Here are some of the top storylines heading into the first week of the regular season:
It was an offseason of turnover, as 10 football programs welcomed new coaches, and Friday is the first taste of what’s to come. The East Valley’s new coaches are Tom Joseph (Corona del Sol), Chad DeGrenier (Mountain View), Matt Lewis (McClintock), Greg Davis (Cactus Shadows), Eddy Zubey (Higley), Todd Williamson (St. Mary’s), Shaun Aguano (Chandler), Justin MacDonald (Apache Junction), Matt Gracey (Mesquite) and Willie Dudley (Scottsdale Christian). The expectations are varied across the landscape, but all the coaches are now a few months into their tenure and can finally experience the fruits of their labor. A new coach usually renews excitement inside football programs. Can these 10 make it last?
Hamilton wants history
Without significant fanfare, three-time defending champion Hamilton is one victory away from a significant milestone. If the Huskies beat a good, likely amped-up Mountain Pointe team, it’ll be the 41st consecutive victory and a new big-school record previously owned by Mountain View from 1996-98. Hamilton’s last defeat was to Peoria Centennial in September 2008, and while the dynamics of high school football have changed drastically since Bernie Busken’s Mountain View teams ruled the East Valley roost, they’re still only teenagers. Speaking of which, the Norris Vaughan-led Pride have no interest in being that footnote, and far more interest in making history by stopping Hamilton from making history.
Can Chaparral rebound?
The Firebirds were hit in the mouth by a talented Las Vegas Bishop Gorman squad on Saturday in a 42-22 loss at the Barry Sollenberger Classic. To make matters worse, the team lost running back/linebacker Lucas Petrullo to a foot injury for the final three quarters, and his availability for Friday’s game at Salpointe is unknown. Defensive end Jarvis Lewis is not expected to play while the Arizona Interscholastic Association investigates an allegation that he was recruited to the school. After going undefeated and cruising to a second straight championship last year, adversity has set in early in 2011. The Firebirds have a tough game against the fourth-ranked Lancers, a traditional Tucson power, to kick off the Arizona portion of their schedule, as the team looks to put the past week in its rearview mirror. “We’ve got to come out and take our frustration out on them,” quarterback Connor Brewer said.
Gilbert schools square off
The new scheduling system decided there’s no reason to wait until later for rivalries to get revved. The four big Gilbert district schools will tangle to begin 2011, with Mesquite traveling to Highland in one corner and Desert Ridge busing over to Gilbert in the other corner. Mesquite has a new coach in Matt Gracey, but they still have a top defense and one of the best running backs in Anthony Lopez. Highland is trying to rebound from an unpleasant 2010 thwarted by injuries and being worn down late in close games. The Jaguars may be shorthanded if running back Joey Counts can’t play, plus last year’s 5A-I ruuners up will have to deal with a Gilbert squad souped up on size.
Notre Dame’s new world
While Chaparral took heat from many for not moving up to the new Division I, Notre Dame took the opposite approach. A Division IV school based on enrollment size, the uber-successful Saints instead moved up to Div. II to take a shot at bigger schools. Will it be a savvy move for better competition and help the school’s image? Or is it a case of “be careful what you wish for?” The next two years will tell the tale, but there’s no easing in period whatsoever with a trip to Marcos de Niza to begin this new era. Both teams have lots of playmakers at the skill positions offensively and defensively, but can Notre Dame sustain itself with depth while some Div. II schools don’t have to play as many two-way players?