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Lineman Jax Carter, (13) center, practices at Clayton Valley Charter High School in Concord, Calif., on Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2014. (Susan Tripp Pollard/Bay Area News Group)

Clayton Valley Charter High hasn't lost a Diablo Valley Athletic League game since Tim Murphy took over the program two years ago. The Ugly Eagles remain the team to beat as the 2014 campaign gets underway, though another perfect league season won't be easy.

Concord returns 18 starters from a team that came a point shy of upsetting Clayton Valley a year ago.

Northgate has a new head coach in Ben Ballard, but he's been with the program for years so continuity is still there.

College Park is a little on the young side, but veteran coach Bill Kepler typically fields competitive teams.

Ygnacio Valley and Mt. Diablo are looking to take a step up after some challenging seasons.

Clayton Valley

COACH: Tim Murphy, third season

2013 RECORD: 11-2, 5-0 DVAL

TOP RETURNERS: FB/LB Jax Carter, Sr.; RB Miles Harrison, OL/DL Griffin Bentley, Sr.; LB Rich Peralta, Sr.; LB Justin Zapata, Sr.; LB Ryan Cooper, Sr.; TE/K Chandler Wakefield, Sr.; LB Elijah Breon, Sr.; DL Lucas Ostolaza, Sr.

TOP NEWCOMERS: QB Nate Keisel, Jr.; QB/LB Luis Ramos, Jr.; DL Brandon Estrada, Sr.; RB/CB Brandon Sovik, Sr.; OL/DL Shimon Rosenblatt, Sr.; OL/DL Harrison Boyle, Sr.; OL/DL Joe Levine, Sr.; DB Jake Peralta, Jr.

KEY LOSSES: QB Gabe Taylor, WR/DB Tanner Wraa, TE Dylan Jue, OL Justin Rogers, OL Brendan Crabbe, OL Max Connor, DL Yemi Fashola, WR/DB Xavier Crawford.


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OUTLOOK: The two-time defending DVAL champions are big in size and numbers again. They also had a little more fire in their bellies this offseason after failing to repeat as NCS Division II champions. "It was harder to fire these guys up last year because they won it the first year I was here and I think they expected it," Murphy said. There are about 70 kids on the varsity roster, which includes six transfers whose eligibility was still pending when this preview went to press. The biggest is DT Kahlil McKenzie (De La Salle), a five-star recruit committed to Tennessee. Carter, the league's Co-MVP a year ago, moves from the offensive line to fullback. Harrison is also back after rushing for over 2,000 yards and 34 TDs as a junior. Defensively, the line and linebackers are looking stout.

College Park

COACH: Bill Kepler, 26th season

2013 RECORD: 6-4-1, 3-2 DVAL

TOP RETURNEES: RB/DB Deniro Keck, Sr.; OL/DL Jordan Martinez, Sr.; TE/LB Gage Messier, Sr.; QB/LB Andrew Sabeti, Sr.; OL/DL Tyler Stephens, Sr.; RB/DB Alex Stephenson, Sr., OL/DL Erik Zamora, Sr.; RB/LB Quemers Kashifi, Sr., OL/DL Jonathan North, Jr.; RB/DB David Jones, Jr.

TOP NEWCOMERS: RB/DB Michael Trisby, Jr., QB/DB Waris Azizi, Jr., OL/LB Justin Aranzamendez, Jr.

KEY LOSSES: QB Dimitri Salido, RB Timmy Jackson, RB Ray Jackson, OL/DL Angel Moreno, OL/DL Chris Slininger, LB Dominic Buscaglia

OUTLOOK: After finishing in a three-way tie for second in the DVAL last season, the Falcons should again be a factor. Though they lost some key players at the skill positions, Kepler is optimistic. The team is young in several spots, but he thinks it'll play smarter this year. "We're just trying to get everybody on the same page right now," Kepler said. "If we stay heathy, we'll be OK." Breakout RB Ray Jackson transferred to Clayton Valley Charter, but Jones and Trisby are looking like strong options out of the backfield. They'll be running behind an experienced offensive line. The Falcons return about half their starters on each side of the ball.

