Mission High School’s football team won its first championship in half a century last year, but the graduation of 10 senior players in the off season raises questions about whether the team can repeat.
Last spring the Bears lost 10 veteran players, including starting quarterback and safety Davon Hargraves, running back and linebacker Algeron Malbarough and offensive tackle and defensive end Darius Grays.
Malbarough attends City College of San Francisco and is gray-shirting for the football team. Hargraves was supposed to play for College of San Mateo but did not go to school, while Grays plays defensive line for Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Ore.
After an impressive first preseason game, the future looked bright for Mission, but in their second game against Menlo High, the Bears learned that some work needs to be done. The team suffered from missed coverage, turnovers and bad camaraderie. Sadly, the Bears fell to a 1-2 record and some team members were suspended.
This week, all 32 players on the roster are expected to suit up against last season’s semifinal playoff opponent, Lowell High School. The Bears won that battle 42-24 and are looking for a repeat as they start the journey to what they hope will be back-to-back championships.
In an interview last week, Coach Joe Albano; quarterback and safety Antione Porter, the team captain; and defensive tackle, offensive guard and co-captain Mane Fale met with Mission Local to discuss what the team is doing to rebuild after its championship season.
Since so many veterans have left, new players and prospects will have to step up. Unfortunately, the coach said, so far Porter has been the only shining football star on the field.
“He is just a great athlete and knows the offense well,” Albano said.
Fale has been showing leadership throughout practice and preseason. He hopes to win athlete of the year, an honor that is determined through a vote by coaches in the league. Last year he was named lineman of the year.
“It will be tough for a lineman to get player of the year because that normally goes to a running back or quarterback,” Albano said.
As for any other prospects on the team, Albano said he is “not sure yet. We’ll see on Thursday.”
The Bears have been practicing on their home turf for two hours a day, five days a week.
During one recent practice a few days before their opening league game, the team worked out on a sunny evening, drilling on a field crowded with other Mission athletes. Junior varsity and varsity soccer players occupied half the practice field and one quarter was taken up by JV football, leaving only a quarter of the facility open for the Bears to get in the necessary drills and reps.
Offensive and defensive players hit the sleds and tackling dummies, working on ball handling and footwork. Halfway through the session, the boys’ soccer teams cut their practice, providing more space for the football teams to run offensive plays. While second-string players watched on the sidelines, the Bears ran the same play repeatedly to make sure all key blocks were covered.
The Bears don’t seem worried about defending their title, adopting a game-by-game philosophy.
“We are going to have a target on our back just because we are defending champs, “ Porter said. “People are going to be gunning for us, so we can’t take any games lightly. We got to come (to) every game ready to play.”
During practice this week the Bears are repairing their team strategy with technique on blocking assignments and running offensive plays over and over again to make sure they can execute.
“We need to improve on everything, but most importantly just everyone learning their plays and just learning how to tackle and cover better,” Albano said.
Porter added, “We’ve got to bring a lot of new players to the position. At first it was kind of hard but now they are picking it up.”
The Bears are taking their bye week off seriously by focusing on stance, footwork and ball-handling during practice.
“Hopefully during this bye week we can figure some things out,” Albano said. “Last game some kids played well and opened my eyes a little bit. Hopefully about the time the league gets going we can be in good shape.”
The Bears start their official league season at 3 p.m. today at Lowell High School.