Defense was the strength of Central Valley's varsity football squad last fall.
Standouts linemen Erik Mejia, Oso Fregoso, Gabriel Quezada and five other starters were lost to graduation in June.
"It was an honor playing football with those guys," said 6-foot-3 285-pound senior defensive tackle David Serrano. "I spent my last two years with them. I knew one day I'd have to step up and be a leader for the team."
The 2016 Hawks surrendered just 11.8 points per game while compiling a program-best 9-2 overall record and capturing their first conference title.
Mejia, Fregoso and Quezada were voted WAC Most Valuable Player, Outstanding Defensive Player and Outstanding Defensive Lineman, respectively. The trio combined for a whopping 26 sacks and 158 tackles.
Can the Hawks' defense be great again?
"We lost a lot," fourth-year head coach Scott Edwards said. "But we got a good nucleus."
Serrano, Estevan Barragan (strong safety) and Nasson Sanchez (inside linebacker), Central Valley's three returning defensive players, earned first-team all-conference honors as juniors.
Serrano collected 43 tackles, three sacks, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery and one pass deflection last season.
Barragan ranked first on the team in tackles (91). He also had one sack, six pass deflections and one fumble recovery.
Sanchez chipped in with 63 tackles, one sack, three fumble recoveries, one forced fumble, one interception and five pass deflections.
"They got to lead and blend in another group," Edwards said.
"It's awesome how much he (Edwards) trusts us," Serrano said.
The Hawks' 2017 starting defensive line will feature Serrano, Eduardo Tovar, Ryan Palecek and Tyler Beckhart. Brandon Kearney, Martin Orozco, Keven Figueroa and Robert Garcia will also contribute.
Beckhart, Tovar, Kearney and Garcia were backups last year.
Palecek, Orozco and Figueroa competed at the junior-varsity level in 2016.
Carlos Rodriguez will log playing time at outside linebacker.
Rodriguez missed six games with a knee injury his junior year.
"We know everybody is going to doubt us," Serrano said. "We know we're going to have to put in the work to do what we did last year or even better."