Concord

COACH: Brian Hamilton, 11th season

2013 RECORD: 8-4, 3-2 DVAL

TOP RETURNEES: QB Mitchell Daniels, Sr.; RB/S Malik Blackburn, Sr.; WR/DB Mason Knight, Sr.; WR/LB Jed Gwynn, Sr.; OL/DL Robert Liu, Sr.; OL/DL David Valenzuela, Sr.; OL/DL Alex Vargas, Sr.; DL Jose Rivera, Jr.; OL Vaseem Shah, Jr.; DB Josh Wiens, Sr.; WR/LB Donald Hollars, Jr.

TOP NEWCOMERS: DL/TE Nolan Brekle, Sr.; RB/LB Harold Tidwell, Jr.; WR/DB Edwin Mundo, Jr.

KEY LOSSES: RB/LB Mark Rubio, OL/DL Deven Michael; DL Quinten Casey; LB Jesse Escobar; WR Ronnie Algood.

OUTLOOK: The Minutemen return 18 starters from a squad that reached the NCS Division II quarterfinals and pushed two-time DVAL champ Clayton Valley Charter to the brink in the regular season. The offense, in particular, has the chance to be electric with playmakers Daniels, Knight and Blackburn all returning. Daniels passed for over 3,000 yards and 41 TDs as a junior and is a three-year starter. Concord is also big and experienced up front. "I like that there is a sense of urgency and the guys want to compete," Hamilton said. "They remember that they lost their last game and put in a great offseason." The defense will need to take a step up, however, after giving up an average of over 26 points a game last year. Concord will also get a boost with Brekle returning to the sport after taking the last two years off to focus on baseball.

Mt. Diablo

COACH: Bryan Shaw, third season

2013 RECORD: 3-7, 1-4 DVAL

TOP RETURNEES: WR/CB Davail Jenkins, Sr.; OL Xavier Sheehan, Sr.; C Erik Rubio, Sr.

TOP NEWCOMERS: RB Asinte Moore, Jr.

KEY LOSSES: UTL Darneail Jenkins; QB Austin Hunt.

OUTLOOK: The Red Devils are battling low numbers again as fall practices begin -- they had just 32 players combined between JV and varsity -- but Shaw expected that number to grow when classes began. The team has quite a bit of experience on the offensive line with four starters returning, including three-year varsity player Rubio. Do-it-all Darneail Jenkins was lost to graduation, but his younger brother, Davail, is back and should play a key role on both sides of the ball. Shaw expects the defense to be more aggressive this year. "We have guys who can run and make plays," he said. With such a small roster, the Red Devils are focused on growing from week to week.

Northgate

COACH: Ben Ballard, first season

2013 RECORD: 9-3, 3-2 DVAL

TOP RETURNEES: OL/DL Mike Ihejeto, Sr.; OL/DL Floyd Armenta, Sr.; RB/DB Matt Huang, Sr.; FB/DL Edson Canales, Sr.; OL/DL Nick Stokes, Sr.; QB Nick Makrakis, Sr.

TOP NEWCOMERS: RB/S Mason Mitchell, Jr.; LB Ian Morford, Jr.; OL/DL David Siale, Jr.; LB Jackson Smith, So.; OL/DL Chris Leveque, Jr.; OL/DL James Willis, Jr.

KEY LOSSES: RB/DB Eric Hayes; QB Kyle Austin; TE/LB Jake Smith; WR/DB Nick Mastrelli.

OUTLOOK: The Broncos have a new head coach in Ballard, but he's no stranger to the school or program. Ballard was the defensive coordinator under former coach Justin Lowell (now at Valley Christian) and has been the head track coach at Northgate before. "We have the same philosophies, same ideas, there will just be a little tweak here and there," Ballard said. But after winning 19 games over the last two seasons, this one could be a little more challenging. The Broncos return eight starters total (five on offense, three on defense), but have some big holes to fill at key positions. The offensive line, led by Ihejeto, Armenta and Stokes, is bigger than usual and will lead the way. Makrakis takes over at quarterback after spending most of his time at wide receiver and defensive back a year ago. He does have experience under center at the lower levels.

Ygnacio Valley

COACH: Phillip Puentes, third season

2013 RECORD: 1-9, 0-5 DVAL

TOP RETURNEES: OL/DL Diego Lopez, Sr.; OL/DL Jesus Sanchez, Sr.; FB/LB Will Rivas, Sr.; QB/CB Dari Cooper, Jr.; RB/CB Jesse Guzman, Jr.; RB/LB Zac Ferris, Jr.

