Gerald Barnes watched his Westside Patriots drop six football games last year, most of them late in contests.
"I thought we had several opportunities to win some games and we competed well against our competition," the third-year coach said. "Most of our games were pretty close. We just couldn't quite get over the hump."
A relatively young squad will be faced with similar hurdles this season, but the Patriots return one of the area's top passers in Matt LeZotte. The 6-foot-2 senior passed for nearly 1,000 yards last season.
Two of his top targets, seniors Matt Nixon and Rob Lee, return at tight end. But only guard Chris Wilson returns on the offensive line.
Barnes said he plans to use Mark Rogers, a starter at defensive end last year, on the offensive line. James Murray, who saw some action on the offensive front last season, will start at center.
LeZotte's passing statistics could be better than last year's with some fresh faces. Wesley Snell and sophomore Brandon Marshall both have excellent hands and good speed, while LeZotte's little brother, freshman Tony LeZotte, could become a big play-maker.
One position that hasn't been filled yet is that of 1,000-yard rusher Sam McElreath.
The defensive side isn't as bright with only three starters returning. Rogers and Keith Hogans are back at the defensive ends, along with linebacker Jesse Suarez.
"We're having to replace a lot of spots on the defensive line," Barnes said. "I think we have some guys who are capable of filling those positions, it's just a matter of time."
Despite a youthful squad, Barnes said the team is very optimistic, but the success of the Patriots this season could depend on how fast several underclassmen mature.
"We have a lot of young guys that are going to help us out," Barnes said. "A lot of it depends on how long it takes those younger guys to adjust (to the varsity level). This league is a little bit quicker than most of them played in before."
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