When Justin Lowell took over as Northgate High's head football coach in 2008, the Broncos' "stadium" was an old grass field without lights, a track or much enthusiasm from the Friday afternoon crowd.
Nowadays, there's a much different feel at Broncos games. The facilities have been upgraded, and the community packs the home stands every Friday night, cheering on the unbeaten Broncos.
"Just the whole atmosphere with Northgate football has changed," said senior tight end/linebacker Jake Smith.
Northgate (6-0) is one of just a handful of East Bay teams, along with De La Salle, Campolindo and Deer Valley, to be undefeated through the first seven weeks of the regular season.
The Broncos' strong start includes a victory over Walnut Creek rival Las Lomas and a thrilling 45-42 win over San Marin-Novato and its Arizona State-bound quarterback. The Broncos led by 10 with two minutes to go against San Marin, lost that lead, then rallied with a late touchdown pass with 20 seconds to play.
That victory, along with last season's 9-3 record and North Coast Section Division II semifinal appearance, has provided a strong building block for the team.
"That almost foreshadowed what we had in store," quarterback Kyle Austin said of the San Marin win. "It was the difference between 1-1 and 2-0, and that is a big difference at the beginning. It was a huge eye-opener for what we had the potential to do."
Lowell, who is also a special-education teacher at Northgate, credits this year's strong play to a talented and cohesive senior class.
But the Broncos are no longer a flash in the pan. They've already qualified for the playoffs, meaning they'll play postseason games for the third time in four seasons after a 14-year drought from 1997-2009.
This week, Northgate plays an improving Concord team in a key Diablo Valley Athletic League game. Unlike the past several years, the Broncos will be the team with pressure to perform.
"I think they're a little underrated right now," Lowell said of Concord. "Last year we had an upset win over them. It was our homecoming; they were ranked higher. This year it's kind of tables turned."
Big TURNAROUND: Washington entered Mission Valley Athletic League play this season with an 0-3 nonleague record, allowing 103 points and scoring 57 during that span.
Three games later, the Huskies have righted themselves quite admirably. They hold a 3-0 MVAL record and have outscored their league opponents 134-14 entering Saturday's 1:30 p.m. game against visiting Moreau Catholic (4-2, 0-2 MVAL).
Washington's first three opponents included a pair of teams that are currently ranked in the top eight in the Bay Area News Group East Bay high school football poll: California (No. 3) and Campolindo (No. 7). The Huskies also lost a tight 29-23 contest on Sept. 21 to Windsor, which is currently 3-3.
But since that defeat, the Huskies have been clicking on offense and defense. In a 41-0 win over American on Oct. 4, Washington's defense forced three turnovers and limited the Eagles to 81 total yards; the Huskies had 273 yards, including 213 passing.
Last Saturday, Huskies quarterback Tylan Vinson passed for all his 237 yards in the first half, when Washington took a 35-6 lead on its way to a 48-14 victory over John F. Kennedy. The Huskies had 410 total yards and forced five Titans turnovers.
Support for a teammate: While bolting out to a 5-1 start, the Clayton Valley Charter football community has also been busy rallying around Jake King.
The sophomore, who plays on the offensive line for the varsity, lost his mother to breast cancer early in the season. His father passed away a few years ago.
Clayton Valley has put together several fundraisers to support the King family. Black T-shirts that say "Ugly Football" in pink lettering have been wildly popular. They've also sold lanyards, decals and football socks.
This week, Clayton Valley will be holding a balloon release during halftime of its home game against Ygnacio Valley.
King is used to playing guard for the Eagles, but was moved to fullback last week and scored the final touchdown of Clayton Valley's 71-14 win over College Park.
"He's been on cloud nine since," Clayton Valley coach Tim Murphy said.
Staff writer Phil Jensen contributed to this notebook. Follow Stephanie Hammon on Twitter at twitter.com/stephhammon.