The Tri-County Athletic League's Rock Division is coming off a remarkable 2013 season that saw three of its teams win North Coast Section titles.
Does any of that change the division's hierarchy? Possibly.
El Cerrito could very well win a third straight division crown, but its path probably won't be quite as smooth as it has been the last two years.
El Cerrito, which graduated a remarkable senior class that led the team to a 6-0 record in league play and the NCS Division III, still has plenty of talent on the roster. The Gauchos just lack experience.
Perhaps the biggest threat to El Cerrito's division dominance is St. Mary's, which 18 starters, including 10 on defense. Three of the Panthers' four losses last year came to section champions Miramonte, El Cerrito and Salesian.
Salesian should also be competitive in the division, as its defense figures to be well ahead of where it was at this time last year. The key for small school teams like Salesian, Valley Christian and St. Patrick-St. Vincent will be staying healthy, since those teams do not have the depth that larger schools enjoy.
Pinole Valley figures to be improved from last season, but perhaps not enough to challenge for the league crown. Hercules should also be able to hold its own against most teams in the division.
COACH: Kenny Kahn, seventh season
2013 RECORD: 12-3, 6-0
TOP RETURNEES: OL/DL Aaron Banks, So.; OL/DT Arnim Barrett, Sr.; C/LS Alex Meurer, Sr. WR/TE/LB Darius Powell, Jr.; CB/SB Rodney Washington, Sr.
TOP NEWCOMERS: QB/CB Keith Thomas, Sr.
KEY LOSSES: WR/CB Jalen Harvey; LB/FB D.J. Calhoun; CB/WR/RB Adarius Pickett; QB Keilan Benjamin; WR Marquis Pippins; RB/FS Keith Benjamin; OL/DL Johnny Tolliver; DB Juwain Harrison; RB James Houston.
OUTLOOK: Gone is the once-in-a-generation type senior class the Gauchos had last season. But El Cerrito could still be the team to beat, and it certainly isn't taking it easy early on as Sutter, Amador Valley and Livermore are all on the nonleague schedule. Kahn is hoping those games prepare El Cerrito for a run at another Rock Division crown. The Gauchos' strength should be its offensive and defensive lines, as many skill position players lack experience at the varsity level. El Cerrito, though, should improve as the year goes on and will be a factor in the Rock Division title race.
COACH: Gerald Montgomery, seventh season
2013 RECORD: 9-2, 5-0 (Stone Division)
TOP RETURNEES: OL/DL Matthew Clarine, Sr.; DB/RB Dmaurier McKenzie, Sr.; OL Gerardo Gonzalez, Jr
KEY LOSSES: WR/SS Antwuin Prowes, OL Jordan Griffin , RB/MLB Joshua Jackson
OUTLOOK: The Titans spent the past two seasons dominating the Stone Division, and will get tested now that they're in the Rock Division. Gone is Prowes, the Stone Division MVP last season, but Hercules does have a weapon in McKenzie and experience on the offensive and defensive lines with Clarine and Gonzalez. Hercules should be competitive against most teams in the Rock Division.
COACH: Luke Bodwin, third season
2013 RECORD: 2-8, 2-4
TOP RETURNEES: LB/WR Chris Salmeron, Sr.; DB Eric Chandler, Sr.; QB Troyante McConico, Jr.; WR/P Jake Dent, Sr.
TOP NEWCOMER: WR Jeremy Vidal, Sr.
KEY LOSS: LB Terrell Kennedy
OUTLOOK: After back-to-back below .500 seasons, the Spartans appear ready to turn the corner. Pinole Valley were run-oriented last season, but should be more balanced with the athletic Salmeron and Dent lining up on the outside. McConico started nine games at quarterback as a sophomore last season and is that much more comfortable in the offense this season. Pinole Valley's defense also figures to be improved, but the Spartans will be challenged right away with the season opener against Miramonte.
