Hanai Muhammad

Press file photo

Junior running back Hanai Muhammad, seen here last season, is expected to see plenty of action in the Patriots backfield this season.

After a 1-9 season last year, Brentwood’s Heritage High Patriots are taking the field this season with a renewed sense of optimism.

The young 2018 team is now stronger, more mature and better prepared for the challenging schedule that lies ahead.

“We are reaping the benefits of an incoming senior class that is pretty talented, and they definitely don’t want to repeat what happened last year,” said head coach Don Sanders, who noted the team should feature a strong run game, an efficient passing attack and continued growth defensively.

The upstart Patriots return four of six 2018 all-league players, including second-team wide receiver Kendrick Shaw, honorable-mention offensive lineman Adam Smith, second-team linebacker Greg Filardo and honorable-mention quarterback Trevor Moorman — although Moorman is slated to play wide receiver, with returning junior Asher Haynes taking over the quarterback position, Sanders said.

The returning one-two punch of junior Hanai Muhammad and senior Tony Zalec figure to hold down the running back position, while returning seniors Kevin Moore and Smith along with returning junior Jacob Fucci, will anchor the offensive line, joined by new juniors Vicente Hughes and Ajay Lozada.

Returning senior James Williams and 2018 all-leaguer Shaw will be Haynes’ primary wide receiver targets, Sanders said.

“The kids are working hard and we feel we are making progress,” Sanders said. “We are further along this year than we were at this time last year.”

Returning juniors Gerrick Dacpano, Alex Peterson and Bennett Ricker will join Smith on the defensive line, while the linebacking core is expected to feature Filardo, Fucci and senior newcomer Alec Brannen.

Shaw, Williams, Muhammad, Zalec and sophomore newcomer Jayden Ennis will see time in the secondary, Sanders said.

“The team’s confidence is much higher this season than it was last season,” Sanders said.

If the Patriots are to improve, they’ll have to face down a challenging schedule that includes reigning North Coast Section (NCS) Division I champion San Ramon Valley, NCS Division I semifinalists California, 2018 NCS Division I quarterfinalists Amador Valley, and James Logan, who also reached the NCS Division I playoffs last season.

Then comes grueling Bay Valley Athletic League play against the likes of reigning state champion Liberty, NCS Division I runner-up Freedom and perennial powerhouse Pittsburg, who qualified for the elite NCS Open Division playoffs a year ago.

“It’s very loaded,” Sanders said of the team’s schedule. “It’s a tough grind. We are playing top Division I teams, but if you want to be the best you have to play the best. We know what is ahead of us, and we are gearing up to meet that challenge.”