Desert Vista had something special from the start last season.
There was a brotherhood that would not allow them to take a breather in fear of letting down a teammate. They, mostly 36 seniors, were on top of each from the start pushing and prodding with one focus in mind.
It came to fruition when the Thunder hammered nationally-ranked Hamilton for the Division I state title at University of Phoenix Stadium in the final game of season. Now Desert Vista will kick off the East Valley’s 2012 football season with a game against Nevada powerhouse Palo Verde on Saturday in the Barry Sollenberger Classic, taking the same field in which last year’s dream season was capped.
The key to 2012 just might be forgetting about it — to a certain degree — and allowing the players who return a chance to forge a path of their own. The team is No. 3 in the Tribune’s preseason rankings.
“We had a great year and it had a lot to do with our chemistry and what we expected from each other,” senior Kaleb Germinaro said. “We have a good group back and we have to get the juniors thinking the same as we did last year.
“We had a great camp and got everything accomplished we wanted to in order to make it happen.”
The Thunder will have a new cast of characters, but some of them — like lineman Dylan Fischer and defensive back Austin Hicks — saw plenty of time last year as a backup or injury replacements.
Desert Vista will be ready to play with anyone on the schedule, and the Thunder understand there is a new standard after winning it all.
“We are going to get everyone’s best game,” Fischer said. “We’ll bring ours, too. Last year it was enough and we think it will be again.”
The offense lost quarterback Hunter Rodriguez, who threw for the second most yards in schools history in his career, Division I tackle JJ Dielman and the Thunder’s top two running backs.
And yet the offense might not slow down at all this year with four of the offensive linemen returning, with senior Zach Tamburo leading the way, as the unit looks to open holes for Germinaro and senior Jarek Hilgers, who many thought was the most talented runner last season..
“This is our O-line from our freshmen year and we’ve had that bond all four years,” said Fischer, whose unit won three Big Man Challenges on the 7-on-7 circuit this summer.
Stepping in for Rodriguez is senior Matt Young, who will bring a new dimension to the offense with his escape-ability and elusiveness. He didn’t just bide his time, holding a clip board and calling in plays last year.
Young was a special teams threat as a returner and played some defensive back with the latter being especially important for 2012.
“I took a year off from quarterback but it opened my eyes to bigger and better things by being on the other side of the ball,” Young said. “It helps at quarterback and it was a great learning experience. I am excited to get back out there.”
Defensively, the Thunder have some quality players up front with Zo Melvin, Cole Preston, Tamburo and Fischer providing size, experience and play-making ability.
The defensive backfield expects to be strong with safety Nick Farina, who is on pace to become the program’s all-time leading tackler, and Austin Hicks, one of the fastest players on the team who started at the end of the year, leading the way.
“We are about winning games,” said Farina, who had four interceptions last season. “We are going to do our thing and help this team as best as we can.”
The questions mostly lie in the linebacker corps with the all-senior crew from last season gone. New faces like Taylor Truelove, a 6-foot-4, 215-pound transfer from Desert Ridge who came over during the Christmas break, and junior Anthony Reaves, who is 6-3, 205 pounds, could be the difference makers here.
This team will find its own identity with time and become a group which is more than comfortable with how 2012’s season will wind up compared to 2011.
“That’s our chance to go back and get another state championship,” Fischer said. “We know it is going to take a lot of work but with the guys that we have I think we can do it.”
Contact writer: (480) 898-7915 or JSkoda@ahwatukee.com. Follow him on Twitter @JSkodaAFN.