Outlook: Welcome to Division I.
One of the smallest schools (based on enrollment for the upcoming two-year scheduling block), Perry might have more growth in its future from surrounding neighborhoods and available land, but it could be a slow climb up after years in Division II.
For good measure, the Pumas are in Division I, along with Hamilton, Chandler, Basha, Highland and Gilbert. That is going to make for a grinding schedule.
Strength of schedule in the power rankings might hold Perry's playoff fortunes. Preston Jones' program has a significant number of new faces who'll be counted on in the starting lineup, especially on the offensive line and defensively (two places which will need to be strengths given their schedule).
Among the plusses is Austin Nightingale, who threw for 1,100 yards, 12 TD and 8 INT (64 percent completion rate) as a sophomore. He'll have to play a huge part in the offense given the new running backs and (mostly) new offensive line in front of him. The Pumas also have Kyle Huckaby returning after being the team's leading receiver in 2012 and an O-line led by Chandon Herring, who's committed to BYU, and Austin Pauley who has a handful of Division I offers.
The defense only returns two starters from 2012, but Lane Veach is one of them. Among the best linebackers in the East Valley, the Stanford-commit will be counted on heavily to bring the new kids along.
The senior class is small (24) but the junior class is big, and Jones believes the potential is here to be the most talented team of Pumas to come through the school in its five-year history to date.
Division I, Section I
Coach: Preston Jones
Last year's record: 7-4, lost to Chaparral in first round of Division II playoffs
Returning starters: 4 on offense/ 2 on defense
Top returners: QB Austin Nigntingale (78-125 passing, 1100 yards, 12 TD, 8 INT; 62 carries, 364 yards, 6 TD); WR Kyle Huckaby (25 rec., 267 yards, 2 TD); TE/LB Lane Veach; LB Marcus Pane (39 tackles, 5 1/2 sacks); OL Chandon Herring; OL Austin Pauley
Aug. 30 at Sunnyside; Sept. 6 vs. Sandra Day O’Connor; Sept. 12 at Gila Ridge; Sept. 20 at Mountain View (Mesa); Sept. 27 vs. Mountain Ridge; Oct. 4 vs. Basha; Oct. 11 at Highland; Oct. 18 at Chandler; Oct. 25 vs. Gilbert; Nov. 1 vs. Hamilton
Sept. 20 at Mountain View: The schedule is loaded with toss-up games and even tougher games. This one falls in the latter, but a good showing here (win or lose) could help keep heads up even if Perry is 2-1 or 1-2 to start the season.
Oct. 11 at Highland: On paper, Highland appears to have the edge, but this is the type of game where "upsets" easily occur, especially since the Hawks' don't appear to have an explosive offense. If the Pumas play their cards well and get a break or two, a 10-7 or 9-6 or 13-10 win here would be a biggie.
Oct. 25 vs. Gilbert: Easily the best odds of winning a game in Perry's month of October this season, the Pumas might be in must-win here. They'll need the points, and while Basha, Hamilton and Highland figure to help their strength of schedule, you still to win some games to play in postseason.
Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune sports editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (480) 898-6576.