Are you ready for some football? It’s about that time, as Desert Vista kicks off the season in the Sollenberger Classic on Saturday, and almost everyone else begins on Aug. 24. Here are the Tribune’s preseason rankings for every division:
1. Brophy: The Broncos were upset by Basha in the state quarterfinals last season, but were otherwise unblemished. The bulk of the talent returns, including quarterback Tyler Bruggman, wide receiver Devon Allen, running back D’Amani Grayer and linebackers Andrew Curtis and Robert Relf. Brophy also welcomes back Marche Dennard from injury to add to its list of weapons. Rarely is Hamilton not ranked as the preseason No. 1, but Brophy is deep, balanced and the favorite to win the state title.
2. Hamilton: The Huskies, of course, are not far behind. Hamilton’s defense could again be the state’s best, led by defensive back Cole Luke, linebacker Santana Sterling and defensive lineman Qualen Cunningham. The biggest question mark is the offense. The Huskies weren’t very explosive beyond wide receiver Kendyl Taylor in 2011, and he graduated. Running back Frankie Felix and wide receiver Israel Simpson should be focal points and Desert Ridge transfer Kevin Walters should add some punch, but it remains to be seen how good Hamilton’s offense becomes.
3. Desert Vista: The Thunder shocked the high school football landscape by dismantling Hamilton in last season’s championship game. Key players like running back/linebacker Mike Arredondo, quarterback Hunter Rodriguez and lineman J.J. Dielman have graduated, but there is still a lot of talent returning. The athletic Matt Young takes over at quarterback, and he has a pair of dangerous weapons to get the ball to in Kaleb Germinaro and Jarek Hilgers. The defense should be good, led by safety Nick Farina and defensive lineman Lorenzo Melvin.
4. Chandler: The Wolves have reloaded once again, but talent has never been this team’s shortcoming. Coach Shaun Aguano is in his second season now, as he hopes to elevate Chandler to perennial contender. Quarterback Darell Garretson recently committed to San Jose State, and he will have weapons galore on offense, including wideouts Dionte Sykes, Bryce Perkins and Patrick Baldenegro. Myles Smith transferred in from Basha and should get carries in the backfield.
5. Mountain Pointe: The Pride had a bit of a down year in 2011, but has some good pieces returning. Natrell Curtis and Kenny Lacy lead a talented line, while Jalen Brown is a big-play threat on both sides of the ball. Quarterback Caleb Buck transferred to Maricopa, and it’s imperative for junior Antonio Hinojosa to give the team enough of a passing threat to keep defenses honest.
6. Desert Ridge: It’s a crucial year for the Jaguars. Most believe the team has enough momentum and the right personnel to stay among the Division I elite despite the graduations of Jordan Becerra, Parker Rasmussen, Joey Counts, Damani Mosby and Alex Barrett. Basha transfer J.J. Husar should give the running game a lift, while Anthony Hovorka and Nathaniel Rodriguez lead a talented defense.
7. Red Mountain: Coach Ron Wisniewski thinks the Mountain Lions are more prepared this year than any in his three-year tenure to compete for a championship. The team lost its best player in Marcus Brantley, but quarterback Mason Thorman and wide receiver Aeron Carr return to lead the offense. Red Mountain has good depth and should be solid in most areas, but does it have a breakout star to lead the way?
8. Basha: The Bears have gotten little respect despite knocking off Brophy in last year’s second round and making the Division I semifinals. Wide receiver Nate Phillips and running back Rajhan Meriwether are two key parts in a solid offense, although much depends on incoming quarterback Zach Werlinger, who must replace Kyle Duran. Wide receiver Dionte Sykes and running backs J.J. Husar and Myles Smith were among the transfers out of Basha since last season, sapping the team of playmakers and depth. It will be interestong to see how that affects the Bears in 2012.
9. Westview: While East Valley teams dominate the D-I rankings, this longtime West Valley power makes the list. Seivion Morris is primed to be one of the state’s best running backs, and the program always executes at a high level. Westview went toe-to-toe with Red Mountain, Brophy and Chandler a year ago.
10. Pinnacle: The Pioneers jumped out to an 8-0 start last season but dropped three of their final four as the competition improved. Pinnacle returns eight starters on offense, including running back Evan Tompkins and much of the offensive line. The Pioneers couldn’t quite contend with the elite teams a season ago, but are looking to make that jump in 2012.
1. Centennial: Unsurprisingly, the Coyotes are stacked. Running back Jalen Ortiz is a star and defensive lineman Marcus Farria is an incredible athlete as long as he can stay in coach Richard Taylor’s good graces and remain on the field.
2. Chaparral: Quarterback Connor Brewer is at Texas, wide receiver Davonte Neal is at Notre Dame and a host of other standouts moved on after last year’s championship. While the Firebirds only have two returning starters, they have reloaded in all areas. Jake Roh is the team’s top receiver, while Jordin Hamilton and Trevor Wood should both be solid receiving options for sophomore quarterback Sean Paul Brophy. The defense must be rebuilt as well, but Chaparral has the players to plug in.
3. Salpointe: The Lancers gave Chaparral a scare early last year but then were upset by Notre Dame in the first round of the playoffs. Star junior Cameron Denson leads a bevy of returners.
4. Marcos de Niza: The Padres also have a stable of playmakers, led by the East Valley’s top senior prospect, defensive back Priest Willis. Running back Mauriece Lee and wide receiver Paul Elvira will make the offense go, and if quarterback Josh Eckley does well, Marcos de Niza could return to the championship game after a two-year hiatus.
5. Ironwood Ridge: Star running back Mitch Fischer has graduated, but dual threat quarterback Tyler Williams returns for last year’s state semifinalists.
