Division I, Section II
Coach: Angelo Paffumi
Last year's record: 3-7, did not qualify for Div. I playoffs
Returning offensive starters: 3, including junior QB Michael Amado (880 yards passing, 8 TD), who started the first half-dozen games for the Coyotes as a sophomore in 2011 before injury derailed the rest of his season.
Returning defensive starters: 2, including middle linebacker Ryan Peelman, who had 63 tackles and 1 1/2 sacks last year. He'll lead a senior-heavy but inexperienced defense.
Aug. 24 at Kingman; Aug. 31 vs. Carl Hayden; Sept. 7 at Mountain View; Sept. 14 vs. Dobson; Sept. 21 vs. Desert Ridge; Sept. 28 at Highland; Oct. 5 at Mesa; Oct. 12 vs. Gilbert; Oct. 19 vs. Red Mountain; Oct. 26 vs. Trevor Browne
Sept. 7 at Mountain View: This is where the schedule begins to toughen significantly, and likely where the Coyotes will get a true sense of how far they've come and how far they need to go.
Sept. 28 at Highland: This was a game ripe for the taking in 2011 until Highland scored 14 points in the fourth quarter to pull out the win. While games against Desert Ridge, Red Mountain and Gilbert could be rough, but games like these can build confidence for an inexperienced program looking for any positive it can find.
Oct. 5 at Mesa: Two programs searching for success again and trying to go about it in identical ways. An old-school football "purist" will love this hard-hitting, grinding-for-yards, low-scoring smashfest.
Where to begin?
For a program which has one playoff victory in its existence (2008) and made a coaching change for the first time in more than a decade this offseason, there's plenty of work to do for new coach Angelo Paffumi.
Even more work lies ahead as the former Desert Ridge and Gilbert assistant takes over a program which has sagged competitively (being in Division I hasn't helped) and in attendance around the school.
Paffumi decided conjuring up enthusiasm for the program's participation and its lower levels was a top priority. He has two assistants who stayed from the Pete Jonovich era, hired former Mesa and Gilbert defensive assistant John Shay as defensive coordinator, and will run the offense himself.
In the meantime, the Coyotes will try and navigate an unusual conundrum in having a senior-heavy, but inexperienced lineup in 2012.
The return of QB Michael Amado from injury should help the offense, as Amado showed athletic and passing potential before his 2011 season was prematurely shortened.
But Paffumi wants the Coyotes to move away from the sling-it style of the past few seasons into a more "defensive-minded' approach on offense, citing the need to increase toughness and expose the kids to a style of play many will also have to try and defend.
"One way or another we can line up but had to do something to create a niche," he said. "We’ll be smaller and slower than people so we have to be tougher than people. We’re not quite there yet but we’ll get there."
Paffumi found indifference and disinterest toward the football program upon his arrival, and has reached out to baseball, wrestling and other programs on campus for help in drawing as many kids as possible.
It's worked to a degree, but the new coach knows 2012 is only the first step in a long, winding road ahead.
"We have what we’ve got and we’ll get the job with what we’ve got and that’s the bottom line," he said.
Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune sports editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (480) 898-6576.