After his team experienced a 1-9 season last year, San Leandro High football coach Brad Bowers' message to his team this year was clear.
"I think that early on, I told the kids that last year is done. This is a whole new year," said Bowers, who has coached the Pirates for 11 seasons. "As we approach things this year, we are not looking at last year. We are looking at this year and how we are going to build a championship team."
After a 1-4 start in nonleague games, the Pirates are 3-0 in West Alameda County Conference-Foothill Division games and have a chance to clinch at least a co-division title when they host Encinal (7-1, 3-0 WACC-Foothill) at Burrell Field on Friday at 7 p.m.
The 1-4 start could have been a setback for the Pirates, but it was the last loss in that stretch (37-34 to Deer Valley) that gave the team confidence, quarterback Stephen Johnson said.
"We knew if we could compete with them, we could compete with anybody," said Johnson about the Wolverines, who are 8-0 and ranked No. 4 in the Bay Area News Group East Bay poll. The Pirates' tough nonleague schedule also included losses to James Logan, Bellarmine-San Jose and Freedom.
In WACC-Foothill play, the Pirates' wing-T offense has been in high gear, as the team averages 45 points a game. In fact, San Leandro has averaged 35.2 points in its past six games.
San Leandro also has plenty of coaching experience. Besides Bowers, Pirates defensive coordinator Casey Moreno was formerly the head coach at Dublin and Hayward, and linebackers coach Bill Bishop also used to be the head coach at Hayward.
Encinal can also clinch at least a co-division title with a win Friday.
"They don't have a ton of guys, but they are tough. They don't get down on themselves, they just keep coming after you," said Bowers about Encinal. "I'm expecting a really, really good game."
Big week for Ross, Pirates: Pittsburg's Harris Ross had little time to bask in the national honor bestowed upon him on Monday.
The Oregon State-bound running back was named U.S. Army All-American High School Player of the Week after rushing for 272 yards and three touchdowns while breaking three school records (career rushing yards, career touchdowns, single season rushing yards) in a 34-13 win over Freedom.
But the Pirates are now focused on a first-place showdown with Deer Valley on Friday. Both squads are 3-0 in Bay Valley Athletic League play.
An explosive offense, led by dynamic quarterback Nsimba Webster, gives Deer Valley a shot at an undefeated regular season, a feat the Wolverines also accomplished in 2009 when they won their last BVAL title.
The winner of Friday's game could very well end up with the No. 2 seed in the North Coast Section Division I playoffs.
League races heat up: With two weeks left in the regular season, several teams can claim at least a share of their league's championship with wins this weekend. Several defending champions are in line to repeat.
Campolindo (8-0, 4-0) can clinch a share of a third consecutive Diablo Foothill Athletic League title by beating Dougherty Valley on Friday. Clayton Valley Charter (7-1, 3-0), which earned the Diablo Valley Athletic League title on its way to the NCS Division II crown a year ago, needs to beat rival Concord (6-2, 2-1) in the ClayCord cup for at least a share of another league title.
El Cerrito (6-2, 4-0) has a handle on the TCAL-Rock Division for a second straight year and needs just one victory to cement another title. Hercules (7-1) is tied with Kennedy-Richmond (3-5) at 3-0 in the TCAL's Stone Division and the title could come down to the teams' head-to-head matchup in the final regular-season weekend.
Washington (4-4) controls its fate in the Mission Valley Athletic League. The Huskies are 4-0 in league and can wrap up a share of the title with a win over defending champion Newark Memorial on Saturday.
California (7-1, 5-0) owns a share of the East Bay Athletic League, but the Grizzlies can make it an outright title -- the first in school history -- by beating last-place Livermore on Friday.
Staff writer Stephanie Hammon contributed to this notebook.