For the first time in Scott Squires' three years as coach at Cal Lutheran, the numbers are stacked in his favor.
More than 100 players are out for football, double the amount from Squires' first season. There are two proven tailbacks, a seasoned quarterback, eight returning starters on defense, three on the offensive line and an All-American candidate, Ryan Geisler from Camarillo, at kicker.
And 43 freshmen and 18 transfers are crowding the practice field, pushing the veterans and generating as much enthusiasm as the unfailingly ebullient Squires.
"We recruited a whole bunch of high-quality individuals with great character," Squires said. "And some of them might be good football players."
The best might still be two senior Swedish imports who have thrived at Cal Lutheran since 1995 when they've managed to stay healthy.
Tailback Fredrik Nanhed set a Division III freshman rushing record three years ago with 1,380 yards, but injuries cut his sophomore season in half and he rushed for 709 yards. He missed all of last season with a knee injury but is running at full speed this fall.
Outside linebacker Mattias Wikstrom, a childhood friend of Nanhed in Malmo, Sweden, led the Kingsmen with 88 tackles last season and is a two-time All-Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference pick.
"Nanhed is a thoroughbred and Wikstrom is our best defensive player," Squires said.
Nanhed will share playing time with Dorian Stitt, a Royal High graduate who rushed for a team-high 561 yards and eight touchdowns as a freshman last season. Squires said Nanhed and Stitt will both be in the backfield in certain sets.
The mobile Zack Hernandez, a senior from L.A. Baptist High, returns at quarterback. He passed for 1,244 yards and 11 touchdowns last season, overcoming a rash of mistakes early in the season to become a reliable signal-caller.
"He is so much further along," Squires said. "He is walking with a little swagger."
As Hernandez improved, so did the team. Cal Lutheran lost three of its first four games before winning three games in a row and four of its last five. The Kingsmen (5-4, 4-1 in conference play) tied Redlands and Whittier for the SCIAC championship.
This year's schedule is similar, with nonconference games against Menlo College on Saturday and Pacific Lutheran on Sept. 12 again opening the season. Cal Lutheran committed 11 turnovers in losses to those teams last year, surrendering 77 points.
Getting off to a fast start is key to any playoff hopes. Division III California schools have been shifted from the West Region to the South Region, which Squires believes enhances Cal Lutheran's chances of making the 16-team postseason tournament.
Still, it would take a record of 8-1 to be considered by the selection committee, so simply winning the SCIAC championship is not enough.
No team from California made the playoffs last season.
Some facts you need to know about Cal Lutheran football:
* Tim Kirksey, a wide receiver from Simi Valley High who led the Kingsmen with 51 catches for 977 yards and 10 touchdowns last year, is not playing because of personal reasons.
* Left tackle Tony Weak, a senior from Newbury Park High, has allowed only one quarterback sack the last two seasons.
* Senior linebacker Mattias Wikstrom, a two-time all-SCIAC pick, needs seven tackles to crack the Cal Lutheran career top-10 list.
* Cornerback Anthony Sullivan was tied for fifth in the nation with eight interceptions last season and is a preseason All-American.