King City football

King City (5-5, 4-3)
 It was not the 108 points they produced in their final two games last year that the Mustangs will use as a stepping stone into this fall. Or the fact that they held both teams to a combined eight points.
 Instead, it was a 27-24 loss to eight time Mission Trail Athletic League champion Carmel the week before that King City has used as a building block in the off-season.
 "The theme during practice that week was they're high school kids just like you,'' King City coach Mac Villanueva stressed. "After that game, we found our identity. We stopped being conservative.''
 The conservative role was on Villaneuva, who changed his mindset and went with a more aggressive first approach offensively.
 "I made that decision a week earlier with my coaches on a bus ride home from Pacific Grove,'' said Villaneuva.
 The core of last year's team is back this fall in what will be a much more competitive Mission Trail Athletic League with the additions of Scotts Valley and San Lorenzo Valley.
 Owners of the second longest playoff drought in the county, the Mustangs were 1-4 last fall against teams that made the postseason, including a seven-point loss to CCS Division IV champion Soledad.
 This year there are six teams on King City's schedule that tasted the playoffs, including two reigning league champions and a section champion.
 Yet, the confidence gained from last year carried over in the off-season, particularly with an attack that features the return of quarterback Tommy Stephens.
 "It's a different vibe this year,'' Stephens said. "There is more confidence, more cohesiveness, more continuity in the offense.''
 The senior threw for over 1,800 yards and 17 touchdown last season, with returning tight end Clay Barbree on the receiving end of nine of those scoring strikes.
 A member of The  Herald's All-County team last year, Barbree caught 45 passes for nearly 800 yards in the Mustangs pro-style attack.
 "A lot of us have grown up together,'' Barbree said. "We've been playing together since youth. What is important is to build off last year's finish.''
 With opponents expected to double-team Barbree, keep an eye on Luis Briseno, who averaged nearly 20 yards a catch as a sophomore last fall for King City. His speed will help spread the field.
 What King City needs is someone other than Stephens effectively running with the ball. Last year he rushed for nearly 400 yards and a team high seven touchdowns.
 North Salinas transfer Matt Morales has shown flashes in practice of his potential at tailback, as has  Alex Villasenor, who was brought up last year to mainly play defense.
 "This is the most depth we've had at the position in a while,'' Villanueva said.
 Defensively Villanueva will welcome back Nathaniel Perez and his eight sacks, and Stephens, who picked off six passes, returning one for a touchdown.
 Having come up last year as a sophomore, Villasenor made a big contribution late in the season as a linebacker with 12 tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble in King City's last two games.
 "We have a couple of pieces to replace on defense,'' Villaneuva said. "But I like what we have to fill those holes.''
 What's critical for King City is avoiding its traditional slow start out of the gates. Five of its first six games are against teams that made the postseason last year.
 The Mustangs haven't won a season opener in eight years and have not posted a winning non-league record since 2008. Then again the last time they reached the playoff in 2006, they opened 0-4.
 "Leadership,'' Barbree said. "You have to find it among your teammates and stick with it. Often that falls on the shoulders of your seniors. I'm a senior. I understand my role.''

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