OAKLEY -- It would be only natural to suggest that any success the Freedom High football team has this season will be due to the efforts of star running back Joe Mixon.
But as exciting Mixon -- one of the most highly recruited players in the country -- promises to be this year, the Falcons also feel good about their defense, their young quarterback and their team chemistry.
All of which will be vital if Freedom hopes to defend its Bay Valley Athletic League championship this season and make a deep run into the North Coast Section Division I playoffs. The Falcons open the season at home against Amador Valley on Aug. 30 at 7 p.m.
"We're a team. We are one," junior fullback/linebacker Steven Costello said. "That's what you need."
Of course, all eyes will be on Mixon once the season begins.
After a junior campaign in which he rushed for 1,443 yards and 21 touchdowns on 201 carries, Mixon established himself as the premier running back recruit in the country thanks to some dazzling performances at various summer camps. His size, 6-foot-1 and 210 pounds, didn't hurt, either.
On Aug. 26, Mixon narrowed his final list of college choices to five -- Cal, Oregon, Oklahoma, Florida and Wisconsin, crossing Texas A&M, Tennessee, Oregon State, Ohio State and Washington off the list.
Right now, though, his focus is on the first game of the season and leading the Falcons to another league title.
"Last year, it was just three main guys," Mixon said of himself, quarterback Dante Mayes, now at Nevada, and receiver Darrell Daniels, now at Washington. "This year, we'll have the whole team contributing."
Offensively, along with Mixon, the Falcons also return Johnell Green, Nick Garcia and Aaron Mullins at wide receiver, James Allen at tight end and Steven Costello at fullback.
Those players, along with sophomore quarterback Joe Sweeney and running back Isiah Johnson, will try to ignite an offense that averaged close to 40 points per game last season.
Freedom coach Kevin Hartwig liked what he saw from Sweeney in the summer and the first week of camp. Although the Falcons may simplify things on offense for the first few games of the season, Hartwig said Sweeney, a freshman on the junior varsity team last year, has picked things up quickly and adapted to the varsity level.
"He's a 4.0 student and he's a very football smart kid, too," Hartwig said. "We do it all, and we're throwing it at him."
The Falcons weren't afraid to trade touchdowns with opposing teams in 2012, allowing 121 points in their five nonleague games and later beating Pittsburg 49-48 in perhaps the most exciting contest of last season.
The Falcons' defense has seven players returning compared to just three for the offense. Leading the defense will be Patrick Choudja, who had five sacks last season, and Tyler Bergen on the defensive line, Costello at linebacker and Mullins at cornerback.
"I think our league's changing a little bit," Hartwig said. "Everyone's kind of spreading the ball a little bit. But you still have to stop the run and we play in a run-first league."
Aug. 30 AMADOR VALLEY 7 p.m.
Sept. 6 FOOTHILL 7 p.m.
Sept. 13 at Granite Bay 7 p.m.
Sept. 20 at San Leandro 7 p.m.
Sept. 27 CASTRO VALLEY 7 p.m.
Oct. 11 at Deer Valley* 7 p.m.
Oct. 18 at Heritage* 7 p.m.
Oct. 25 PITTSBURG* 7 p.m.
Nov. 1 at Antioch* 7 p.m.
Nov. 8 LIBERTY* 7 p.m.