1 of 2

Buy Photo

Felix Adamo / The Californian

Driller Marcus Bruce takes off on a second quarter touchdown run against Centennial.

2 of 2

Buy Photo

Felix Adamo / The Californian

Marcus Bruce takes a handoff from quarterback Asauni Rufus and heads for an opening.

The Bakersfield High coaching staff and players mentally put the 2013 CIF State Bowl championship behind them on Jan. 1 to gear up for this fall.

However, friends, family and fans haven't. The reminders are everywhere.

So even while they look forward to the Aug. 29 season-opening juggernaut game against Westlake Village-Oaks Christian at Griffith Field, the Drillers still are enjoying the fruits of their labor.

"It's always good to enjoy and remember, of course," BHS senior Marcus Bruce said. "We aren't going to absolutely forget the feeling and forget the moment."

Luckily for coach Paul Golla and staff, he has returning starters in place who have bought into the notion that last season is in the past and this team is not a state champion in August.

"We've been anticipating and working hard for (the season opener)," senior nose tackle Nigel Brooks said. "I can't wait to go back and take advantage of the opportunities we have. Most people don't get second chances like this.

"We picked up a lot of things that are necessary to be great. And the main thing was working together and have team camaraderie. That's what's going to roll over to this year. We all know what the expectations should be."

BHS also has stacked the early season schedule with out-of-area powerhouse programs. Oaks Christian, Fresno-Edison, Los Angeles-Crenshaw and Los Angeles-Salesian -- the Drillers' first four opponents -- have combined for a 221-83 record over the past six seasons and have won 10 or more games 13 different times.

"You don't want to just go out there and beat somebody up," Golla said. "We want to be the best team we can be in Week 10, right before the playoffs. To do that, we've got to test ourselves with great competition."

Golla also understands there is no replacing the great senior class that graduated, led by quarterback Asauni Rufus, but rather has confidence that the next guy up will step up.

"They're ready to go," Golla said. "You don't replace kids. But you hope you've molded kids."

The returning strength for BHS is in numbers on the offensive line with Paulie Salazar, Dyllan Guillermo, Cassidy Johnson, Robert Trujillo and sophomore Daniel Schoene (6-foot-6, 290 pounds), whom Golla says is going to have "a fantastic career."

"We have a lot of kids up front," Golla said.

The other upside for a team losing 19 seniors is the number of players that have stepped up as leaders.

"We are a team with a lot of leaders," Golla said. "Even the young guys. It's a long list. We are not a team with one or two kids. It's a bunch of kids that understand that. It's the team, not a bunch of individuals."

Golla said ball control on offense and players understanding their assignments on defense will be the biggest goals before the season opener. As for replacing Rufus, Golla said that is still a work in progress that should be shored up by late next week.

"We have three great quarterbacks in place right now, and they're all ready to go," Golla said about Keayr Gragg, Joshua Maran and Patrick Reynier.