SANTA CLARITA – Fall football practice begins Wednesday for most high schools, and it will be interesting to see how Hart High’s offensive line develops – a vital issue for the Indians, who for obvious reasons always put a high priority on pass protection. Derek Bickford, a promising junior who is among the few experienced returnees, should expect a strong season, along with Jordan Rojas and converted linebacker Patrick Larrimore. “I’ve been pleasantly surprised,” said coach Mike Herrington, a former Hart lineman himself in the 1970s before playing at College of the Canyons and Cal State Northridge. “A lot of people thought the line might be a weakness because we lost so many players, but this group is fairly athletic. They might not be as big as last year but they’re athletic.” Hart, which lost to Canyon in the Southern Section Div. II final in December, hasn’t won a title since 2003 – the program’s first two-year dry spell since 1997. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREFrumpy Middle-aged Mom: My realistic 2020 New Year’s resolutions. Some involve doughnuts.Another key issue will be the continued development of Delano Howell, who is among Hart’s most promising running backs ever but is coming off a subpar sophomore season, mainly because of a recurring injury. There are those who believe Howell, who when healthy combines blinding speed with Ted Iacenda-style power, is every bit as good as Foothill League rivals Shane Vereen of Valencia and J.J. DiLuigi of Canyon. But Howell must put up the numbers to prove it. “I think he will. I think Delano will have a breakout season,” Herrington said. And perhaps the most important issue of all at Hart will be chemistry. Off-field problems and discipline cases were a hassle last year, and there aren’t many teams more eager to embrace a new season than the Indians. “There are still some question marks, but I like the camaraderie of this team,” Herrington said. At any rate, here are some more pressing football issues we couldn’t get around to in Tuesday’s column: Can Saugus finally pull even with local powers Canyon, Hart and Valencia by making the playoffs? Because of revamped Southern Section playoff divisions, only three Foothill League teams will qualify for the postseason in the new Northern Division, and it’s going to take quite a turnaround for Saugus (4-7) – which hasn’t won a playoff game since 1999 – to nudge past one of the Big Three. It was not a particularly successful summer for Saugus in terms of summer-league victories, but the heart of the team is its offensive line and, perhaps, sophomore running back Ryan Zirbel. The plan is for Saugus to show more once things get physical. Hey, Saugus, if not this year, then when? Can struggling Golden Valley make a name for itself in its first year in the Foothill League? This won’t be easy. The Grizzlies (2-8) didn’t look so hot last year against a mostly weak freelance schedule, and there’s a big difference between schools like Hart and Canyon compared with Salesian of Los Angeles and St. Genevieve of Panorama City – the two unhonored opponents Golden Valley defeated last year. Perhaps Golden Valley will be fired up under new coach Steve Pinkston. Plus, there is a more even slate because the third-year school has seniors for the first time. The good news is: There’s nowhere to go but up. What about West Ranch? Oh, yes, the little team that could. After dipping its toes into varsity competition with three games last year (the rest JV), West Ranch plays a full freelance schedule before joining the Foothill League in 2007. West Ranch doesn’t have seniors yet, which puts the program in the same boat as last year’s Golden Valley team. Circle Nov. 9 on your calendar. That’s when West Ranch plays Golden Valley in a Thursday season finale. Gerry Gittelson’s column appears in the Daily News three times a week. [email protected] (661) 257-5218160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!