No area football team has made a bigger turnaround this season than Birmingham High. The Patriots have gone from 2-8 last season to 8-2 entering their City Section Div. I playoff opener at 7 p.m. today against visiting Arleta (9-1). "I promised if we had another year like last year, I would step down," Birmingham coach Jim Rose said. "I can't do it again. But I did think we'd be pretty good. We've been playing with a chip on our shoulder." Birmingham's only two losses were to established Southern Section programs Notre Dame and Hart, and the Patriots have yet to lose to a City opponent, shredding through West Valley League competition by an average margin of 23 points. Rose, 39, feels vindicated. He was the longtime defensive coordinator under former coach Ed Croson, who won four City titles in seven seasons before moving on to Chaminade in 2008. Rose won a combined five games in his first two seasons. "It's hard to follow a legend no matter who you are," Rose said. In fairness, the Patriots do not have nearly as much talent as they did during Croson's tenure. It's hard to replace players the caliber of Milton Knox, De'von Flournoy, Donovan Carter and the Jackson twins (Malik and Marquis), all of whom are among a large group of alumni playing major-college football. However, offensive lineman David Orrelana, a three-year starter, said there is more to it. "I think the biggest reason for the turnaround is we've come together as a family," Orrelana said. "I think we've worked a lot harder, too, and got more vigilant and became a big family. I mean, last year we got along, but we just weren't as close and together as this team." When you've proved yourself as a legitimate dynasty, a .500 season isn't good enough. Winning becomes an obligation more than a team goal. Orrelana has proved a key building block. The Patriots have lacked skill-position talent in past seasons, a burden enhanced by injuries and defections. "Last year, we were kind of handling the quarterback position and the running back position by smoke and mirrors," Rose said. Orrelana is a 6-foot-3, 290-pounder who possesses a combination of size, strength and agility, plus the necessary mean streak that is often the difference between a good football player and a great one. "Of all the teams we've played, David is the best offensive lineman that I've seen," Rose said. "He makes all the calls up front, he averages seven or eight pancakes a game." For the first time since Rose took over, there is a dynamic tailback to block for, as junior Isaiah Hastings has rushed for 1,234 yards and 12 touchdowns. He'll go head to head tonight against Arleta's De'Jon Coleman, who has scored a City record-tying 46 touchdowns - trying to eclipse the mark he shares with North Hollywood graduate Marlon Lucky - but comes from the East Valley League where he's faced few defenses comparable to Birmingham. "I'm really confident. As long as we work hard, and everyone does their assignment, we should go far in the playoffs," Hastings said. "I'm really proud of the turnaround because this is basically the same players as last year." Birmingham has 30 seniors, and the sixth-seeded Patriots are hoping their experience and team unity can make the difference in the playoffs. Some of Birmingham's other key players are quarterback Trae Smith, receiver Marcus Harris and linebacker Adrian Mora. Smith came on late last season after Birmingham had experimented with four quarterbacks as the losses mounted. He is the half-brother of Dante Clay, a former star running back at North Hollywood, and Rose is impressed with Smith's continuing development. "He's had some good games and a few bad ones, but our goal is not to make him win or lose the game for us," Rose said. "We like to run the ball, and that takes pressure off Trae. But he has done a really good job. He's a great athlete with a huge upside." When Smith does pass the football, he likes to look for Harris in key situations. Harris, a 6-4 senior, has 42 receptions, 10 touchdowns and a 36.4 yard average on punt returns. Mora is a natural athlete - he was among the revolving door of quarterbacks last season when Birmingham had no one else to give the football to - and he is an intimidating hitter. "Adrian is our leading tackler, and he has really given out some shots," Rose said. "On this one play against Chatsworth, he just laid out Eric Waters." Mora has also scored six touchdowns as a short-yardage back. Rose is enjoying the success. But the hard truth is he has yet to win a playoff game since taking over, so Birmingham has been all business this week. "I remember last year everyone was saying, `Oh, Birmingham is done. They're not going to be good anymore,"' Rose said. "I can't say we're all the way back, but we've got some players, they've bought in, and we're going to keep this going for a little while longer."