With two consecutive championships down and two stars back, it’s no wonder why Chaparral is the preseason favorite in Division II.
Quarterback Connor Brewer will start for the third straight year before taking his game to the University of Texas, and he will have elite wide receiver Davonte Neal as his main target. Much of the rest of the offense is back, including the team’s top two rushers, Lucas Petrullo and Zach Skeen.
The question marks for the Firebirds come on defense. Only two starters return, although both are impact guys. Neal is one of the top cornerbacks in the state, and linebacker Cody Ippolito was second on the team in tackles last season. Defensive linemen transfers Jarvis Lewis and Dylan Cozens could make an immediate impact, although the bigger worry for Chaparral is the team’s depth. The star power is bright, but last year’s across-the-board consistency must be met.
“The team we had last year was so good, but because of the two superstars, their star power overshadows what last year’s team did,” Chaparral coach Charlie Ragle said. “We certainly have depth issues. We’ve got to get to work.”
The two biggest challengers are Peoria Centennial and Marcos de Niza.
Chaparral and Centennial met in last year’s 5A Division II title game, with the Firebirds pulling away in the second half for a 32-17 victory. The Coyotes have plenty of talent returning, including star running back Jalen Ortiz and safety Zach Hoffpauir. They have also added transfer Marcus Farria, a defensive end and running back who could be one of the state’s top recruits for 2013.
Marcos de Niza must replace playmakers Anthony Shivers and Martwon Weaver on offense, but quarterback Tommy Thornton is back, and rising star Paul Elvira is expected to be the main offensive weapon. The defense is led by Iowa State-commit Adam Pavlenko, who led the team with 133 tackles last season. The Padres lost to Chaparral in the 5A-II championship game two seasons ago, but have the talent to challenge again.
“Obviously you see the two-time defending champions and you want to know how you compare, but it’s too early for that right now,” Marcos de Niza coach Roy Lopez said. “We’re going to take care of ourselves. Our expectations are high, though, I’ll tell you that right now. We want to be playing in late November.”
Those three teams seem like the most likely to win the Division II crown, but realignment has opened up some interesting possibilities. Tucson Salpointe drops down a classification after playing in 5A-I last year, while Vail Cienega and Notre Dame each move up from the 4A ranks. All those teams have found success in the past, and they could make things tough on the top three come playoff time.