WALNUT CREEK -- Goals and expectations for the Northgate High football program continue to grow under sixth-year coach Justin Lowell.

It wasn't too long ago that simply making the North Coast Section playoffs seemed like a lofty goal for a program mired in losing seasons.

But now, after reaching the postseason in two of the last three years, the Broncos are making a habit of winning. The goal isn't simply to just earn a spot in the playoffs anymore, they want to make a deeper run.

"We're at the point where the program is consistent and the mindset and expectations of the kids have changed," Lowell said. "That's the biggest thing -- it's expected (that they'll win) and that's their goal."

Last year was the program's best in more than 15 years. The Broncos went 9-3 and reached the second round of the NCS Division II playoffs.

Lowell doesn't see the team dropping off this season.

Senior running back Eric Haynes is coming off a productive season and will be relied upon even more this year with the graduation of Fisi Tavake and Jimmy Sharpe.

"We don't have quite the depth we had last year at running back, so he'll be our featured guy," Lowell said of Haynes, who's entering his third year on varsity.

Junior Matt Huang will also get carries out of the backfield.

The Broncos return about half their starters on each side of the ball, including two-way guy Jake Smith, a tight end and linebacker. Center Jeremy Lee returns to anchor the offensive line while safety Steven Cuneo is back after earning all-league honors as a junior.

Nick Mastrelli shifts to linebacker after playing mostly defensive back last year.

Kyle Austin takes over at quarterback, and Lowell has been particularly happy with the senior's leadership and smarts.

"We're going to rely on our senior class a lot," Lowell said. "I think the experience we had last year should help us be ready. With our schedule, we should have a chance to win each game and compete for the league title like we did last year."

The Diablo Valley Athletic League race could be a tight one with defending champion Clayton Valley Charter, Concord, College Park and the Broncos all in the mix.

But, after taking second in the DVAL last year, Northgate believes it can hang with the league's best. That's the mindset now, after all.

Schedule

8/30 vs. Hayward# 7 p.m.
9/6 SAN MARIN 7 p.m.
9/13 at Livermore 7 p.m.
9/20 LAS LOMAS 7 p.m.
9/27 at Antioch 7 p.m.
10/11 MT. DIABLO* 7 p.m.
10/18 at Concord* 7 p.m.
10/25 at Ygnacio Valley* 7 p.m.
11/1 COLLEGE PARK* 7 p.m.
11/8 CLAYTON VALLEY* 7 p.m.
*DVAL game