Believe it or not, high school football is already gearing up.
Several teams are at camp, practices are right around the corner, and the East Valley regular season kicks off with Desert Vista against Phoenix Maryvale on Aug. 19, a day before Chaparral plays Las Vegas Bishop Gorman in the Barry Sollenberger Classic at University of Phoenix Stadium.
The week after that, all teams will be out in full force. This is one of the most talent-rich seasons in recent memory, and here are 10 offensive players to watch when the season begins:
Devon Allen, WR, Brophy: In terms of Brophy’s offensive impact, it’s a tossup between Allen and returning quarterback Tyler Bruggman (both juniors). Bruggman’s return to health from a freak broken ankle late last season is a huge boost for the Broncos’ championship goals, but Allen’s a speed demon and a football player. He had 60 catches for 915 yards (15.25 yards per reception) and six touchdowns as a sophomore, and that was with three different quarterbacks. He’s not overly big (6-foot-1, 170 pounds) or physical, but he’s in a great system and should have a potentially great QB by his side.
Jordan Becerra, QB, Desert Ridge: The senior’s story is well known by now. Becerra began last season as a wide receiver, but an injury to quarterback Parker Rasmussen moved him under center, and Desert Ridge used a variation of Saguaro’s spread offense to highlight the strengths of Becerra and running back Joey Counts to make a run to the state championship game. Becerra finished the season with 1,128 yards rushing, 464 yards receiving, 382 yards passing and 16 total touchdowns. Rasmussen, Counts and Becerra are all back this season, which makes the Jaguars one of the top contenders to Hamilton’s crown.
Connor Brewer, QB, Chaparral: The Firebirds routed so many opponents last year that their signal-caller didn’t always put up jaw-dropping yardage totals. But rest assured, Brewer is special. He finished last season 148-for-222 for 2,677 yards passing with 37 touchdowns, six interceptions and a completion percentage of 67 percent. He has verbally committed to Texas and has held his own at camps against some of the top quarterback talent in the country. Brewer has Davonte Neal to throw to at wide receiver, and it should be another year of offensive fireworks at Chaparral.
Kyle Duran, QB, Basha: It’s not the senior quarterback’s goal, but attention can be hard to come by when Brett Hundley, Connor Brewer and Teddy Ruben share the same position as he did in 2010. It’ll be tougher to stay out of the spotlight in 2011 if the Central Region Player of the Year repeats or improves on last year’s 63 percent completion percentage, 2,102 yards, 25 touchdowns and eight interceptions. He’s big, strong, just mobile enough and will have weapons at his disposal.
DJ Foster, QB, Saguaro: The 6-foot, 185-pound dynamo was last seen shredding defenses alongside Teddy Ruben, as the Sabercats secured their fourth state championship in five years in 2010. Ruben graduated, and even though Foster may be better suited for running back or wide receiver, he will take over at quarterback in Saguaro’s dangerous spread offense. Foster ran for 1,421 yards and 22 touchdowns last season and caught 43 balls for 370 yards and four more scores. He should put up even gaudier numbers this season, and even though coach John Sanders would prefer to keep him on offense only, Foster is a lockdown cornerback if needed on passing situations.
Jordan Gerhke, QB, Notre Dame: The Saints have petitioned up and will play in Division II this year, along with powers Chaparral, Centennial and Marcos de Niza. Notre Dame’s chances at going deep in the playoffs will be on the shoulders of Gehrke, who threw for 2,358 yards with 24 touchdowns and only four interceptions last season. The Saints made the semifinals of 4A-II last season and have won a pair of state titles in the division, but moving up will be a big test. Gehrke’s ability should keep the team competitive in the majority of its games.
Alex Howard, RB, Williams Field: The Black Hawks have found great success in their first two varsity seasons, winning nine games in 2009 and making it to the 4A-II state championship game last year. Howard has been a big part of that, and the San Diego State-commit is looking to finish off his career with a championship in Division III. Howard carried the ball 127 times for 1,407 yards and 26 touchdowns last season, and with the departures of quarterback Tom Ross and receivers J.D. Layton and Kenny Mitchell, he may be counted on even more this year.
Anthony Lopez, RB, Mesquite: At times he carried the Wildcats offense in 2010 and he might have to do as much again in new coach Matt Gracey’s system. Stop Lopez, who’s about as fast as anyone in the East Valley with a dash of toughness, and opposing coaches say you stop Mesquite. Problem is, he can beat you on special teams (as he did to Highland) as well. He ran for 1,552 yards (8.7 yards per carry) and 21 touchdowns as a junior. He also caught 13 passes for 176 yards out of the backfield.
Kendyl Taylor, RB/WR, Hamilton: As has often been the case at Hamilton in recent years, there hasn’t been a go-to guy out of the backfield, but Taylor could break that mold this season. He’s not Marshall Faulk, but his versatility and explosiveness make him nearly as dangerous in the high school realm. He ran for 784 yards (a whopping 11 yards per carry) and nine touchdowns, then caught the second-most passes on the team last year (48) for another 700-plus yards. The Huskies love to mix it up and give multiple guys significant snaps, and that may not change this year. But with Taylor, it might.
Javon Williams, WR, Chandler: How do you defend a 6-foot-5, 175-pound receiver with speed? Thankfully it’s other coaches’ problems. It’s still a problem for them, as Williams averaged 22 yards per reception last year for 664 total yards and eight touchdowns. Protection, the maturation of new quarterback Darell Garretson and how well the Wolves can force defenses to pay attention elsewhere (especially with Lloyd Mills on the other side) will determine what kind of a season Williams has, but there won’t be a shortage of college suitors in the stands.