Outlook: A "down" year was inevitable.
Even for Chaparral, a program which has dominated on the field for the better part of the past five years, there was going to be a year the Firebirds wouldn't win a championship. The core group of stars who led the Firebirds to three consecutive championships graduated.
It happened in 2012 when they overcame a slow start to the season, found a groove late in the season and forged a playoff spot before eventually falling to Marcos de Niza in the Division II quarterfinals.
The "blip" of sorts could be in the rear view mirror again. With QB Sean Paul Brophy and RB Emerson Carrethers (869 yards, 4 TD) and Peoria Sunrise Mountain-transfer Elijah Castro (1,082 yards, 13 TD), the Firebirds have a loaded backfield. Izzy Simpson transferred in from Hamilton and will be a big-time threat at wide receiver to join arguably the best tight end in Arizona, Trevor Wood, as a weapon for Sean Paul Brophy after Wood missed all of last season with injuries.
The defense, too, is loaded. Tyler Whiley is a stalwort at defensive back, Hayden Pate and Joe Nauert lead the linebackers, and seniors Marshall Forrest and Courtney Taito lead an experienced, faster bunch.
Sean Paul Brophy's development - he had his moments but was also inconsistent at times in 2012 - could be the key to Chaparral's fortunes, but with this much surrounding talent, navigating the early portion of the schedule (Saguaro, Marcos de Niza, Glendale Mountain Ridge, Desert Mountain, Red Mountain) doesn't feel as ominous as in 2012.
Division II appears to be top-heavy to start 2013, and Dave Huffine's team will be throwing its weight around.
Division II, Section VII
Coach: Dave Huffine
Last year's record: 8-4, lost to Marcos de Niza in Division II quarterfinals
Returning starters: 6 on offense/ 5 on defense
Top returners: QB Sean Paul Brophy (494 yards passing, 8 TD, 4 INT); RB Emerson Carrethers (108 carries, 869 yards, 4 TD); WR/DB Tyler Whiley (36 rec., 610 yards, 10 TD; 49 tackles, 7 TFL, 6 passes defended); LB Hayden Pate (71 tackles, 14 TFL, 3 sacks); OL/DL Marshall Forest; OL Kennan Walker
Aug. 30 vs. Saguaro; Sept. 6 at Marcos de Niza; Sept. 13 vs. Mountain Ridge; Sept. 20 at Desert Mountain; Sept. 27 at Red Mountain; Oct. 4 vs. Notre Dame; Oct. 11 at Arcadia; Oct. 18 vs. Brophy; Oct. 25 vs. Cactus Shadows; Nov. 1 at Paradise Valley
Aug. 30 vs. Saguaro: With the shenanigans of Saguaro sitting their starters two years ago ancient history now, the real rivalry resumes and this is a classic matchup to begin the season. Two standout offenses with speed and skill to spare.
Sept. 6 at Marcos de Niza: Even if the playoff loss to the Padres is brought back up - and it no doubt will be - the Firebirds must successfully navigate their way through the brutal five-game stretch to start their season.
Sept. 20 at Desert Mountain: The other natural rivalry along Shea Blvd., this matchup could be an instant classic this time around given Chaparral's improvement from last year and Desert Mountain's two-headed monster of QB Kyle Allen and WR Mark Andrews. It was a close game last year, it should be even closer this year, and what could be a big early jolt in each team's power rankings.
Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune sports editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (480) 898-6576.