The prospects and position rankings are done, but there is one more player list to put out there – those flying under the radar, players whom coaches believe are ready to have break-out seasons and make an impact on Friday nights this season.
Let’s take a look at 20 Hidden Gems:
Isaiah Pola-Mao, Phoenix Mountain Pointe, WR/DB, 6-3, 180: Coach Norris Vaughan has been impressed with this kid on both sides of the ball this summer. He gives the Pride a big, physical receiver to complement the speedy slot backs. Pola-Mao is a beast in the secondary with his speed and physical nature. His blood lines reach all the way to Pittsburgh and Steelers All-Pro safety Troy Polamalu.
Cameron Koutsalas, Scottsdale Saguaro, WR/DB, 5-9, 165, Sr.: With all the talk revolving around Saguaro’s Big Three of wide receivers/defensive backs Christian Kirk and Byron Murphy and running back/safety Kam’ron Johnson, this kid becomes the forgotten man. But not to his teammates and coach Jason Mohns, who believes he will be a big-time playmaker on both sides of the ball.
Stephen Gomez, Mesa Desert Ridge, RB, 5-8, 165, Soph.: This kid tore it up in freshman games so much last season that he had to get pulled in the second half of games to not rub it into opponents. He is made in the mold of former Scottsdale Chaparral tailback/punt returner Elijah Castro. Great speed and moves, hard to tackle. Watch for him to be part of a wide-open attack both running and catching the football this season.
David DeSilva, Chandler Hamilton, RB/LB, 6-0, 205, Jr.: This kid is pure power. Great acceleration, a non-stop motor, a playmaker who will punch it in whenever the Huskies get inside the 5 and will make big stops at the goal line as a punishing linebacker.
Quentin Clark, Show Low, WR/QB/LB/S, 6-2, 190, Jr.: Show Coach Randy Ricedorff feels so strongly about this kid that he believes he might be the best player in Division IV. He can do it all. He has the speed, skills and strength to make an impact in every area. Ricedorff can play him at quarterback and receiver and there will be games in which he moves from each position, depending on the matchups.
Alec Hathcock, Desert Ridge, RB/LB, 5-10, 195, Sr.: Very reminiscent to former Desert Ridge running back Joey Counts with his combination of power and speed. Great between-the-tackles runner who will be asked to lay the hits at linebacker. He’s got his father’s fortitude and athleticism. Desert Ridge coach Jeremy Hathcock starred on state championship teams at Lakeside Blue Ridge.
Ethan Johnson, Mesa Westwood, 5-7, 190, RB, Jr.: Earned a starting spot last season and in five games rushed for 620 yards. He is fast and strong and ready to take it to another level. Coach Spencer Stowers feels he is ready to break out for a huge season with 1,000 yards a strong possibility on a more experienced Warriors team.
Ross Dietz, Buckeye Verrado, RB, 5-10, 175, Sr.: A multiple threat at running back who became a warrior in the weight room. After a good track season, his increased speed allows coach Derek Wahlstrom to move him around on offense and make him a go-to guy. Great team leader.
Baylend Stephens, Heber Mogollon, OL/LB, 6-2, 230, Jr.: Hidden from college coaches in 8-man football, Stephens is a special player. He may be one of the best defensive players in Division VI this season, after starting both ways as a sophomore. He moves very well, a reason why he finished runnerup at state in wrestling the past two years.
Tyree Shivers, Mountain Pointe, WR, 5-8, 155, Sr.: He may be small but that won’t matter when so many people miss him in the secondary. He is lightning fast with an extra gear. May be team’s second-fastest player, which is saying something, because there is nobody in Arizona faster than Paul Lucas on the football field.
Christian Sanchez, Chandler Valley Christian, WR/DB, 6-1, 175, Sr.: Well-rounded athlete whose best sport is probably baseball. But coach Jeff Rutledge believes he is ready to have a big football season, making big plays on both sides of the ball.
A.J. Samuelu, San Tan Foothills, WR/FS, 5-8, 170, Sr.: Coach Rodger Schenks decided to move him from running back to wide receiver to take advantage of his speed, quickness and toughness. He brings the team another deep threat at receiver.
Xavier Alderman, Glendale Deer Valley, WR/FS, 6-3, 190: Everybody is so focused on Deer Valley’s big, explosive defensive front that they tend to forget the athletes behind them. One of the best is this big, rangy free safety who is fast with good hands and has the potential to becoming the team’s star on both sides of the ball this season.
Dylan Eickmeyer, Tucson Salpointe Catholic, OL, 6-4, 255, Jr.: Coach Dennis Bene has converted him from tight end. Bene feels this kid oozes so much potential at tackle that he believes he could end up being a top offensive line prospect in the state in 2016. He has grown two inches and gained 25 pounds since last season.
Cody Byers, Phoenix Northwest Christian, WR, 6-3, 180, Sr.: It’s finally his turn to show what he can do. He has worked non-stop since last season to make him a featured player on the offense. Was impressive in Arizona Christian University’s summer camp.
Alex Aguirre, Goodyear Desert Edge, Athlete, 6-1, 205, Jr.: He can play any skill position on both sides of the ball. After showing great work ethic in the off-season and having a phenomenal first two weeks of camp, coach Rich Wellbrock has no doubt Aguirre will excel anywhere he puts him.
Julian Stevens, Phoenix Barry Goldwater, WR, 5-10, 165, Sr.: Made perhaps more improvements than any player in the program since last year. Showed grit in passing-league games, making big catches and stood out in July camp. He figures to make an immediate impact on offense with his disciplined routes and knack for making tough catches look easy.
Josh Marlowe, Marana Mountain View, WR/DB, 5-7, 160,Sr.: This speedy slot receiver is elusive with good hands. He will get on the radar quickly in a versatile offense that could be the surprise team in Division II. He will also lock it down at cornerback on defense.
Nathan Farmer, Oro Valley Ironwood Ridge, K, 5-9, 160, Sr.: After making five of eight field goals and 43 of 47 extra points last season, he should become an even bigger weapon with a stronger leg and the ability to onside kick with the best of them.
Trey Casey, Phoenix Pinnacle, RB/S, 5-10, 180, Sr.: After starting on varsity at Phoenix Sandra Day O’Connor two years ago, Casey didn’t play football at Pinnacle in 2013 when he transferred. He played on the golf team. A scratch golfer, Casey will make a big impact on both sides of the ball, and he’ll help Pinnacle fans not miss graduated bullish back Josh Hoekstra too much with his hard-nosed, physical style.