Football practices have officially started for a handful of East Valley teams, and season openers will be creeping up in a matter of weeks. Several underclassmen dotted the All-Tribune teams at the end of last season and they are back to chase championships. It’s a bumper crop of athletes playing varsity football this season, and here are the Tribune’s Ten Offensive Players to Watch in 2013:
Matt Guida, Sr., RB, Queen Creek
The reigning Tribune Player of the Year made defenses look silly a year ago, weaving his way to a state-best 2,829 yards and 31 touchdowns. Guida’s yards-per-carry average of 13.87 was tops among players with 75 or more rushing attempts as he led the Bulldogs to an undefeated season and the Division III state title. Guida is the only skill player of consequence returning for Queen Creek, and with talented backup Marcus Still choosing to focus on baseball as a senior, Guida will be counted on to carry a heavy load. He was up to the challenge a season ago and looks to put up eye-popping numbers again in 2013.
Kyle Allen, Sr., QB, Desert Mountain
The 2012 All-Tribune first-team quarterback returns for the Wolves and expectations have ramped up even higher. Allen was named the top quarterback recruit in the country by Scout.com this offseason and verbally committed to Texas A&M. His numbers sparkled last season, as Allen finished 202-of-280 for 3,119 yards with 36 touchdowns and seven interceptions. If Desert Mountain can make the leap to join the Division I elite, Allen’s right arm will play a big role in making it happen.
Mark Andrews, Sr., WR, Desert Mountain
Andrews was the recipient of many of Allen’s passes last year and is a mega-recruit in his own right. He has scholarship offers from several of the country’s top programs, including Alabama, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oklahoma and Southern California. He caught 81 passes for 1,494 yards and 21 touchdowns last season despite heavy attention from opposing defenses. The Allen-Andrews combination is the most dynamic in the state and it makes Desert Mountain very dangerous.
Christian Kirk, Jr., WR, Saguaro
An injury suffered in a car accident forced Kirk to miss the first two games of last season, but he came on strong, finishing the year with 43 catches for 1,003 yards and 12 touchdowns. Kirk is expected to play a hybrid role this season, getting carries in the backfield and getting split out wide. He’s an electric athlete who will likely be the top recruit in the class of 2015, and already has scholarship offers from several prominent colleges. The Sabercats fell short of a state championship last season, but with Kirk and quarterback Luke Rubenzer leading the way, they should be in the mix to get back on top in 2013.
Jalen Brown, Sr., WR, Mountain Pointe
Brown was named the 2012 Gatorade Football Player of the Year and has been making an impact on varsity since his freshman season. The Pride didn’t throw the ball a ton last season, yet Brown still finished with 67 catches for 1,235 yards and 18 touchdowns, totaling more than 52 percent of the team’s receiving yards. He’s a standout defensive back as well, and was a huge part in leading Mountain Pointe to last year’s Division I championship game. The Pride has designs of making another title run, and Brown will be an integral piece once again.
Luke Rubenzer, Sr., QB, Saguaro
The jury is still out on how well Rubenzer will do in college. Some BCS-level programs were scared off by his height (6-feet) but the University of California took a chance and offered him a scholarship. Rubenzer committed to the Bears this summer and will now look to put the finishing touches on an impressive high school career. Arguably the best dual threat quarterback in the state, Rubenzer finished last season completing 145-of-211 passes for 2,834 yards with 36 touchdowns and six interceptions while rushing for 1,184 yards and another 10 scores. Rubenzer won a state title as a sophomore but lost last year in the quarterfinals. He wants to go out on top in 2013.
Tarek Morrison, Jr., QB, Desert Ridge
The Jaguars had an open quarterback competition last year and Morrison won the job and ran with it. He finished the season 44-of-84 passing for 861 yards with nine touchdowns and seven interceptions while rushing for 1,404 yards and 18 scores. Desert Ridge advanced to the Division I state semifinals, but Morrison tore his anterior cruciate ligament in a quarterfinal victory over Westview. If fully healthy, Morrison should be able to improve on those numbers and keep the Jaguars in the state championship hunt once again.
Josh Hoekstra, Sr., RB, Pinnacle
The Pioneers have one of the top returning running backs in the state, although Hoekstra does not get the same type of buzz as some of the others. He finished last season with 183 carries for 1,538 yards and 16 touchdowns as Pinnacle went 8-3 and made the Division I playoffs. The Pioneers have been a fringe top-10 team the past couple seasons, but with Hoekstra returning and the emergence of quarterback Brian Lewerke, they are hoping to make jump toward contention. Lewerke is talented, but will get his first extensive varsity experience, so Hoekstra will be counted on heavily to lead the offense.
Zach Werlinger, Sr., QB, Basha
There will be new aerial targets for Werlinger this season, but that isn’t expected to slow him down. The Bears’ signal-caller threw for 2,689 yards with 30 touchdowns and 12 interceptions last year. Nate Phillips (Arizona) and Ronnie Querry (Navy) have both moved on, but in coach Bernie Busken’s pass-heavy scheme, Werlinger should get plenty of chances to work in his new wideouts. Running back Rajhan Meriwether will be back to help lessen the load, but much of Basha’s fortune will be placed on Werlinger’s arm.
Josh Eckley, Sr., QB, Marcos de Niza
The Padres were hit hard by graduation and transfers this offseason. After advancing to the Division II semifinals a year ago, the team must replace running back Mauriece Lee, wide receiver Paul Elvira, cornerback Dominique Fenstermacher, cornerback Priest Willis and running back Kamron Johnson. There are many question marks, but one constant is Josh Eckley. The dual-threat quarterback may not stay at the position in college, but he’s a handful on the high school level. Eckley passed for 2,601 yards with 26 touchdowns and five interceptions last season while rushing for 562 yards and five more TDs. Marcos de Niza will lean on Eckley quite a bit early on as the new talent wave gains experience.
Emanuel Gant, Jr., QB, Tempe; Tyler Whiley, Sr., WR, Chaparral; Trevor Wood, Sr., TE, Chaparral; Dionte Sykes, Sr., WR, Chandler; Mitch McCulley, Sr., WR, Chandler; Antonio Hinojosa, Sr., QB, Mountain Pointe; John Clark, Sr., QB, Mountain View; Rajhan Meriwether, Sr., RB, Basha; Elijah Castro, Sr., RB/WR, Chaparral; Cole Forsgren, Sr., WR, Williams Field; Jordan Brown, Sr., WR, Paradise Valley; Clark Brown, Sr., WR, Mountain View; Bryce Perkins, Jr., QB, Chandler.