SAN RAMON -- The 2012 season served as a major learning experience for the Dougherty Valley High football team and its new coach, Nick Tisa.
With just eight seniors, the Wildcats were thin on experience. They were still getting accustomed to the Wing-T offense that Tisa installed. Not many were used to playing under the Friday night lights or the speed of the varsity game. Tisa admitted that he also had some lessons to learn about being a better coach.
But the Wildcats, especially the seniors, are eager to put last fall's winless season in the rearview mirror and move forward.
"The seniors now want to be remembered as the class that changed this program around," Tisa said.
There's reason to believe better days are ahead for the Wildcats.
For one, with 15 starters returning, they might be the most experienced team in the Diablo Foothill Athletic League.
The roster size is also up significantly.
Tisa is carrying 43 players compared to 28 last year, and, unlike the previous season, won't have to draw on sophomores that would benefit from another year of development on junior varsity.
He returns his starting quarterback, Umar Farooq, and everyone is more comfortable with the Wing-T offense.
"It was tough, but kind of a blessing in disguise," Tisa said of last year's young team. "This year we were able to put in more stuff offensively and we're ahead of where we were last year because the guys have already played varsity."
Tisa plans to run the ball with several different players and is excited about the group that includes fullback Afolabi Adeoti, transfer Julian Williams and junior Michael Pangelinan.
The line returns Devin Spivey, an all-DFAL honorable mention pick, as well as Kieffer Longson, who started as a sophomore last season and is receiving looks from Division I colleges.
Linebacker Austin Schmidig-Wood is back to lead a defense that also features some big guys up front and experienced seniors in the secondary. Schmidig-Wood is a senior co-captain, along with Farooq.
In general, the senior leadership is strong and that has made a difference during offseason conditioning and weight lifting.
"The thing we're focusing on this year is accountability," Tisa said. "The guys now grasp what that is and are learning from their mistakes... It's easier with my seniors, they've really bought in."
Tisa, who was a defensive coordinator for three years under former Wildcats coach Bob Spain, thinks the league will be strong and balanced, as usual.
After last year's trying season, they're simply focusing on improvement.
"I understand that we're probably going to be picked to finish last (in the DFAL), but that's just the kind of motivation I need," Tisa said.
8/30 at Newark Mem. 7 p.m.
9/6 COLLEGE PARK 7 p.m.
9/13 vs. American# 7 p.m.
9/20 ANTIOCH 7 p.m.
10/4 at Dublin* 7 p.m.
10/11 ALHAMBRA* 7 p.m.
10/18 at Acalanes* 7 p.m.
10/25 MIRAMONTE* 7 p.m.
11/1 CAMPOLINDO* 7 p.m.
11/8 at Las Lomas* 7 p.m.
#at Tak Fudenna