COACH: Chad Nightingale, 19th season
2013 RECORD: 8-5, 2-4
TOP RETURNEES: FB/DE Kyree Harvey, Sr.; WR/DB Prentiss Reid, Sr.; TB/DB Kameron Carr, Sr.; SS Jordan Cole, Sr.; OL/DL Elijah Willis, Sr.; OL/DL Mark Cary, Sr.; LB Vegas Shackleford, Sr.; QB Dom Parella, Sr.; LB John Schilt, Sr.; TB Charles Hillary, Sr.; RB/DE Gaulega Toailoa, Jr.
TOP NEWCOMERS: WR DeWayne Dixon, So.; WR Alex Hutchinson, So.; QB Jaylen Tregle, So.; DL/FB Donovan Hedrick, Sr.; DB/WR Stephan Auccar, Sr.
KEY LOSSES: RB/DB Austin Ambion, RB De'Angelo Hernandez, OL/DL Vincent Roland Jr.
OUTLOOK: Salesian had a young team at the start of the 2013 season, but the group came together as the year went on and the Pride captured the NCS Division V title. Salesian has more experience to begin this campaign, with 10 returning starters, but there remains a few holes to fill, particularly on offense with the graduation of Hernandez and Ambion. Defense appears to be the Pride's strength, and should keep the team in the hunt for the Rock Division title until the end.
COACH: Keith Minor, sixth season
2013 RECORD: 10-4, 3-3
TOP RETURNEES: DE Dan Schrider, Sr.; FS Ron Smith, Sr.; OL/DL Peter Sekona, Sr.
TOP NEWCOMERS: RB/DB Tamarik Pierce, Jr.; OL/DL Javon Kitchen, So.
KEY LOSSES: RB Lorenzo Logwood, WR Liam Godfrey, QB Ian Bonde, DB/WR David Hernandez
OUTLOOK: The Panthers do have to replace their leading rusher, their starting quarterback and their top receiver from last season, but most other pieces are in place for a run at the Rock Division title, and possibly another NCS Division IV crown. Schrider is a force on the line and anchors a defensive unit that has 10 returning starters. The offense had eight returning starters, with Sekona leading the line. If St. Mary's gets settled at the skill positions, then a division championship isn't out of the question.
St. Patrick-St. Vincent
COACH: Lane Hawkins, first season
2013 RECORD: 5-6, 3-3
TOP RETURNEES: OG/LB Chris Stinchcomb, Sr.; RB/FS Quentin Bozman, Sr.; RB/LB Deo Boongaling, Sr.; WR/CB/K Marquis Perrilliat, Sr.
TOP NEWCOMERS: QB Michael Pappas, So.; QB Anthony Olmes, So.; WR Tyler Gyant, Jr.
KEY LOSSES: QB Anthony Williams, WR Jalen Canty, RB Justin Marion, DL/OL Dominic Chiabotti, TE/DB Ivan Hudson
OUTLOOK: The Bruins are a mix of youth and experience. The roster features 12 seniors, many of whom saw time when St. Patrick-St. Vincent made the playoffs a year ago, and seven sophomores who will be pressed into duty by Hawkins, the team's fourth head coach in as many years. With a 22-man roster, many of the Bruins will be pressed into double duty. Hawkins said he wouldn't have the starting quarterback, either Pappas or Olmes, play defense, but everyone else is fair game.
COACH: Justin Lowell, first season
2013 RECORD: 8-4, 5-1
TOP RETURNEES: DB/WR Jairus Woodson, Jr.; RB/DB Griffin Smith, Sr.;WR/FB Spencer Stilwell, Sr.
TOP NEWCOMERS: OL/LB Matt Calcagno, Jr.; OL/DL Donato Catrina, Jr.; QB Matt Suski, Sr.
KEY LOSSES: QB/S Theman Taylor, OL/DL Logan McHone, OT/DT Sean Flynn, RB/LB Vince Volpatti, TE/LB Demaurier Blackwell
OUTLOOK: The Vikings graduated 18 seniors from last year's team that took second in the Rock Division and advanced to the NCS Division V title game. But that's doesn't mean Valley Christian and Lowell are lowering expectations. The Vikings have historically been a run-first team, and while Lowell likes a balanced attack, the run game will still be their strength with Smith shouldering much of the load behind a growing offensive line. Woodson remains one of the team's top playmakers, and should help Suski and Valley Christian's passing game.
