Division I, Section II
Coach: Bernie Busken
Last year’s record: 9-4, lost to Desert Vista in the Division I semifinals.
Returning offensive starters: 7, including wide receiver Nate Phillips, who had 72 catches for 1,265 yards and seven touchdowns last season.
Returning defensive starters: 6, including safety safety Boston Whitlow, who had 92 tackles a year ago.
Aug. 24 at Corona del Sol; Aug. 31 vs. Mountain Ridge; Sept. 7 vs. St. Mary’s; Sept. 13 at Chandler; Sept. 21 vs. Highland; Sept. 28 at Gilbert; Oct. 5 vs. Desert Ridge; Oct. 12 vs. Perry; Oct. 19 at Hamilton; Oct. 26 at Maryvale
Sept. 13 at Chandler: These two teams may have produced the most exciting game of last year’s regular season when they combined for 99 points in a Thursday night affair. Basha survived the shootout with a 58-41 win, and both teams will once again be full of highlight-reel athletes, so there could be more fireworks.
Oct. 5 vs. Desert Ridge: The Jaguars walloped Basha last season, and it began a three-game slide for the Bears. Desert Ridge is rebuilding after the departure of Jordan Becerra, Joey Counts and Parker Rasmussen, but has talented players taking over. It will be a good test for both sides.
Oct. 14 at Perry: Alarm bells rang when the Bears were beaten by Division II Perry a season ago, but Basha rebounded to make the semifinals. This is an important game because Basha wants to get as many home games as possible in the state tournament, and a win here helps its seeding.
Two years ago, the Basha football team put together an impressive regular season before getting upset by Gilbert in the first round of the playoffs. Last year was the opposite, as the Bears lost three games in a row late to disappear from state title chatter before stunning Brophy in the quarterfinals.
The team’s season ended in a semifinal loss to eventual champion Desert Vista, but coach Bernie Busken is ready to build on the experience heading into his third year coaching at Basha.
“We’re really proud of that,” he said. “Ain’t that what life’s about? When life gets tough, not giving up. Maybe we got a little bit too big for our britches and we ran into three good football teams. I thought we did some really good things against Hamilton and then we had a couple games to get back in a groove. We played Desert Vista very well. A bounce here or there and we may have been state champions."
There have been ups and downs in Busken’s first two seasons, but a combined 18-6 record with a final four appearance is certainly a building block, and Basha is prepared to make another run in 2012.
The biggest loss to graduation was quarterback Kyle Duran, who threw for 3,077 yards with 29 touchdowns and 14 interceptions a year ago. However, junior Zach Werlinger has a chance to be special, Busken said.
“At this point of his career, he’s maybe ahead of anybody I’ve ever had,” Busken said.
Werlinger was 24-of-29 for 228 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions in limited duty last year and will have a pair of star skill guys on offense with him.
Wide receiver Nate Phillips committed to Arizona after a fantastic junior season (72 catches, 1,265 yards, 7 TD), while running back Rajhan Meriwether ran the ball 74 times for 560 yards and four touchdowns in the team’s final four games after missing much of the early-season action with a knee injury. Tight end Ronnie Querry gives Werlinger another option.
Three key guys were lost to transfer, though, as wide receiver Dionte Sykes (Chandler) and running backs J.J. Husar (Desert Ridge) and Myles Smith (Chandler) all left the program.
Despite the defections, Busken likes the team’s offensive balance.
“I feel like we can do what we want to do,” he said. “Whatever you can’t handle is what we want to do.”
Basha’s defensive line should be a strength, and the Bears return safeties Boston Whitlow (92 tackles) and Dalton Krum (54 tackles, two interceptions).
While the loss of three high-profile transfers will hurt, Busken is optimistic about his team’s ability to compete at a high level as he continues to put his imprint on the program.
“It’s the third year and things have been a lot easier,” he said. “Next year should be even more. They’re understanding how things are supposed to be.”