VX football preview: Gilbert Tigers - East Valley Tribune: Gilbert

VX football preview: Gilbert Tigers

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Posted: Thursday, August 15, 2013 4:37 pm | Updated: 5:05 pm, Thu Aug 15, 2013.

Outlook: When Tim Rutt arrived as Gilbert’s new football coach in February, he saw a demoralized group. The Tigers had just dealt with the highly-publicized and controversial firing of Leland Rodgers and were onto their third coach in three years. The participation numbers were small and morale was low.

“The environment was a mess. That’s the only thing I can tell you,” Rutt said. “The kids didn’t trust anybody. Three coaches, three years, it’s like, ‘What are you going to bring us?’ We just went back to step one.”

Rutt, a longtime freshman football coach at Hamilton, considers himself old-school, but knew this group needed to have some fun. For camp this summer, the Tigers went to California. They worked out on the beach and then went to Magic Mountain.

“I felt the kids needed that,” Rutt said. “They didn’t even want to play anymore. We had a blast. We worked hard, but we also had time for fun.”

Rutt knows getting the program back to respectability will take time, but he’s hoping this year lays that foundation. Gilbert had 52 players in its entire program when he took over, and now he has more than 80 combined on varsity and junior varsity.

The team lost its most talented player from a year ago, quarterback Conner Helvig, but returns an impressive offensive line, led by August Aiono and Steve Miller.

Running back Eric Hironaka is the team’s top returning athlete, while quarterback Tyler Stevenson (Chaparral transfer) and wide receiver Alex Gerstner (Chandler transfer) should help add more weapons to the offense. Punter/kicker Austin Carver is back and could be one of the state’s more accurate kickers. Gilbert suffered a blow recently when tight end/h-back Taylor Malolo suffered a season-ending knee injury at practice.

Rutt wants the defense to assume a blue-collar identity, and has started to reward the hardest workers with black shirts at practice. Gilbert High is a school with several successful boys sports programs, but football has been down lately. Even though the Tigers aren’t expected to contend this year, Rutt believes the group is heading in the right direction.

“I feel sorry for these kids, but we can’t look back and pout about it,” Rutt said. “We just have to build pride in our program. We have to change the mindset.”

Division I, Section I

Coach: Tim Rutt

Last year’s record: 3-7, did not qualify for Division I postseason

Returning Starters: 4 on offense/ 3 on defense

Top returners: RB/DB Eric Hironaka (72 rush, 340 yards); OL/DL August Aiono; OL Steve Miller; K/P Austin Carver.

2013 Schedule

Aug. 30 vs. Mesquite; Sept. 6 at Desert Ridge; Sept. 12 at Campo Verde; Sept. 20 vs. Skyline; Sept. 27 vs. Dobson; Oct. 4 at Highland; Oct. 11 vs. Chandler; Oct. 18 vs. Hamilton; Oct. 25 at Perry; Nov. 1 at Basha

Key games

Aug. 30 vs. Mesquite: Both programs struggled in 2012 and have new coaches. The Wildcats bring back a better defense, but Gilbert’s offense has potential behind a strong offensive line and some key transfers. There have been a lot of changes for both of these schools recently, and this will be the first look to see how both are coming along.

Sept. 12 at Campo Verde: Campo Verde is still a relatively new school but has found early success. Gilbert has a larger enrollment and would like to prove its superiority, but it won’t be easy. The Tigers’ first-half schedule is much easier than the second, so it must take advantage of winnable games like this one.

Oct. 4 at Highland: The matchups with the Hawks are always heated. Highland returns much of its defense from a season ago and has hopes of making a playoff run. The Tigers’ personnel doesn’t seem to match Highland’s, but in a rivalry game there are always twists and turns.

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[Stats Courtesy of MaxPreps]