1. St. Mary's
2. El Cerrito
4. Pinole Valley
6. Valley Christian
7. St. Patrick-St. Vincent
8/30 SUTTER 7:30 p.m.
9/5 at Livermore 7 p.m.
9/19 at Amador Valley 7 p.m.
9/27 VALLEY CHR.* 7 p.m.
10/4 at St. Mary's* 1:30 p.m.
10/18 HERCULES* 7 p.m.
10/25 PINOLE VALLEY* 7 p.m.
11/1 at Salesian* 7 p.m.
11/7 at SPSV* 7 p.m.
8/29 at Tokay-Lodi 7:15 p.m.
9/6 at Tamalpais 2 p.m.
9/12 RODRIGUEZ 7 p.m.
9/19 KENNEDY-FREMONT 7 p.m.
9/27 at St. Mary's* 1:30 p.m.
10/3 at St. Patrick-St. Vincent* 7 p.m.
10/10 PINOLE VALLEY* 7 p.m.
10/18 at El Cerrito* 7 p.m.
10/24 SALESIAN* 7 p.m.
10/31 VALLEY CHRISTIAN* 7 p.m.
* TCAL-Rock game
8/29 at Miramonte 7:15 p.m.
9/5 AMERICAN CANYON 2 p.m.
9/12 at College Park 7 p.m.
9/19 HAYWARD 7 p.m.
9/26 SALESIAN* 1:30 p.m.
10/3 at Valley Christian* 7 p.m.
10/10 at Hercules* 7 p.m.
10/25 at El Cerrito* 7 p.m.
10/31 ST. PATRICK-ST. VINCENT* 7 p.m.
11/7 ST. MARY'S* 7 p.m.
* TCAL-Rock game
9/5 at Middletown 7:30 p.m.
9/12 at McClymonds 7 p.m.
9/20 INDERKUM 1 p.m.
9/26 at Pinole Valley* 7 p.m.
10/4 BEREAN CHRISTIAN 1:30 p.m.
10/11 ST.PATRICK/ST. VINCENT* 1:30 p.m.
10/18 ST. MARY'S* 1:30 p.m.
10/24 at Hercules* 7 p.m.
11/1 EL CERRITO* 1:30 p.m.
11/7 at Valley Christian* 7:30 p.m.
* TCAL-Rock game
8/30 MOREAU CATH. 1:30 p.m.
9/6 MIRAMONTE 1:30 p.m.
9/12 at Bethel-Vallejo 7:30 p.m.
9/20 BISHOP O'DOWD 1:30 p.m.
9/27 HERCULES* 1:30 p.m.
10/4 EL CERRITO* 1:30 p.m.
10/11 VALLEY CHRIST.* 1:30 p.m.
10/18 at SALESIAN* 1:30 p.m.
10/24 at St. Patrick-St. Vincent* 7 p.m.
11/7 at Pinole Valley* 7 p.m.
* TCAL-Rock game
ST. PATRICK-ST. VINCENT
8/30 at San Marin 2 p.m.
9/5 at Vallejo 7:30 p.m.
9/12 EMERY 7 p.m.
9/26 SWETT 7 p.m.
10/3 HERCULES* 7 p.m.
10/11 at Salesian* 1:30 p.m.
10/17 at Valley Christian* 7 p.m.
10/24 St. Mary's* 7 p.m.
10/31 at Pinole Valley* 7 p.m.
11/7 EL CERRITO* 7 p.m.
* TCAL-Rock game
8/29 STELLAR PREP 7 p.m.
9/5 at Manteca 7 p.m.
9/12 FERNDALE 7 p.m.
9/19 CASTLEMONT 7 p.m.
9/27 at El Cerrito* 7 p.m.
10/3 PINOLE VALLEY* 7 p.m.
10/11 at St. Mary's* 1:30 p.m.
10/17 ST. PATRICK-ST. VINCENT* 7 p.m.
10/31 at Hercules* 7 p.m.
11/7 SALESIAN* 7:30 p.m.
* TCAL-Rock game
TCAL-Stone Division Preview
Please visit www.contracostatimes.com/high-school-sports for the TCAL Stone Division football preview, which will also run in this newspaper next week.