When Adhir Ravipati took over as head coach of the Menlo-Atherton football team, he immediately set in motion his philosophy of putting together the toughest non-league schedule possible.
The early returns were not encouraging. M-A lost to Marin Catholic, Oakdale and Riordan by a combined margin of 129-19 to begin the 2015 season.
It looked like a long season in the making. But the Bears responded in a positive manner and went 4-1 in Peninsula Athletic League Bay Division play to share the division championship with Sacred Heart Prep and Burlingame.
Now in year two M-A kicks off its season against none other than Bellarmine on Friday at 7 p.m., at San Jose City College.
Marin Catholic, Sacred Heart Cathedral and Los Gatos follow before PAL Bay play begins Sept. 30 against Terra Nova.
"We're always going to play the best because that's what we want to be,'' Ravipati said.
Optimism is high. The team is looking to build on what happened over the second half of last season.
"Rise as one,'' cornerback/wide receiver Marquise Reid said. "We have a lot of talented players, a lot of starters coming back. We want to come together as a team and play as a family. We want to build a dynasty for the program in the years to come.''
Running back tandem Jordan Mims and Stavro Papadakis return, both bigger, stronger and more experienced. Mims, who has offers from Idaho, Eastern Washington and San Jose State, among others, rushed for 1,133 yards last season. The 210-pound Papadakis, who also saw time at middle linebacker and quarterback, rushed for 558 yards.
Miles Conrad and Aajon Johnson are competing for the quarterback job. Reid and Tate Tussing highlight a deep group of wide receivers and defensive backs, a group that includes Mekhi Blackmon, Aaron Johnson and Spencer Corona.
Linebacker Christian Wiseman (6-4, 230) has attracted Division I interest. All-league lineman Epeli Mataele (5-10, 301) returns. Ravipati is high on sophomore defensive lineman Noa Ngalu (6-1, 250).
"He has a chance to be a big-time college prospect,'' Ravipati said. "He is an extremely athletic player who bench pressed 350 as a freshman.''
DE Dimitri Sakalia (6-4, 210) and LB John-Paul Gray are another couple of players expected to contribute defensively.
"A big part of last year was uncertainty,'' Tussing said. "The whole team had to buy into the system. This year we have stability. We know what to expect. We've set our team goals. The seniors call it the covenant. We put it on the board and all signed it. We've come together as a unit, as a team, not as individuals.''