BARSTOW There are no opponents lining up for a preseason scrimmage against the CIF-Southern Section Eastern Division runners up from a season ago.

Message boards aren't raving about the rise of Barstow High School football.

After a surprising ascent to the Eastern Division title game, in which the Aztecs had the ball and the lead with about 2 minutes left, everything is back to normal in Barstow.

No respect. No love. Underdog status. At least that's what the players will tell you.

"I think people look at us as a fluke last year," said Curtis Webb, the Aztecs top returning running back. "Really, it wasn't a fluke.

"They are not going to give us none, no credit for even making it. We beat the best of the best and we still haven't got credit. We are still going to be underdogs, but that's OK. We were the underdogs last year. It doesn't matter. We are used to it."

While Barstow coach Jose Rubio isn't looking for any great amount of respect to come the Aztecs' way, he's also not expecting to sneak up on teams like the Aztecs did last season.

Barstow was inconsistent during regular season, starting off 3-0 but losing 49-0 to Quartz Hill and narrowly beating winless Sultana 16-14 before coming together in the postseason. The Aztecs beat San Jacinto, Palm Springs and Silverado on the way to the championship game. Despite nearly taking the title, Rubio said some people on Internet message boards still question the legitimacy of the postseason run.

Although the Aztecs are settling into a familiar role, the 2009 squad that returns is much different from a season ago. The Aztecs crop of running backs has thinned out after DaMario Webb and Jerrelle Green graduated; however, the majority of the offensive line is returning as part of a senior-laden group.

"All of us are different going into it this year," Rubio said. "The major thing is when you've got 26 seniors, a lot of returning starters, they bring that experience and that maturity to practice."

The Aztecs have also solidified their quarterback situation with junior Steven Deverell, who replaces Tulilo Tofi. Their double wing running game isn't leaving, but the Aztecs said they feel more confident about the development of their passing game through summer passing tournaments.

"We have a steady quarterback," senior tight end Steven Locke said. "It's not just try out and hope for the best, I guess you could say. (Deverell) has a sense for the game at the quarterback position."

The Aztecs, who are still looking for a scrimmage opponent, open the season Sept. 11 against Rialto at home. They face a tough schedule against two CIF-SS title winners, Quartz Hill and Paraclete, along with a fight to take the outright Desert Sky League title after sharing it with Silverado and Burroughs a year ago.

If the Aztecs can make it through that schedule and put together a postseason run, maybe they can finally shed themselves of the underdog title.

"That's the past now," said senior lineman John Britto of the championship game against Citrus Hill. "We are better. A lot better.

"They might say just because we lost Jerrelle Green, DaMario Webb, Tulilo Tofi that we are still going to be the underdogs, but we are a lot tougher than last year. We are going to prove to a lot of people that the championship is ours."

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