lomas* 7 p.m.
10/11 at Miramonte* 7 p.m.
10/18 DOUGHERTY VALLEY* 7 p.m.
10/25 at Dublin* 7 p.m.
11/1 ALHAMBRA 7 p.m.