TOP NEWCOMERS: TE/CB C.J. Garcia, So.; QB/CB Andrew Leonard, Jr.; OL/LB Christian Ramirez, Jr.

KEY LOSSES: RB/LB Eric Nava, RB/CB Jared Rayl, RT/DE Christian Maravilla.

OUTLOOK: For the first time, the Warriors will be playing under permanent lights on Friday nights, and the atmosphere may bring some excitement to a team that went winless on the field a year ago. There's reason to believe that this year will be an improvement. Numbers are up and varsity experience is there with 18 starters returning, including a solid senior class. "The last two years we were basically fielding a JV team," Puentes said. "Now we can actually say we have experience. That's a key thing. We bring back mostly everyone. The kids are feeling a little more confident for the first time." The Warriors' preseason schedule, which includes games with Elsie Allen, Skyline, Mission-San Francisco, De Anza and Dublin, should provide opportunity to get the season going on the right track.

Predicted finish
1. Clayton Valley Charter
2. Concord
3. College Park
4. Northgate
5. Ygnacio Valley
6. Mt. Diablo

CLAYTON VALLEY CHARTER
8/30 vs. Carson-Nevada# 8 p.m.
9/5 TRACY 7 p.m.
9/13 at Cardinal Newman 7 p.m.
9/19 INDEPENDENCE 7 p.m.
9/26 at Napa 7:30 p.m.
10/10 MT. DIABLO* 7 p.m.
10/17 NORTHGATE* 7 p.m.
10/24 at Concord* 7 p.m.
10/31 at Ygnacio Valley* 7 p.m.
11/7 COLLEGE PARK* 7 p.m.
* DVAL game
#at Del Oro-Loomis

COLLEGE PARK
8/29 ALHAMBRA 7 p.m.
9/5 LAS LOMAS 7 p.m.
9/12 PINOLE VALLEY 7 p.m.
9/19 at Heritage 7 p.m.
10/3 at Deer Valley 7 p.m.
10/10 at Concord* 7 p.m.
10/17 at Ygnacio Valley* 7 p.m.
10/24 NORTHGATE* 7 p.m.
10/31 MT. DIABLO* 3:30 p.m.
11/7 at Clayton Valley* 7 p.m.
* DVAL game

CONCORD
8/29 BENICIA 7 p.m.
9/5 at Will C. Wood 7:30 p.m.
9/12 at San Lorenzo 4:30 p.m.
9/19 at Oakland 7 p.m.
9/26 DEER VALLEY 7 p.m.
10/10 COLLEGE PARK* 7 p.m.
10/17 at Mt. Diablo* 7 p.m.
10/24 CLAYTON VALLEY* 7 p.m.
10/31 at Northgate* 7 p.m.
11/7 YGNACIO VALLEY* 7 p.m.
* DVAL game

MT. DIABLO
8/30 at Mt. Eden 1:45 p.m.
9/5 BEREAN CHRISTIAN 7 p.m.
9/12 at Hayward 7 p.m.
9/19 DE ANZA 7 p.m.
10/3 FREMONT-OAKLAND 7 p.m.
10/10 at Clayton Valley* 7 p.m.
10/17 CONCORD* 7 p.m.
10/24 YGNACIO VALLEY* 7 p.m.
10/31 at College Park* 3:30 p.m.
11/7 NORTHGATE* 7 p.m.
* DVAL game

NORTHGATE
8/29 HAYWARD 7 p.m.
9/6 at Redwood 2 p.m.
9/12 LIVERMORE 7 p.m.
9/19 at Las Lomas 7 p.m.
9/26 ANTIOCH 7:30 p.m.
10/10 YGNACIO VALLEY* 7 p.m.
10/17 at Clayton Valley* 7 p.m.
10/24 at College Park* 7 p.m.
10/31 CONCORD* 7 p.m.
11/7 at Mt. Diablo* 7 p.m.
* DVAL game

YGNACIO VALLEY
9/5 MISSION-S.F. 7 p.m.
9/12 at Elsie Allen 7 p.m.
9/19 at Dublin 7 p.m.
9/26 DE ANZA 7 p.m.
10/3 at Skyline 7 p.m.
10/10 at Northgate* 7 p.m.
10/17 COLLEGE PARK* 7 p.m.
10/24 at Mt. Diablo* 7 p.m.
10/31 CLAYTON VALLEY* 3:30 p.m.
11/7 at Concord* 7 p.m.
* DVAL game