Outlook: It’s been a struggle for the Apache Junction football program the past couple seasons. There have been four coaches in the past four years and declining enrollment at the school has sapped the football team of its depth. Last year may have been rock bottom, as the Prospectors went 1-9 and were beaten soundly by the majority of their opponents.
Dave Aoyagi is the new coach and he is in charge of helping it get turned around. In an isolated place like Apache Junction there will be ups and downs depending on the talent level of each class, but the ‘ups’ will be few and far between if the local talent decides to find new high schools to attend.
“We have to keep them here, get them at a young age and get them excited,” Aoyagi said.
It’s clearly not a one-year process, and the current upperclassmen are realistic enough to know that a state championship is a pipe dream. But there are several three-year starters who have stuck it out and are hoping to find stability in their final year.
“What really made up my mind (about taking the head coaching job) was the kids,” Aoyagi said. “(The assistants) were all kind of working together, but they had a look like, ‘We need a coach.’ That made up my mind.”
Brett Darling will return for his third season as the starting quarterback, although he will split repetitions with junior Adam Abbatacola, which frees up Darling to play some defense as well.
The strength of the defense should be its linebacker corps, as Matt Varnes and Hunter Hallford are two of the team’s leading tacklers from a season ago. Danny Hernandez is the leader of the line, and like nearly everyone else, will be starting on both offense and defense.
There are some mismatches on the schedule, as Saguaro, Williams Field and Queen Creek figure to have no problem with the Prospectors. But there are also games against Glendale, Flowing Wells, Alhambra, Chinle, South Mountain and McClintock. Apache Junction isn’t going to become a force overnight, but being competitive and winning a few of those games would be a step in the right direction.
“It started two years ago, when we went from a big senior class to a small senior class,” Aoyagi said. “Unluckily, behind that small class was a junior class that wasn’t very good. When you have two bad classes in a row it sets you back. It was just the way it worked out. Now we’re trying to reverse that trend.
Division III, Section III
Coach: Dave Aoyagi
Last year’s record: 1-9, missed Division III postseason
Returning Starters: 6 on offense/6 on defense
Top returners: QB Brett Darling; LB Matt Varnes, LB Hunter Hallford, OL/DL Danny Hernandez.
Aug. 30 at Glendale; Sept. 6 at Flowing Wells; Sept. 12 (Thur.) vs. Alhambra; Sept. 20 vs. Saguaro; Sept. 27 at Williams Field; Oct. 5 (Sat.) at Chinle; Oct. 11 vs. Higley; Oct. 18 at South Mountain; Oct. 25 at Queen Creek; Nov. 1 vs. McClintock
Aug. 30 at Glendale: The Prospectors would love a fast start, and the first three games give them that opening. The schedule toughens in the middle portion so a win or two early would do wonders for a team which has struggled the past couple years.
Oct. 18 at South Mountain: Here’s another winnable game on the schedule. It comes after a four-game stretch featuring Saguaro, Williams Field and Higley, so Apache Junction must get out of that relatively unscathed and then turn their attention to this matchup.