With a returning quarterback and coaching staff, a veteran offensive line and a defense not short on experience, it would stand to reason that the upcoming 2014 season would be one of stability and consistency for the Flintridge Prep football team.
Yet, that isn't the case.
The Rebels are distancing themselves from a somewhat deflating 2013 campaign in which the team could not follow up a postseason appearance in 2012 and instead finished 2-8 overall and 1-3 within the Prep League.
"It's not difficult to say last season was a disappointment," Rebels Coach Antonio Harrison said. "We didn't execute the way we were supposed to, we weren't tough, we just didn't do well. That was as disappointing as the record."
While Flintridge Prep certainly had its struggles last year, this year's bunch is starting anew without the services of running back Stefan Smith, a current walk-on at USC.
Smith, an All-Area first-teamer, tallied 1,334 rushing yards and 242 receiving yards, while totaling 17 touchdowns. Besides solid stats, though, Smith, despite missing significant time injured, was the Rebels' workhorse.
"I think last year we just depended on Stefan too much and put too much on his back and obviously we can't do that this year," Rebels senior tailback Derek Okuno said. "The seniors coming back put a lot of effort in the weight room. We know that this year's team won't have the star power like last year with Stefan, but at least we know we'll have to depend on each other rather than just on one person."
One valuable returner is starting quarterback Andrew Tsangeos, a junior, who will lead an attack that's shifted away from last year's power ground game to the read option.
"I sort of threw Andrew to the wolves last year as a starter and he had his growing pains," Harrison said. "This year, though, he's different. He's in command of this team and the guys respect and listen to him. He has a better understanding of the game and is going to be doing a lot for the team."
If quarterbacking wasn't enough, Tsangeos was just named the team's starting punter, while he's also expected to see some time on defense.
While the Rebels lack a true replacement for the all-everything Smith, Harrison is hoping the foursome of tailbacks Elliot Witter and Okuno and fullbacks Chris Zaro and Michael Pearson can help fill the void.
"I actually think we're in a really good spot, even with the loss of Stefan," Zaro said. "We have a lot of guys coming back with great football instincts and they're working hard. I've noticed that the footwork is better this year than last and I really think we're going to surprise people, especially those who aren't expecting much."
The wide receiver roster spot, once more of a blocking position, is expected to be more explosive due to the offensive changes. The receiving positions will be filled by Riley Jones, Payton Faulkner, Robbie Leslie and Aldrige Kim.
Of course, the success of the Rebels will rise and fall with an offensive line in which all five players saw action last season, led by left guard Eric Kang.
"On offense, we have to hold the line, hold back the opposing defense and allow our offense to make plays," Kang said. "Everybody knows their job and what they have to do. If we want to be successful, we just have to do our job."
Kang will be flanked by center Arthur Chang, left tackle Alex Gunning, right guard Warren Hosseinion and right tackle Cameron Wen. Senior Jackson Codiga is also expected to see extensive time.
On the opposite side of the ball, Harrison is switching up his defense from a 5-3 to a 4-4 stack, which calls for dependence on strong linebacking.
Ahead of the linebacking corps, Harrison will relay on the solid inside play of tackles Hosseinion and Chang along with ends Wen and Codiga and pass-rushing specialist Tsangeos.
As for the linebackers, Zaro and Kang will man the middle, while Witter and Faulkner are slated to be the two outside backers.
Perhaps the only area that isn't set is the secondary.
Harrison has a rotation of Alex Hernandez and Okuno at the corners and Kim and Jones at safety, although those players may very well shuffle jobs.
"I've been on them every day this summer and I'm teaching all four both the safety and corner position," Harrison said. "They may need to switch or adjust, so I want to make sure everyone knows what to do."
Jones will kick off for the Rebels, while junior Jonah Sacks will take over the field goal and extra-point duties.
As for Flintridge Prep's opponents, the Prep League underwent significant changes as Chadwick dropped 11-man football and Webb was replaced by 1,900-member public school Firebaugh of Lynwood.
That leaves the league as a four-team race between seven-time champ Rio Hondo Prep, Pasadena Poly, Flintridge Prep and Firebaugh. Also, the Prep League made a big jump from playing within the Northwest Division (Division XIII) to the Northwest Division (Division X).
As usual, player participation is also a concern for a Rebels squad expecting to dress 22 players.
Those numbers, though, don't bother Harrison as much as a lack of effort.
"We're going to work harder this year than we ever had and a lot more than last year," Harrison said. "I think we can have a very good season and get back to the playoffs, but we're going to have to play as a team and work as a team, otherwise it's going to tough."