Outlook: Marcos de Niza had one of its best seasons in school history a year ago, finishing 11-2 and making the Division II state semifinals. However, there will be a lot of work to do in order to duplicate that finish after a trying offseason.
The graduation of some of the team’s stars was expected, as cornerback Priest Willis (UCLA), wide receiver Paul Elvira (UA) and running back Mauriece Lee (UA commit but didn’t qualify) all moved on. Additionally, standout cornerback Dominique Fenstermacher (seven interceptions) and running back Kamron Johnson transferred from the school, landing at Mountain Pointe and Tempe, respectively. The Padres have consistently been one of the top programs in Division II the past several years, but the loss of so much talent will test that in 2013.
“Not that everybody’s counting us out, but I’d rather be low-profile,” coach Roy Lopez. “We’re not going to sneak up on anybody, but they also think we lost those five D-I kids. It’s good for our junior and sophomore class to show we still have some guys here. We’re excited.”
Marcos de Niza does have several talented players returning, led by quarterback Josh Eckley. The dual-threat signal caller has unproven weapons around him but should help make the learning curve for those players less steep. Eckley is one of the top returning quarterbacks in the East Valley. Jake Lagunas is expected to take over as the starting running back, while Jackson Loney should be one of the top receivers. Andrew Johnson returns to lead what should be a solid offensive line.
The team’s strength seems to be its defense. The linebackers should stand out, as the Padres return Andrew Rodriguez and Logan Palmer. The schedule is tough, and Marcos de Niza has a lot of young players who must transition to becoming impact players on varsity.
Lopez knows this year’s feel is different from the past couple seasons, but is excited to see how his team handles it.
“We’re very optimistic” he said. “I really like the work ethic of this group. I like the unselfishness. I love the loyalty considering we had some guys jump ships. Anytime that happens, it’s tough on the kids. It’s good to see these kids come together after as high-profile of a team we had last year. We’re going to be a little bit more blue-collar, back to how we used to be. Tough, hard-nosed Marcos de Niza.”
Division II, Section III
Coach: Roy Lopez
Last year’s record: 11-2, lost in Division II state semifinals to Ironwood Ridge
Returning Starters: 5 on offense/4 on defense
Top returners: QB Josh Eckley (129-205, 2,601 yards, 26 TD, 5 INT); LB Andrew Rodriguez (88 tackles, 2 sacks); LB Logan Palmer (71 tackles, 7 sacks); DL Jay Mariscal (43 tackles, 5.5 sacks).
Aug. 30 at Horizon (6 p.m.); Sept. 6 vs. Chaparral; Sept. 13 vs. Buena; Sept. 20 at Cesar Chavez; Sept. 27 at Salpointe Catholic; Oct. 4 at Campo Verde; Oct. 11 vs. Poston Butte; Oct. 18 at Westwood; Oct. 25 vs. Mesquite; Nov. 1 vs. Saguaro
Sept. 6 vs. Chaparral: Marcos de Niza got the better of Chaparral twice last year, early in the season and then in the Division II quarterfinals. The Firebirds have a lot of talent returning plus some key transfers. The Padres are on the flip side of that coin, as they lost many key players to graduation and had a couple more transfer out. Chaparral will be the favorite heading into this one and Marcos de Niza will surprise people if it can pick up another win over the Firebirds.
Sept. 27 at Salpointe Catholic: Another tough test for the Padres will be facing off with the Lancers in Tucson. Salpointe features star athlete Cameron Denson, impressive quarterback Andrew Cota and key transfer Kaelin DeBoskie, the younger brother of former Hamilton standout Covaughn DeBoskie. Marcos de Niza’s defense must be ready to handle that explosive trio.
Nov. 1 vs. Saguaro: The season finale is yet another tough test. The Sabercats are in Division III and don’t have as many players as Marcos de Niza, but have the high-end talent to compete. Cal-bound quarterback Luke Rubenzer and top junior Christian Kirk must be slowed. This could be a key game for power points as well.