Division I Players to Watch
Devon Allen, Sr., WR, Brophy: This past spring, Allen set the track and field world into a tizzy with his mastery of the hurdle events, setting state records and earning the Tribune’s Track Athlete of the Year award. He mixes that speed with elusiveness on the gridiron, as Allen’s unique abilities will make him one of the best players in the East Valley. Allen had 44 catches for 844 yards and 14 touchdowns a season ago at receiver, and should improve on those numbers this year. He also may be the most dangerous kick and punt returner in the state, affecting the game in a variety of ways. Brophy’s schedule is soft so Allen may take a lot of fourth quarters off this season, but when he is in the game, expect him to make a big-time impact.
Kyle Allen, Jr., QB, Desert Mountain: The Wolves had some trouble last year, but the duo of Andrews and Allen has set the bar higher this season. Allen is being coveted by several top colleges around the country and should put up some big numbers this season. He finished last year with 2,547 yards passing and 21 touchdowns, but with 15 interceptions. If Allen can improve his decision-making, he could have a stellar junior campaign and cement himself as the best quarterback in the 2014 class.
Mark Andrews, Jr., WR, Desert Mountain: With possibly the top junior quarterback in the state in Kyle Allen throwing to him, expect Andrews to have a big year. He has scholarship offers from many teams all across the country, including Michigan, Ohio State, Nebraska and Oklahoma. Andrews had 58 catches for 1,058 yards and 10 touchdowns a year ago. Some believe he will eventually move to tight end, but Andrews will dominate at whatever position he plays in high school.
Jalen Brown, Jr., DB, Mountain Pointe: When Brown was elevated to varsity as just a freshman, teams tested him in the secondary. He responded with six interceptions that year, showing off his impressive instincts and athleticism. He had 29 tackles but only two picks last year, although much of that was due to the respect opposing offenses showed him. Brown is one of the top junior recruits in the state and will play a big role on both offense and defense this year for Mountain Pointe. He combines height with a good vertical, so teams will again be wary of throwing jump balls in his direction.
Tyler Bruggman, Sr., QB, Brophy: Next year, Brophy’s strong-armed signal caller will be whizzing throws in Mike Leach’s pass-heavy offense at Washington State. Before then, he will be finding Allen and other Brophy receivers as the Broncos take aim at a state championship. Bruggman was 156-of-259 for 2,497 yards with 37 touchdowns and just two interceptions a year ago. Brophy will dominate most of its games, but there should be a few tight ones when Bruggman’s arm will be needed. He is a very intelligent player at a position that values it, and should have a banner senior season.
Connor Helvig, Sr., QB/WR/DB, Gilbert: Where will he play? Who knows. Helvig caught 800 yards and eight touchdowns as a junior, but that was with Mitch Trail throwing the ball. Trail’s family moved to Kentucky, and new coach Leland Rogers would like to use Helvig at WR, but he could also see time at QB since he’s probably the Tigers best athlete. Playing some on defense could be a factor in where and how much he plays on offense, but he’s going to get the ball wherever the Tigers put him, and for good reason.
Nick Farina, Sr., DB, Desert Vista: The defending Division I champions did a masterful job of slowing down Hamilton in last year’s title game, and many key pieces return, led by Farina. Mike Arredondo was the Thunder’s leading tackler a season ago but has graduated, and Farina is expected to fill in nicely. He was second on Desert Vista with 102 tackles last year and also had four interceptions. The Thunder fancies itself a contender again, and the play of Farina and his teammates on the defensive side of the ball is a big reason why.
Chase Funk, Jr., QB, Mountain View: The grumblings still exist, but whether Chad DeGrenier is the right fit at Mountain View still remains to be seen (it’s only Year 2), but the Toros coach was a quarterback, and his track record suggests he knows how to get the most out of a team’s leader. Funk’s first year in a wildly different system in 2011 had its moments and pitfalls, but he was only a sophomore, and the second time around usually spells success.
Anthony Hovorka, Sr., DB, Desert Ridge: A lot has changed at Desert Ridge from the previous couple of years (especially offensively), but the Jaguars don’t think the success level will be among the tweaks. Hovorka and Nathaniel Rodriguez are among the few holdovers, and they’re going to fly around defensively both in coverage and alongside the big boys up front. The Jaguars are more than happy to take the chance of getting beat somewhere else in exchange for these guys covering an opponents’ best receiver or crashing the line of scrimmage.
Cole Luke, Sr., DB, Hamilton: When Luke latches on to a wide receiver, quarterbacks can almost forget about passing the ball that way. He’s a very good at coverage, but can also be unleashed at safety to roam. Luke was one of the best players on a stacked Huskies defense a season ago, compiling 63 tackles and six interceptions. He is being coveted by the top teams in the country and will likely end up at Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Texas or USC. Hamilton’s defense could again be the state’s best, and Luke will be leading the charge.
Nate Phillips, Sr., WR, Basha: The jitter bug was on the receiving end of many Kyle Duran passes last season, as the Bears’ aerial attack played a big role in getting the team to the state semifinals. Phillips finished the year with 72 catches for 1,265 yards and seven touchdowns and committed to Arizona in the offseason. Phillips will have a new quarterback throwing to him this year but should once again be a focal point of the offense. The Bears lost several players to transfer in the offseason but will try to make another deep playoff run, and Phillips is expected to lead that charge.
Mason Thorman, Sr., QB, Red Mountain: One of the biggest reasons why optimism is running high on Brown Road, Thorman completed 58 percent of his passes for 1,887 yards, 20 touchdowns and seven interceptions as a junior. It helped having Marcus Brantley has a big play threat running and (occasionally) catching the ball next to Thorman, and Brantley is gone, but leading receiver Aeron Carr is back. If Thorman can take one more step in his development, the Lions could go big places.