6. Notre Dame: The Saints survived a brutal regular season schedule to make the playoffs, and then upset Salpointe in the first round. Tight end Grant Martinez, linebacker Luke Taffuri and running back Nick Cole are among the returners, although quarterback Jordan Gehrke must be replaced.
7. Cesar Chavez: A soft schedule left the Champions outside the playoffs last season despite a 7-3 record. The team’s top five tacklers are back defensively, led by senior linebacker Gilbert Reger.
8. Perry: Quarterback Josh Uhlorn was a one-man wrecking crew at times for the Pumas a season ago. Preston Jones has built a solid program, but Uhlorn’s void is a big one to fill.
9. Cienega: The defending state runners-up lost a ton of talent but have always been one of the better programs in southern Arizona.
10. Willow Canyon: At 7-4, 2011 was a solid season, and star running back Anthony Thompson returns.
1. Saguaro: Tribune Player of the Year D.J. Foster leaves a void, but the Sabercats have the personnel to fill it. Quarterback Luke Rubenzer excelled as a sophomore and returns to lead the way. Sophomore Christian Kirk is a dynamic athlete and transfer running back Gena Adams just adds another element.
2. Cactus: The Cobras gave Saguaro a scare in last year’s title game, and it could be a rematch in 2012. Standout quarterback Talal Yousafasi transferred in from Washington and should put up big numbers.
3. Sabino: A common name near the top of these rankings, wide receiver Matt Bushman and running back Sunthi Danh should lead the way.
4. Queen Creek: Quarterback Ivan Jones could be very good, while Matt Guida and Marcus Still should lead a reliable running game. Coach Joe Germaine always has a sound defense, and the Bulldogs seem poised for another successful season.
5. Thunderbird: The Chiefs won the title two years ago and lost to Sabino in the quarterfinals in 2011. Star running back Kani Benoit should keep the team in contention again.
6. Williams Field: Tailback Sean Schweichler is a blazing runner, and with top receivers Jordan Johnson and Cole Forsgren back, the offense should have balance. Skyler Wengert and Drew Burgesser lead a defense that should be solid.
7. Liberty: Dual-threat quarterback Tyler Rogers leads the way for a team that went 10-2 a year ago.
8. Peoria: The Panthers must rebound from a tumultuous offseason when coach Doug Clapp abruptly retired amongst alleged fraud charges.
9. Paradise Valley: Quarterback Ryan Finley should put up monster numbers. The question is: Can the Trojans stop people?
10. Arcadia: Titans coach Jim Ellison resigned just weeks before the season. Arcadia lost a lot of talent but has some good depth for a Division III team.
1. Blue Ridge: The defending champions have one of the state’s best prospects in linebacker Chans Cox. It also added former Gilbert Christian standout Nolan Cook.
2. Show Low: The state runners-up to Blue Ridge must replace Josh Weeks but have other top players back.
3. Seton Catholic: The Sentinels couldn’t hang with Blue Ridge in the state semifinals. With a majority of players returning, including quarterback Ryan Bresnahan, the teams could meet again late in this year’s postseason.
4. Snowflake: Quarterback Chase Walden returns after an impressive junior season.
5. Florence: The Gophers must replace coach George De La Torre, but Arizona State commitment Nick Brown will be fun to watch.
1. Yuma Catholic: The school’s first state championship was won in wild fashion vs. Northwest Christian, but quarterback Tommy Pistone (3,500 yards, 40 TD) and wide receiver Everett McKinney (1,400 yards rec., 14 TDs) graduated and there are huge spots to fill defensively. It’s here until proven otherwise.
2. Northwest Christian: Might have lost even more than Yuma Catholic when unquestionably best player in school history (and arguably best in Division V/Class 2A history) graduated in Casey Jahn, but depth and coaching won’t allow Crusaders to fall far.
3. St. Johns: Brutal schedule (again) but often plays to its advantage later as Mike Morgan’s team seemingly always finds ways to contend in November.
4. Scottsdale Christian: From 0-3 with three blowout losses to two plays away from the quarterfinals, Willie Dudley’s team turnaround in his first year was remarkable, and now practically the entire roster returns; Possibly the school’s best shot at contending for a title in years.
5. Tempe Prep: Tommy Brittain’s program is fully entrenched on the map. Similar to SCA, TP returns nearly everyone on offense and defense, and a toughness mentality has stuck. Similar to SCA, is every bit of a state semifinal contender.
1. Joseph City: Three-time defending champions keep losing key personnel, keep showing up in mid-November. This year’s road won’t be so easy with rise of No. 2 and No. 3-ranked schools.
2. Pima: Loaded with seniors and sophomores this season, this could be the year for 2011’s No. 1 playoff seed and state semifinalist.
3. Scottsdale Prep: Similar to Joy Christian, on the rise with a record-shattering offense. Greyson Boyll and Matt Munsil are top 1-2 wideout combo in 8-man (Munsil is also a premier defender at defensive back), but can record-breaker Aidan Wright’s successor at QB continue the historic aerial assault? Also, can Will Munsil’s squad defend against elite Div. VI opponents come the playoffs?
4. Joy Christian: What a job former Phoenix North Canyon coach Brian Cole has done in short order. Junior quarterback Nick Henderson (1,987 yards passing, 37 passing TD, 10 rushing TDs) and wide receiver Trevor Deason (587 yards, 14 TD) make last year’s state runner-up’s passing game difficult to stop.
5. Mogollon: Junior rushers (and cool names) return to the backfield in Smiley Beecroft and Dallin Despain, plus Lane Bentley (97 tackles) and McKay Slade (TE/DL) on defense. New quarterback and offensive line will decide if perennial contenders break through after last year’s relative postseason “blip” of an early exit.