Blogs / Features
Les WillseyStaff Writer, AIA365.com email@example.com
10 East Valley football questions, answers for 2012Aug 8, 2012
Preseason means questions. So here's a couple handfuls to ponder with answers (guesses?) while waiting for the first official whistle of the Arizona prep football season on Arizona soil. That arrives Saturday Aug. 18 with the 7th annual Barry Sollenberger Classic when Blue Ridge takes on Moapa Valley (Nev,) and Desert Vista faces off with Palo Verde High (Nev.) at University of Phoenix Stadium. Game times are 3 p.m. and 7 p.m., respectively.
Q1: Can any of last year's Division I final four (Desert Vista, Hamilton, Desert Ridge, Basha) return to the final four?
A1: Hamilton's 2011 runner-up finish was a letdown for ardent Huskies' fans, but not making it back to the semis would be bigger news since it hasn't happened since 2000. Hamilton has some experience returning and an outstanding crop of younger players ready for impact. Desert Vista has a lot of retooling to do with one of the more impressive offensive line performances in recent years in 2011, particularly in the title-game win over Hamilton. The Thunder also lost a boatload of seniors. Desert Ridge must plug some skill position holes with the loss of prolific Jordan Becerra and Joey Counts, but scoring points is rarely a problem for the Jaguars. Basha, which hasn't advanced to a title game yet, has made the playoffs seven straight years under either Tim McBurney (five seasons) and Bernie Busken ( last two years). The Bears made a surprising run to the semis last year after a surprising early outster in 2010. Better defense would make Basha's return to the final four more plausible. Overall, I think just one of this quartet makes the 2012 semis -- Hamilton. The other three project to be Brophy, Mountain Pointe and Red Mountain.
Q2: Can DI programs Dobson, Gilbert , Skyline and Westwood enjoy marked turnarounds under new coaches this season?
A2: Marked turnarounds in terms of wins -- not likely. All have heavy schedules and that makes playoff berths tough for newcomers and new systems and philosophies. All of the coaches -- George De La Torre (Dobson), Leland Rodgers (Gilbert), Angelo Paffumi (Skyline) and Spencer Stowers (Westwood) -- have played or coached with winning programs. De La Torre is the only one with head coaching experience. If attitudes and work ethic are honed to the new mentors liking this year, these schools may be ready for a whiff of postseason come next fall.
Q3: How will Year 2 play out for DI coaches Tom Joseph at Corona del Sol, Chad DeGrenier at Mesa Mountain View and Matt Gracey at Mesquite?
A3: None of the three reached postseason last year posting 5-5, 4-6 and 3-7 records respectively that left them on the outside looking in. Corona will have to steal a game it couldn't last year. The Aztecs pretty much beat who they should have on paper and lost to who they should have falling short of the playoffs by one slot. Mesquite lost a talented group of seniors and depth turned out to be a problem and still is this year. Mesquite's schedule is brutal making a playoff berth arduous. Mountain View, missing its first playoff berth since 1984 last season, will have to step up its play the most of the three. Of the trio the Toros face the toughest road to a postseason berth based on last year's performance.
Q4: Can private schools Seton Catholic (stay a bonafide contender in Division 4) and Valley Christian (return to contention) in Division 5?
A4: Affirmative for Seton, tough task for Valley Christian. Seton doesn't possess an overwhelming schedule so that helps the Sentinels, who lost a good chunk of talented players to graduation. Valley Christian faces a stout slate of games. With fewer injuries and maturity on the field the Trojans could at least be on the fringe of a playoff spot.
Q5: Can Perry High make waves among the best in Division II?
A5: Perhaps. The Pumas continue to add depth and may have a more diverse set of skill position players than coach Preston Jones has seen at the school now in its fifth varsity. Perry's visits to postseason haven't been very lengthy thus far, but that can be helped by not matching up so quickly and often with Chaparral. The Pumas graduated their best offensive weapon in QB Josh Uhlorn.
Q6: Basha watched two of its top three rushers exit for other schools. Will the lone holdover be able to carry the load?
A6: Coach Bernie Busken thinks so. The Bears still have junior Rahjan Meriwether, who excelled the final few weeks of the season and in to the playoffs. The others are J.J. Husar, who shifted to Desert Ridge and Myles Smith, who stayed in district relocating to Chandler High. The last big-time ground gainer at Basha was quarterback Mike Benjamin in 2009.
Q7: What team - which hasn't made much noise since 2008 -- could make a playoff push in DI this season?
A7: That would be Highland High. The Hawks rode a strong finish last year after a miserable start. Coach Pete Wahlheim returns a bevy of underclassman -- many of whom were sophomores that gained meaningful playing time under fire in 2011. Their return fuels the hope of something like the 7-5 season Wahlheim and the Hawks enjoyed with a late surge in '08.
Q8: Will Red Mountain be the only Mesa school to qualify for the playoffs this season, and if so, are the Mountain Lions good enough to crack the final four?
A8: My answer in early August is 'yes' to the first part, 'perhaps' to the second. The Mountain Lions return the best quarterback in Mesa in Mason Thorman, but will need a decent running game to go with Thorman. One-dimensional teams, unless they are highly skilled and prolific with that dimension -- usually are exposed and not good enough to be a semifinalist. The 2008 Mountain Pointe squad comes to mind with a great gournd tandem. That may be the key for the Mountain Lions, who graduated a talented ground threat in Marcus Brantley. Whether it's a feature back or backfield by committee, run game a must to keep opponents honest.
Q9: Which EV school will be the best among Division 3 entries?
A9: Queen Creek has been steady the past two years. Not quite as good in 2011 as it was in 2010. Expect the Bulldogs to remain strong, but get more push from Williams Field, Poston Butte and Campo Verde. The latter trio all made the playoffs last year and two battled Queen Creek tough (Poston Butte and Williams Field) in head-to-head clashes.
Q10: Who are two of the happiest coaches in the East Valley?
A10: Mike Reardon, former head coach at Highland, Saguaro and Mesquite and Jim Jones, former head coach at Mohave, Cortez and Red Mountain. The reason -- they're now assistants and don't have to do all that head-coaching stuff they used to do. They're also retired from teaching as well. Reardon is assisting at Dobson after laying off a year from Mesquite; Jones is assisting for a third year at San Tan Foothills.