The Apple Valley football team has one thing in mind: Winning that elusive league title.
The Sun Devils haven't won a league championship since 1984 — when the Mojave River League didn't even exist. They came close in 2006, when a loss to Rim of the World was the only thing that stood between them and the title.
"We've been competitive," head coach Frank Pulice said. "It's just that we are always falling short, it seems like. We want to change that."
Although the Sun Devils won their fifth straight Bell Game against Victor Valley and took down cross-town rival Granite Hills in 2008, the league season turned out to be another disappointment. They finished 1-3 in the MRL (4-6 overall), missing the CIF-Southern Section Eastern Division playoffs.
The turning point, again, was the Rim of the World game. The Sun Devils were leading the Scots 28-7 at halftime. But Pulice watched his team crumble in the second half, giving up 25 unanswered points for a loss in front of the home crowd.
"A number of times we just weren't there to finish," Pulice said.
"It was a learning experience, learning from our mistakes," senior linebacker Faletui Manu said. "We are focused. We know what we need to do, how to get the job done for four quarters."
Apple Valley has lost just four starters from last season, returning the entire secondary. Leading rusher Daryon Mosley, who had 1,141 yards on 139 carries, will spearhead a running game that totaled 2,198 yards last season.
Mosley will rotate with senior Greville DeAndrade at tailback.
"Run game, we establish that to be a dominant factor," Pulice said. "But you've got to have a passing game. We spend a lot of time in the offseason focusing on that."
Senior Shaun Golike, who led the team in receiving yards with 265 on 17 catches, is back at tight end. Pulice said senior Justin Brookshire will probably start at quarterback, where he and Arthur Nunez shared time last year. Brookshire completed 21 of 50 passes for 159 yards.
Most skill players at Apple Valley competed on the track and field team in the spring. Although they missed out on football workouts during that period, Pulice said winning the MRL championship for the second straight year in track helped them raise their motivation for winning in football.
On the offensive line, the Sun Devils have four returning starters in Patrick Chilton, Dominic Mariani, Jesse Messner and Kyle Jerkins. All-MRL first team selection Andrew Leifi comes back to add size on the defensive line.
"The coaches know what we can do so they push us harder than ever, mentally, physically, spiritually," Manu said.
The Sun Devils have both talent and experience on the team. They had a great offseason. Now it's a time to put an end to that long chase for the title.
Tomoya Shimura can be reached at email@example.com or 951-6281.