By Charlie Peters
After a tough year, most football teams pledge to “rebuild.” But without finishing their 2009 season, rebuilding isn’t on Mission High School’s mind. Instead, first-year head coach Joe Albano plans to build his own program by instituting new schemes and keeping the most athletic players on the field at all times.
The Bears lost their first three games by a combined 186-26 last year before poor player turnout and injuries forced Mission to forfeit the fourth and cancel the remainder of its season. While concerns about filling the roster persist, first-year coach Joe Albano is optimistic about Mission’s 2010 chances.
“I know if we do field a team, we’ve got some talented players,” Albano said. “I’d like to make the playoffs.”
Junior standout Jaleel Stancil echoes his coach’s sentiments and is ready to make postseason plans for the Bears.
“We’re going to make it to the Turkey [Bowl],” the receiver/linebacker said.
As a Division III school, Mission knows that roster numbers will typically be low. But when the school has managed to line up eleven Bears on both sides of the ball, Mission has proved it can play with the other teams in AAA.
In 2008, its last full season, Mission finished 4-2 in league play and 7-3 overall. And just last season, Albano directed his junior varsity team to an undefeated league record (6-0-1) and the City championship with just 25 players, proving he can win with small numbers. This season, eight of those players will make the jump to varsity, including junior starting quarterback Davon Hardgraves.
In addition to promoting players who know how to win on the gridiron, Albano and the Bears will lean heavily on two players with title experience on the hardwood. Mission won the 2009-2010 CIF-San Francisco Section basketball championship, thanks to contributions of Travis Price-Moku and Stancil.
This fall, Price-Moku and Stancil will transition to football and Albano is relying on both to make an impact. With low numbers, Albano will utilize Price-Moku and Stancil on both sides of the football and has changed the offensive and defensive schemes to take advantage of their talents.
Unlike most AAA teams that deploy a run-heavy offense, the Bears will institute a spread offense in 2010.
“It’s very uncommon, but that’s why we’re running it,” Albano said. “We’re trying to mix it up from the rest of the teams in the AAA.”
Albano believes that using Price and Stancil at wide receiver will force defenses to adjust to the passing game. Price will be a force in the red zone with his size (6 feet 2 inches tall, 220 pounds), while the 5’6” Stancil will man the slot.
“We’re just going to give [Stancil] the ball and an open field,” Albano said. “Hopefully, he can make some moves and score some touchdowns.”
Getting the ball to the wide receivers will be Hardgraves, who will be directing the spread offense for the first time. The spread demands accuracy and quickness from the quarterback, so the junior made a concerted effort to develop the necessary skills by attending offseason quarterback camps.
“We’re confident he can handle the spread,” Albano said. “He’s been consistent at practice, and he’s picking it up quickly.”
The offense isn’t the only thing being remodeled under Albano’s watch. After years of running a 4-4-3 defense, Albano is thinning out the defensive line to beef up the linebacking corps.
By using a 3-5-3 format, Mission’s athletic linebackers like Price and Stancil will have more freedom to attack the ball-carrier. With just two cornerbacks in the defensive backfield, Hardgraves will be relied upon to provide support from sideline to sideline from the free safety postition.
With Price-Moku, Stancil, Hardgraves and nearly everyone else playing both sides of the ball this season, fatigue could submarine Mission’s season. Thus, Albano has stressed the importance of summer offseason conditioning for a group of players that know they’ll be receiving a lot of playing time.
“My kids never come off the field,” Albano said. “I think they like that.”
What the Bears may not like is their league affiliation with Division I squads like Washington, Lowell and 2009 AAA champ Galileo. Those schools feature higher enrollments, and thus, more players. While Bears may envy their AAA opponents’ depth, Price-Moku is confident that Mission can play with anyone in the league.
“I know kids on the other schools, and I’m not worried about it,” Price-Moku said. “We always have a chance against anyone.”
With talented two-way players and an enthusiastic first-year coach creating new schemes, it appears Mission may have found something to build on.
2010 Schedule (AAA league games in bold)
Fri. 9/3 – @ Tomales, 8 p.m.
Fri. 9/10 – vs. Fort Bragg @ Kezar Stadium, 7 p.m.
Sat. 9/18 – @ Drake (San Anselmo), 2 p.m.
Thur. 9/30 – @ Lowell, 3 p.m.
Fri. 10/8 – @ Burton, 3 p.m.
Thur. 10/14 – vs. Washington @ Kezar Stadium, 2:30 p.m.
Fri. 10/22 – vs. Lincoln @ Kezar Stadium, 2:30 p.m.
Fri. 10/29 – @ Galileo, 3 p.m.
Sat. 11/6 – vs. Balboa @ School of the Arts, 2 p.m.
Fri. 11/12 – vs. Marshall @ School of the Arts, 2 p.m.