Division I, Section II
Last year's record: 4-6, did not qualify for Division I playoffs
Coach: Pete Wahlheim
Returning offensive starters: 6, including junior QB Blake Young, who threw for 1,109 yards in a handful of starts (especially late in the season).
Returning defensive starters: 5, including junior linebacker Grant Gale, who'll anchor a new 4-3 defense under new coordinator Sammy Johns.
Aug. 24 at Mesquite; Aug. 31 at Gilbert; Sept. 7 vs. Desert Ridge; Sept. 14 vs. Corona del Sol; Sept. 21 at Basha; Sept. 28 vs. Skyline; Oct. 5 at Desert Mountain; Oct. 12 at Mountain View; Oct. 19 vs. Mesa; Oct. 26 vs. Red Mountain
Aug. 24 at Mesquite: This two-year scheduling block pits the Gilbert district against one another early and often. Familiarity should rule here, except widespread schematic, coaching and personnel changes by Mesquite make scouting and preparations difficult for the Hawks. It also brings us to ...
Aug. 31 at Gilbert: ...which has the same thing(s) working for it and against the Hawks with new Gilbert coach Leland Rogers. It's a big early stretch for Highland with the likes of Basha, Desert Ridge and Red Mountain on the schedule later
Oct. 12 at Mountain View: Any number of games could fall here, as the Hawks seek a playoff berth. They're all going to be equally important at this stage, but October is looking like the most difficult of the months for the Hawks, so they'll need to win one or two late in the season for a postseason chance.
It's time to make a move.
An 0-5 start to 2011 gave way to a 4-1 finish, an obvious cause for optimism at Highland, where coach Pete Wahlheim's group was hammered by injuries and youth early last season.
To the team's credit, they persevered and won four of their final five games, and though not enough for a playoff spot, core pieces of that team return.
Beyond them, however, is an increase in talent, depth and "an outstanding offseason of conditioning and development, the best in years," according to Wahlheim.
It's not without changes and subsequent challenges. Struggling to oversee the millions of issues within a football program and still try to scheme and coach his kids, Wahlheim hired former Marcos de Niza assistant Sammy Johns as his new defensive coordinator.
It figures to take a month or so for his players to be fully grasped of the new scheme, but the optimism remains paramount.
Hopes follow to the offensive side. With QB Blake Young returning and second-leading receiver Bill Johnson (30 rec., 396 yards) also returning with junior Jake Brown, the Hawks would love to throw the ball once again to achieve better balance.
Already hampered by significant injuries, the Hawks again could face early difficulties until they can get healthy in a few weeks. Here's where they're happy about their depth, and if they bide time by getting off to a good start - and hang around in the interim of August and early September, some competitive expectations are not unfair.
"I think it’s time for us to win some games," Wahlheim said. "Our kids have put in the work. Our (participation) numbers, conditioning, talent level are as good as ever. I think we can have a good year. I really do. It’s time to turn the corner a little bit."
Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune sports editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (480) 898-6576.