The Summerville Bears football team won only two games in 2013.
That win total was the squad's lowest since 2007 - head coach Ben Watson's second year in charge.
But with Summerville returning key impact players, including first-team 2013 All-Mother Lode League performers Bryce Farrell and Jake Fulkerson, the Bears are in better position to turn things around.
"I think we have the potential to compete every single week and do well," Watson said. "I think we have an opportunity to make playoffs - but having said that - it's going to take the very best that we have to offer. We're not going to be able to take plays off and just show up. It's going to be a very difficult goal to attain. I firmly believe it can be done, but it's going to take commitment, dedication and the willingness to prepare and work hard every week."
Farrell, a senior quarterback, is in year two in Watson's complex Summerville offense.
As a junior, the 6-foot-3 signal caller tossed 1,563 yards and 11 touchdowns, and his role is going to be expanded by Watson. The Bears have also installed some Pistol formation to its offensive attack.
"Offensively, we might have to throw the ball more than we ever have to be competitive," Watson said. "I know we throw the ball a lot anyway, but we may have to throw the ball more simply because of depth."
Outside of Farrell, the strength of the Summerville offense lies within its skilled position players.
Fulkerson, who was pulled up to varsity before the Bradshaw Christian game in 2013, will command his share of attention from opposing defenses.
In Fulkerson's varsity debut against Bradshaw, he rushed for 88 yards on 16 carries, caught two passes for 25 yards and scored a TD.
The 5-foot-11, 175-pounder registered a career-high 94 rushing yards and two TDs on five totes in a 49-3 win over Bret Harte. He also recovered a fumble that he returned 20 yards for another score.
As a receiver, he snagged 21 receptions for 256 yards and three TDs in his first year with the varsity squad.
Because of Fulkerson's versatility, Watson has him splitting time at slot receiver and in the backfield this season.
Fulkerson, the fastest player on the Bears' roster according to his teammates, averaged 9.6 yards per touch as a sophomore.
"He did do some really good things," Watson said. "He can catch, he can run."
Senior Humphrey Quirie, a second-team All-MLL selection last season, takes over for Brenden Brick, who accounted for more than 1,000 yards of total offense and 14 TDs, at running back.
Quirie, a 5-foot-5, 165-pound quick-footed runner with breakaway speed, darted for 252 yards and three scores in limited action last year.
Quirie, who added 10 pounds of muscle to his already compact frame, will be spelled by rising junior Nate Ulvevadet.
"I think Humphrey's doing a better job of catching the ball," Watson said. "So is Ulvevadet. Our running backs are versatile. They are not just running backs. They are not receivers. They can do both."
JT McCready, a second-team All-MLL performer as a sophomore, is penciled in at one outside receiver position, and senior Darren Warnock is expected start at the other after missing all of last season with an injury.
Juniors Kenny Warnock and Ryan Whalen should provide some depth as pass catchers.
Jordan Cashman, who was second on the team last year with 24 catches for 336 yards and two TDs, returns as the Bears' starting tight end, but will be pushed by an emerging 6-foot-3 Cole Brewster.
On the offensive line, seniors Ashtin Dalby and Tyler Stoy will anchor a young unit. Stoy was a second-team 2013 All-MLL selection at center, and Dalby has shown tremendous growth in the offseason, spurting to 6-foot-3 and 250 pounds. Dalby attended a Texas A&M camp earlier this year.
Competing for the other three positions are Jarrett Brunette, Chris Caldera, Kole Elkins, Sean Hyder and Tristan Hudson.
"We're a little deeper than we were last year," said offensive line coach Jeremy Hurtado. "We're young. We only have two seniors. We're learning on the fly, but we have had a lot of reps at practice."
Scoring wasn't the problem for Summerville during the Bears' campaign in 2013.
It was on the defensive side of the ball where Summerville had issues last season.
Summerville gave up 40 points or more in six of their eight losses, but coaches have stressed the importance of an attacking defense to players in the offseason.
"We focused on that over the summer time," said Bears linebackers coach Matt Soto of improving the team's defense. "We even had a coaches meeting about it. I think the aggressive summer workouts, and being able to scrimmage against Sonora, showed that we are being tough again and not letting easy passes be caught and things like that."
Returning to provide a hard-nosed and tough presence for the Bears 3-4 defensive scheme is Ulvevadet, a second-team 2013 All-MLL inside linebacker.
Ulvevadet, a stocky 5-foot-9, 185-pound sledgehammer led Summerville with 91 tackles in his first year on varsity. The junior will be paired with Quirie, who finished tied for third on the team with 63 stops in a reserved role.
"It's a huge positive," Soto said of starters Ulvevadet and Quirie. "We're a lot more confident. We saw it earlier this summer when we played Sonora. More leadership. More confidence coming out of the linebackers. It's a huge, huge difference."
Flanked on the outside are Fulkerson and Dalby. Fulkerson started a few games at defensive back last season, but has been converted to linebacker to take advantage of his speed and instincts.
Dalby received a lot of playing time in 2013 at the other outside linebacker position and should be able to make a smooth transition as a full-time starter.
"Our linebackers are pretty mobile," Watson said. "I think our defensive ends are pretty quick."
Stoy and Elkins have both locked down spots on the Bears' three-man defensive front with Hyder, Kenny Warnock and Austin Kroeker fighting for the final vacant position.
In the secondary, Cashman, McCready and Darren Warnock has solidified a position in the defensive backfield.
Cashman earned second-team All-MLL honors at safety in 2013, and McCready picked off a team-leading three interceptions.
Seniors Kyle Hanna and Izak Mahoney are competing with juniors Brewster and Whalen for the fourth spot.
"We struggled in the defensive backs last year, so from a philosophy standpoint, we need to be better against the pass this year than we were last," Watson said. "I think our defensive backs are going to be much improved and more experienced."
Summerville kicks off the 2014 season with back-to-back away games - Denair (Aug. 29) and Mariposa (Sept. 5) - before coming home to host two clashes at Sonora High's Dunlavy Field.
Because the Summerville football stadium is under construction until October, the Bears will play its first two home matches - Bradshaw Christian (Sept. 12) and Hughson (Sept. 20) - on the Wildcats' turf. The Hughson tilt will be on aSaturday.
Summerville opens grueling Mother Lode League play on the road when it faces Amador (Sept. 26) in Sutter Creek. The Buffaloes went 9-2 overall last season and finished second in the MLL with a 4-1 mark.
The Bears are tentatively scheduled to host Bret Harte (Oct. 3) at Thorsted Field, but if the renovations to the stadium are not completed by that week, they will host second-year head coach Jon Byrnes and the Bullfrogs in Sonora.
The highly anticipated Tuolumne County showdown between the Bears and Wildcats is set forOct. 10at Dunlavy Field.
Summerville closes out its regular season with two of its three games at home - Argonaut (Oct. 17) and Linden (Nov. 7). Homecoming is slated for the Linden contest.
The Bears travel to San Andreas for their final away game when they play defending MLL champ Calaveras (Oct. 24) at Frank Meyer Field.
Summerville has a bye on Halloween, the first in Watson's nine years.
All games have a7:30 p.m.kickoff.