Division III, Section I
Coach: Eddy Zubey
Last year's record: 6-6, lost in the 4A-II quarterfinals
Returning starters offense: 6, including senior quarterback Erik Kump who completed 57 percent of his passes for 828 yards, 13 touchdowns and three interceptions in 2010. He won MVP honors at two different showcases this spring and summer.
Returning starters defense: 6, including defensive back Mikey Strnad, who’ll also see time at running back. He was state runner-up in the 100-meters as a sophomore and took third place as a junior.
Schedule: Aug. 26 vs. Carl Hayden; Sept. 2 at Campo Verde; Sept. 9 vs. Poston Butte; Sept. 16 at Apache Junction; Sept. 23 at Vista Grande; Sept. 30 vs. Williams Field; Oct. 6 vs. Queen Creek; Oct. 14 at Combs; Oct. 21 vs. Casa Grande; Oct. 28 at Arcadia
Sept. 16 at Apache Junction: Though they didn’t play every year, Higley last beat A.J. in the 2006 playoffs. In addition to both schools having new coaches (Zubey and Justin MacDonald at A.J.), they both figure to bring vastly different styles of play than we’ve seen from both schools in recent years: a passing game.
Sept. 30 vs. Williams Field: The Black Hawks won the first two matchups between these neighbors (and three miles apart is as close as it gets), so it’s time for Higley to fire back. Regardless of sport, these two schools will have a rivalry for years to come, and staying close to even competitively only makes it better.
Oct. 6 vs. Queen Creek: The cliched “hangover” effect from the previous week shouldn’t apply here (or even attempt to be applied). Higley last defeated the Bulldogs in 2006, the same year the Knights reached the 4A-II state championship game. Since then Q.C. has won them all, but none by more than a touchdown.
Change could be a good thing at Higley, but it’s no less strange. Jim Beall built the program from scratch since the school opened in 2001 — sometimes while literally on his hands and knees — but he stepped down after last season, and the Eddy Zubey era begins.
With it comes a small staff (at least for this year) and without a massively impactful player in Kelvin Fisher (now at the University of Arkansas), but no less hope.
Zubey had moderate success at Westwood and not much at sagging St. Mary’s, but he feels as though he’s walking into a good situation.
He’s already said quarterback Eric Kump is the best he’s had during his three head coaching tenures. Three linemen are 6-foot-3 or bigger and his running backs/receivers are sophomores and juniors with room to grow.
He’ll throw a lot while using a lot of two running backs in the backfield, and use a 4-4 defense comprised of predominatly juniors at linebacker and defensive back.
For some football followers and peers, the jury is still out on Zubey’s ability to succeed. One season isn’t likely long enough to sway those opinions one way or another, but a playoff appearance in year one would set the tone, a tangible goal that’s within reach.