The Laney College football team has a new field, a strong defense and a distinct NFL flavor to the program.
Laney, in fact, had five former players as free agents in NFL camps this summer: wideouts Chuck Jacobs with the 49ers and Taulib Ikharo with Carolina, running backs C.J. Anderson with Denver and Frank Summers with Buffalo, and defensive back Sterling Moore with Dallas.
"That's pretty remarkable coming from a community college," Laney coach John Beam said of his NFL campers. "None of these guys are really high-profile guys coming out of high school, maybe Frank Summers was probably the closest. We're excited. This little school in the East Bay with all these East Bay-connection kids."
Moore started in the 2012 Super Bowl with the New England Patriots. Anderson had a great run at Laney and a so-so career at Cal, but made the Broncos' 53-man roster, as did Summers in Buffalo. Jacobs made the 49ers' practice squad after scoring a touchdown in the preseason.
The Eagles will open the new season at NorCal Conference power College of San Mateo on Saturday (1 p.m.). The Bulldogs are ranked No. 11 in the preseason state poll.
Laney planned to be at home for its opener, but the field isn't quite finished, so they'll have to travel. The unveiling is now set for Oct. 11 against Siskiyous.
The new turf field, a part of an upgraded athletics facility, was moved a little toward the west to create more room, Beam said.
The defense will be the "heart of our team," Beam said.
"Our defense is going to be really good," Beam said. "We've got a lot of returning players on defense that kind of cut their teeth last year as we fought through some games. They worked really hard."
Middle linebacker Chris Lee and lineman Joe Fotu, both out of San Leandro High, are standouts. Middle linebacker Dennis Nelson of Pittsburg is another key player. They also boast running backs Tyler McDonald of Heritage and Valentino Miles, who ran for 1,600 yards in 2011 at Sacred Heart Cathedral.
COMETS' HIGH STANDARDS: Contra Costa enjoyed a season of landmarks last year under coach Alonzo Carter. The Comets earned the program's first Bay Valley Conference football title, a bowl victory, and sent 11 to Division I programs. And it looks as if there's more to come.
Now, the challenge is to measure up to the program's new standard, after going from last place to first in three years under Carter. Contra Costa, which tied for 25th in the state rankings, will host Foothill-Los Altos Hills at 3 p.m.
"We did some things as a program that hadn't been done," Carter said. "We've had 22 guys the last two years that have been D-1. We're real proud of that."
Desmond Harrison, at 6-foot-8 and 310 pounds, was an All-American offensive lineman last season and is now at Texas. Comets defensive back Dominique Harrison of Tracy is an Oregon commit. Defensive end Takkarist McKinley had signed with Cal out of Kennedy-Richmond but did not qualify academically and is now free to commit to any Division I school.
Guided by quarterback Malik Watson of Pittsburg High, the Comets also feature all-purpose back Davonte Sapp-Lynch, the younger brother of Seattle Seahawks star Marshawn Lynch. Fullback Keir Abrams of Berkeley High bolsters the run game. Phadrae White, who led the state in kickoff returns as a freshman in 2011, returns after sitting out last season with a broken foot.
Sophomore Antoine Pickett Jr. of De La Salle is another standout at defensive back. Newcomer Alem Amores of Oakland Tech is looking good on the offensive line.
Other standouts are Pinole Valley grad Deonte Reynolds, who is 6-5, 345 pounds, and Deer Valley alum Flenoid McCleary, who is 6-3, 320.
Contact Matt Schwab at email@example.com, or follow him on Twitter @schwab_matt.