San Tan Foothills Sabercats
Division V, Section II
Coach: Rodger Schenks
Last year’s record: 3-7, missed playoffs
Returning offensive starters: 7, including 1,000-yard rusher Carlos Melendez (5-10, 195) who will be the featured back in the Sabercats’ offense. He had two huge games last year (188 yards against Empire and 161 against Fountain Hills), but was under 100 in the other games. Schenks expects more consistent performances from his senior who has the ability to eclipse the 1,500-yard mark.
Returning defensive starters: 8, including junior nose guard Jake Lee (6-2, 245), who Schenks compared to the Hanson brothers of “Slap Shot” fame. The wild-haired Lee started as a sophomore and has grown a couple inches and put on 20 pounds since last season. Schenks said Lee has a nonstop motor and he will be utilized to control the middle of the line of scrimmage and create havoc in the backfield.
Aug. 26 vs. Tombstone; Sept. 2 at Canyon State; Sept. 9 at Florence; Sept. 16 vs. Seton Catholic; Sept. 23 vs. Combs; Sept. 30 at Valley Christian; Oct. 6 at Santa Cruz; Oct. 14 at Coolidge; Oct. 21 vs. Tempe Prep; Oct. 28 vs. Yuma Catholic.
Sept. 9 at Florence: Just how much the Sabercats have improved won’t really be known until they visit their neighbors from Florence. The Gophers beat the Sabercats in the regular-season finale, 49-0, and went on to the 3A semifinals. However, Florence loses much of its talent from that team and will also be trying to find itself. If the Sabercats can win or stay close, that will bode well for their chances.
Sept. 30 vs. Combs: This will be a pivotal game for San Tan Foothills as it bids to get into the playoffs for the first time. Combs is entering its first year as a full varsity team and opens with a brutal two-game stretch with Queen Creek and Williams Field. Both teams could very well be 2-2 at this point in the season and the winner will have a leg up as they hit the second half of the season.
Oct. 21 vs. Tempe Prep: Last year the Knights made a big splash in 2A, beating the likes of Valley Christian and Scottsdale Christian, but they’ll have a lot of fresh faces in key positions. San Tan Foothills will likely be in the playoff hunt heading into this game and a win may mean the regular-season finale against Yuma Catholic wouldn’t be a do-or-die game.
Unlike the other new schools in the area (Poston Butte and Combs), San Tan Foothills didn’t have the luxury of slowly growing into a varsity team. The Sabercats came out of the gate two seasons ago playing a varsity schedule, a very difficult 3A varsity schedule. After taking more than their share of lumps playing with a roster of mostly sophomores and juniors, they seem poised to deliver a few lumps.
“You are going to see a whole new San Tan team,” coach Rodger Schenks said. “The kids are excited. They’ve made a big jump. They are ready.”
San Tan Foothills will play in one of the tougher sections of Division V, and have Florence, Coolidge, Valley Christian and Tempe Prep on the schedule, but should be able to hold their own this year with a roster full of seniors.
Offensively, the Sabercats have talented weapons in running back Carlos Melendez and wideout Julian Navarrette, who caught 22 passes and six touchdowns and rushed for 151 yards. Schenks also praised the growth of quarterback Michael Bruce, who he said, “got a lot bigger and stronger than last year and is finally figuring out the leadership skills.”
Defensively, the team’s strength will be up the middle, with nose guard Jake Lee a potential star and linebacker Jake Suggs a returning starter.
The biggest challenge for the Sabercats will be learning to win tight games. They have two games in their school’s history that were decided by a touchdown or less (1-1 in those games), but they will likely have at least that many close ones this year. If the Sabercats can get off to a strong start and learn to win a game or two they weren’t expected to, they’ll be a tough out come playoff time.