Heritage’s football team had some bright moments in 2015, but ultimately finished the season in disappointing fashion.

After going 3-2 in preseason play, the Patriots dropped their first four games of league play. They did finish on a positive note with a win over Deer Valley in the finale, but it was not enough for a playoff spot.

With a deep group of playmakers, head coach Don Sanders has seen reason for optimism throughout the summer practices.  

“I think we’ll be competitive,” Sanders said. “We’re seasoned skill positions and young at offensive and defensive line. This year, we’ve focused on some things that we need to execute better and get more consistent at.”

Returning players: With senior Nick Zell, Heritage is experienced at the ever-important quarterback position. In his junior year, Zell accounted for more than 2,000 yards, passing for nearly 1,700 and rushing for better than 400.

Zell will have a slew of familiar veteran weapons at his disposal. 

Senior Tyrese Mack accounted for over 1,000 yards from scrimmage last season. He was the team’s most dangerous players in rushing and receiving, leading the team in both categories. Mack also found the end zone 16 times, scoring 10 touchdowns in the air and six on the ground. Mack’s twin, Tyriq, also returns, after missing most of 2015. 

Senior middle linebacker Marcus Bustos will be an anchor on the defensive side of the ball.

As a junior, Bustos recorded nine quarterback sacks, leading the BVAL. 

Junior lineman Jett Stanley and senior linebacker Ryan Sanchez will complement Bustos, playing vital roles on the Patriots defense. 

New players: The development of an inexperienced line will be important to Heritage’s success in 2016. In order for Zell and the playmakers to be truly effective, they will need to be given time and space. 

Despite missing a good deal of time to injury, junior running back Aiden Quinn was one of the Patriots top contributors in 2015. His return will buoy Heritage’s hopes. 

Juniors Josh Wishom and Jordan Stanley both saw limited time with the varsity team in 2015. Both players figure to have bigger roles with Heritage this season. 

Receiver Hassan Williams was one of the top players on the junior varsity team last season. He will be expected to contribute for the varsity team in 2016. 

Outlook: If nothing else, Heritage will be fun to watch. With a veteran quarterback and numerous experienced big playmakers, the Patriots will score plenty of points.

The wins and losses will likely come down to the plays that Heritage makes on defense. A sturdy defense is always important, but with so many veteran playmakers from the Patriots league rivals returning, a strong defense will be even more important in BVAL play. 

“This is always a competitive league; I really think that it’s one of the best leagues in the North Coast Section,” Sanders said. “In the preseason, you make some adjustments. You try to follow those adjustments as you get through the league.”

While there’s certainly room to improve, Heritage’s success at the lower levels last year provides a reason to be optimistic. 

In 2015, the Patriots freshman and varsity teams both outperformed the varsity squad. Both of the younger teams went 5-5. Given the rivalry with Liberty, the Brentwood Bowl is always big for Heritage. For a few reasons, its meaning is even more significant in 2016.

First off, it’s a chance to avenge what was a tough loss last year. In 2015, the Lions beat the Patriots 8-7 on a late touchdown and two-point conversion. Secondly, it’s a chance to set the tone for BVAL play.

Given the way last season’s league schedule went, a strong league opener will be important to signify that 2016 will be different than 2015.