Jeremy Hathcock tries not to peek too far ahead on the schedule. But the Mesa Desert Ridge coach finds it hard to ignore the dizzying array of talented quarterbacks the Jaguars are about to face in Fiesta Region play. “It’s unbelievable isn’t it?” Hathcock said.
The stats don’t lie.
With region play set to open tonight, five of the six Fiesta schools have winning records (Gilbert Mesquite is 2-3), five of the six would be in the playoffs if the postseason started today and all six quarterbacks can claim a major role in dressing their teams up in that midseason success.
Scott Ketter, Mesquite
Another sport: Wrestling
Stats: 57-of-115, 832 yards, 9 TDs, 4 INTs
Top performance this season: Completed 13 of 23 passes for 221 yards and two touchdowns, and added two more rushing TDs in a 36-26 victory over North on Sept. 1 in his first start at QB.
Mesquite had an opening at QB after last season and the call fell to Ketter, who had zero experience at the position. Ketter played receiver on varsity last year. He caught six passes for 63 yards and two TDs. ‘‘I’ve always wanted to play quarterback, but people thought I was too small,’’ Ketter said. Fortunately for Ketter, he grew four inches in the offseason so he stands a little taller in the pocket — and people’s minds. “As a receiver, you’re focused on what you need to do,” he said. “At quarterback, you have to know what everyone is doing. I like it. It’s fun getting the chance to play there.’’ When the football season ends, Ketter will go on a crash diet to drop 25 pounds so he can pursue a state wrestling title for the Wildcats.
Brad Gruner, Hamilton
Another sport: Baseball
Stats: 66-of-111, 941 yards, 7 TDs, 4 INTs
Top performance this season: Completed 18 of 30 passes for a school-record 271 yards and two touchdowns in a 38-27 loss to Massillon Washington (Ohio) on Sept. 16.
Gruner didn’t have much time to focus on football the past year. He was busy working his way back from torn knee ligaments suffered in the 2005 season opener.
‘‘It’s coming back now; I’m feeling better all the time,’’ said Gruner, who has started every game this season. ‘‘The whole thing about it is you never know despite all the work you do if you are going to be back. We had our starting left tackle tear ligaments in pregame last week.’’
Gruner has shown the ability to lead the Huskies in 2006. He impressed new coach Steve Belles with his work ethic and abilities this summer to hang onto the quarterback job.
But the final test, as it always is at Hamilton, is whether Gruner can lead the Huskies back to the state championship game for a fourth straight season.
Kyle Newhall-Caballero, Gilbert
Another sport: Basketball
Stats: 81-of-129, 1,496 yards, 12 TDs, 6 INTs
Top performance this season: Completed 17 of 30 passes for 465 yards and three touchdowns in a 33-14 victory over Corona del Sol on Sept. 15. The 465 yards shattered the old school record for a single game.
It’s a good bet Newhall-Caballero would have started three full seasons, but an injury early in his sophomore season didn’t allow him that shot.
‘‘I got hurt the Thursday before the first game,’’ he recalled.
Newhall-Caballero came out ready to rock as a junior and didn’t disappoint. He completed 60 percent of his passes, throwing for 2,230 yards and 20 touchdowns. He led the Tigers to the 5A-I quarterfinals.
With the Tigers dropping their last two games to Mesa Mountain View and Chandler Basha, Newhall-Caballero hopes his team can recover over the next month and build on what last year’s team accomplished.
‘‘That was the best moment of my career when we came back and beat Mountain Ridge in the first round last year,’’ Newhall-Caballero said. ‘‘We had a common belief there was no way we’d lose that game. We need that mind-set again.’’
Newhall-Caballero takes that mind-set into his academic pursuits, maintaining a 4.6 grade point average.
His class schedule this semester is advanced-placement statistics, AP physics, AP government, honors English, and to satisfy a fine arts credit — “clay (ceramics).”
Joe Sanchez, Highland
Another sport: Baseball
Stats: 34-of-58, 373 yards, 4 TDs, 4 INTs
Top performance this season: Completed 21 of 30 passes for 165 yards and two touchdowns in a 28-14 loss to Corona del Sol on Sept. 21.
Despite missing the first game of the season due to a suspension that claimed 18 players, Sanchez has made the transition from safety to quarterback look pretty seamless.
In Weeks 2 and 3, he shared time with junior Jeremy Fuhst. But with Fuhst now sidelined with a broken thumb, Sanchez has become the Hawks’ main man.
He’s thrown a pair of TD passes in each of the last two games.
‘‘Joe’s smart and he’s mobile,’’ Highland coach Preston Jones said. ‘‘He’s gotten the chance the last couple weeks and done well.
“We didn’t need to throw much last week, but he still got us a couple touchdowns. I like what I’m seeing.’’
Sanchez, whose father, Joe, is on the coaching staff, has had a chance to contribute with his arm, throwing 30 times two weeks ago and making his eight attempts last week count.
‘‘I’m settling in now and feeling good,’’ Sanchez said. ‘‘When you get a chance to play quarterback and you win, it’s prideful. Every week you want to be able to say you helped the team out and didn’t hurt them. There’s a lot of responsibility.’’
Clay Busch, Desert Ridge
Another sport: Baseball last year, track this year
Stats: 82-of-148, 1,270 yards, 18 TDs, 3 INTs
Top performance this season: Completed 23 of 37 passes for 344 yards and four TDs, and rushed for 122 yards and three TDs in a 51-29 victory over Skyline on Sept. 21.
With a coaching change in the spring came a change in offense. It has suited Busch fine. Coach Jeremy Hathcock has instituted the spread, which allows a quarterback with Busch’s mobility and ability to survey and react on nearly every play.
‘‘Last year, we liked to run the ball up the middle,’’ Busch said. ‘‘This year, we’re using our players in a way that fits their abilities. We pass block better than run block. We know we haven’t played teams the caliber of the ones we’re getting ready to play. We’ll find out the next five weeks.’’
Busch has tossed 18 touchdown passes and thrown just three interceptions in 2006, two of the picks coming in the opening-night loss to unbeaten Mesa. Even operating out of a different offense last season, Busch managed 1,634 yards of total offense last year. In five games this season he’s almost equaled that. He’s the top best dual-threat QB in the region.
Kyle Hess, Chandler
Another sport: Baseball
Stats: 71-of-115, 797 yards, 8 TDs, 3 INTs
Top performance this season: Completed 19 of 26 passes for 270 yards and three touchdowns in a 37-26 victory over Westwood on Sept. 14.
Hess got his feet wet in 2004, playing in a couple of mop-up situations against Yuma Kofa and Casa Grande. But he mostly watched from the sideline as the Wolves reached the playoffs, then exited in the first round. His role changed in 2005, when he threw for 1,688 yards and 11 touchdowns but was picked off 14 times. ‘‘Last year was hard because we just lacked a little timing in our new option offense,” he said. “We’re more mature now, and know what to do.”
That much has been apparent in Hess as the Wolves have ascended to the state’s top ranking. ‘‘What I like about him is he’s a good, all-around athlete,’’ Chandler coach Jim Ewan said. ‘‘He’s worked so hard. The numbers show that.’’