GLENDALE — At first glance, most will likely view the graduation of four-year varsity standout Dietrich Riley as the biggest change to St. Francis High football.
But the Golden Knights are stocked full of returning starters such as offensive tackle Patrick Carroll, defensive back Ryan Jenkins and receiver Travis Talianko, among others.
Instead, it's a vastly different schedule that may be the biggest change when the 2010 season rolls around for the Golden Knights, one in which they have just four opponents remaining from last year.
"That's as much change as we've ever had since I've been here, from one year to the next" said St. Francis Coach Jim Bonds. "It'll be interesting."
For starters, the Mission League has undergone a huge transformation, reverting back to a six-team league and losing defending champion Alemany in the process.
Having gone to a four-team configuration in seasons past, the Mission League teams also had to play a pair of nonleague games against Serra League foes, a Pac-5 Division powerhouse of a likewise four-team league.
That too changed with the Mission League's current makeup of St. Francis, old foes Chaminade and St. Paul, the returning Harvard-Westlake and debuting Cathedral and reigning state champion Serra.
But the changes begin earlier than Mission League play for the Golden Knights, who will look to duplicate or better a 9-3 campaign in 2009 in which they went 2-1 and took second in league and then advanced to the second round of the CIF Southern Section Western Division playoffs.
Long having begun the season with a trio of games against Pacific League opponents, St. Francis will still open with a home game against Arcadia on Sept. 10 before the annual "Battle for Foothill Boulevard" against host Crescenta Valley a week later.
But the third week will see St. Francis welcome City Section heavyweight Venice on Sept. 24 as a long-standing matchup against Burroughs went by the wayside. Though the Indians never defeated the Golden Knights, the game was characterized by a slew of close outcomes. Venice is likely another squad that will push the Golden Knights, as it comes off a 10-2 season a year ago.
"They were always close games, but somehow, some way we pulled them out," said Bonds of the Burroughs rivalry. "Athletically, I think that game [against Venice is] a step up. You know we're gonna have a tough game."
In the fourth week, St. Francis will venture north to face West Ranch before another road game against Paso Robles. Both teams were 5-5 squads a year ago and both are brand new to the St. Francis schedule.
Then, in its only Saturday game of the season, St. Francis welcomes Serra, the reigning CIF State Division III champion, which went 15-0 in its 2009 campaign. The Oct. 16 game also marks the beginning of a three-game league homestand for the Golden Knights.
With the subplot of Serra making its league debut adding to the hype, Bonds knows it's entirely possible that both teams could head in with 5-0 or 4-1 records, making the game even bigger.
"It's gonna be very exciting," Bonds said. "Hopefully we hold up our end of the bargain."
Their next two contests are against old league rivals Chaminade on Oct. 22 and St. Paul on Oct. 29.
A pleasant side note for St. Francis those two weeks, though it will become a negative one the following year, is that it will play both of those squads, who have long standing reputations of having home fields that are tough to play at, at home. It was a scheduling scenario that did not play out during the past seasons with a four-team league.
"I'm real happy," said Bonds of avoiding playing at Chaminade and St. Paul.
After the St. Paul contest, however, St. Francis ends its season with two league road games. That's an aspect Bonds isn't too fond of, admitting he'd rather prefer to alternate home and road games than have lengthy spans doing one or the other.
"I'm not too happy with how the schedule fell," he said. "I kinda like to go back and forth, back and forth."
The first will be a game against Cathedral, which posted an 11-2 mark a year ago.
The league finale will be a short trip to face Harvard-Westlake, which returns to the Mission League in football after a 7-4 campaign a season ago, one in which it boasted an upset win over Alemany.
"Harvard-Westlake, to me, is a wild card in this new league," Bonds said. "Everyone's talking about Serra and Cathedral.
"[Harvard-Westlake has] done some good stuff. [If] people overlook them, they're gonna be in a world of hurt."
Last season, a thrilling overtime defeat against Palmdale ended the Golden Knights' season. Consequently, the 2010 slate will not feature a single team — Sherman Oaks Notre Dame, Alemany and Palmdale — that St. Francis lost to last year.
•Sept. 10 vs. Arcadia, 7:30 p.m.
•Sept. 17 at Crescenta Valley, 7 p.m.
•Sept. 24 vs. Venice, 7:30 p.m.
•Oct. 1 at West Ranch, 7 p.m.
•Oct. 8 at Paso Robles, 7 p.m.
•Oct. 16 vs. Serra, 7:30 p.m.*
•Oct. 22 vs. Chaminade, 7:30 p.m.*
•Oct. 29 vs. St. Paul, 7:30 p.m.*
•Nov. 5 at Cathedral, 7 p.m.*
•Nov. 12 at Harvard-Westlake, 7 p.m.*
*Denotes Mission League contests.