Outlook: The hope, as Mesa coach Kelley Moore said, is to go"back to what we do best."
That means tough, physical and scrappy football, and for a program which has struggled mightily in the standings since its remarkable run to the Class 5A-I state championship game in 2009, the Jackrabbits have faith (a word used often) they're headed in the right direction.
It might be foolish to associate complete "success" with the program based purely on wins and losses, but Moore knows that element exists to a degree, and despite having few returning starters back on either side of the ball to begin 2013, he likes what he sees.
He believes the lines (offensive and defensive) and chemistry are much improved from a year ago, and it helps having one of the best centers in the East Valley in Robert Schrock along with tackle Chris Martin back. The same can be said defensively with Schrock and Samiuela Taueli at defensive tackle.
The staff also saw changes. Former Desert Ridge and Tucson High coach Vince Smith is assisting Moore (mostly on the offensive line), along with former Gilbert coach and one-time Mesquite defensive coordinator Leland Rodgers, who's running the JV program and help on varsity.
Depth and experience could be issues with this group, and matchups against Red Mountain, Highland, Mountain View, Desert Ridge and Desert Mountain makes for tough sledding, particularly in the final month of the season.
The road back to weekly competitiveness will be windy, but rarely do things ever fall into a straight line for Mesa.
Division I, Section III
Coach: Kelley Moore
Last year's record: 2-8, did not qualify for postseason
Returning starters: 2 on offense/ 2 on defense
Top returners: OL/DL Robert Schrock; OL Chris Martin; DL Samiuela Taueli; QB Rafael Bellorin; DB Tanner Stewart
Aug. 30 at Dobson; Sept. 5 (Thur.) vs. Highland; Sept. 12 vs. Westwood; Sept. 20 at Valley Vista; Sept. 27 at Tucson High; Oct. 4 vs. Desert Ridge; Oct. 11 at Red Mountain; Oct. 18 vs. Mountain View; Oct. 25 vs. Skyline; Nov. 1 at Desert Mountain
Sept. 5 vs. Highland: If tough, physical football is your style, this could be a game to watch. A defensive shootout is possible and a great measurement of Mesa's progress to this point and needs for beyond. If only they could bring out trucks of mud to play on.
Sept. 20 at Valley Vista: It's a long ride and the first true "road" game for the Jackrabbits. How will they respond in a very winnable game?
Oct. 18 vs. Mountain View: Sure the results have been pretty one-sided the past couple years in Mountain View's favor (though who knows if these schools had played each other in 2009 and 2010) but it remains a rivalry despite Mesa's 0-fer since 2004, so it means a lot no matter where Mesa otherwise sits in the scope of this season.
Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune sports editor. He can be reached at email@example.com or (480) 898-6576.