OAKLAND -- With only five returning starters total, this season could be viewed as a rebuilding year for the Bishop O'Dowd High football team.
But coach Hardy Nickerson doesn't exactly see it that way.
"We've got some players who are stepping up. We are not looking at it as rebuilding, we are just reloading a little bit," said Nickerson, starting his fourth season as coach of the Dragons.
The Dragons ended last season with four losses in its last five games, but three of those losses (all in the West Alameda County Conference-Foothill Division) were by four points or less.
"We were battling hard. Those games could have gone either way. We just came up on the short end," Nickerson said. "I think the guys who are returning that were on that team are taking the experience and from all indications have learned from (it), what it takes to win and what it takes to close out a victory."
The Dragons, who were 7-5 overall last season and 2-3 in WACC-Foothill play, do return a quarterback with starting varsity experience. Chris Hagmaier, a junior, started two games while Dominic Miroglio was injured last season.
"It helped him immensely," said Nickerson about Hagmaier's starting experience last season as a sophomore. "He got those reps, he understands what we want to do offensively ... he's a great leader."
Bryce Grandison, a junior, rushed for 111 yards against Arroyo last season. "When Bryce got his opportunities, he made the most of them," Nickerson said.
Fast senior Bakari Ziegler leads the receiving corps. Julian Soto is a returning starter at guard for the Dragons' offensive line.
Bishop O'Dowd's strength this season, however, may be its defensive line and linebackers.
Alex Holme, a 6-foot-4, 210-pound senior middle linebacker "is developing into quite a dominant football player," Nickerson said. "He's cut in the same mold as (former Pittsburgh Steelers Hall of Famer) Jack Lambert."
Soto, a 6-foot-1, 220-pound senior defensive end who led the Dragons in sacks last season, "is an anchor on both sides of the ball," Nickerson said. Senior outside linebacker Del Lyles paced Bishop O'Dowd in tackles last season and tied for the team lead in tackles for loss.
"We are a Tampa 2 defense. Lyles is our Derrick Brooks, and Alex Holme is our Hardy Nickerson," said Nickerson with a chuckle. "Julian Soto is our Warren Sapp."
The Dragons' defensive backfield is led by safeties Keaton McKoy and Jordan Ortiz-Pallen.
As far as figuring out how the conference race will turn out, Nickerson said that the team is focused on itself.
"Our main thing is concentrating on us and our kids and reaching our full potential as far as how we play," he said.