The 2018 Mountain Empire High School football team turned in its finest season since it advanced to the San Diego Section Division V semifinal playoffs in 2013.
The Red Hawks finished 8-4 last year, winning the Manzanita League championship with an undefeated 3-0 record, and advanced as far as the Division V quarterfinals.
The team graduated 15 seniors off that highly productive 2018 squad.
“Last year those guys who were seniors we brought that group up as freshmen,” head coach Bernard Vann said. “Every year we got better. It culminated last year.”
Vann said it shouldn’t be a completely rebuild in 2019.
“We got a couple guys back,” he said. “The new guys we have contributed last year. I think we will have a good season.”
Key players this season include senior cornerback-slot receiver Nick Rose, junior outside linebacker-receiver Marcus Smith and senior free safety-running back Jericho Brennan.
Add to that list juniors Dakota Daniels and Khaliel Whitehead.
Whitehead ran the team from the quarterback position during offseason passing tournaments, which provided Vann with an opportunity to look at talent and judge competition at various roster spots.
Of note, the Red Hawks finished 2-1-1 earlier this summer at an event comprised strictly of Division V opponents, which bodes well as an indicator for this year’s playoffs.
“Everyone at the tournament was pretty competitive,” Vann said.
Mountain Empire will benefit from the home field advantage in its opening four games of the season.
The Red Hawks kick off the 2019 pigskin campaign with a non-league home game against the Santana Sultans on Aug. 23. Mountain Empire hosts Castle Park in another non-league game on Aug. 30.
Home games follow Sept. 6 against Army-Navy Academy and Sept. 13 against Mission Bay, both again non-league.
The Red Hawks hit the road for a pair of non-league games at Coronado on Sept. 20 and at Hilltop on Oct. 4 before hosting O’Farrell Charter on Oct. 11.
Mountain Empire kicks off league play with an Oct. 18 contest at Holtville, then hosts Calipatria on Oct. 25 before closing league play with a Nov. 1 match-up at Vincent Memorial.
All games kick off at 7 p.m.