Editor’s note: The next in a series of articles previewing the upcoming high-school football season, which kicks off Friday, Aug. 22. Today, we look at some of the top defenses in the Valley.
It doesn’t matter how fast a coach can get his plays off. What matters most is making stops. At some point the offense is going to get taxed, and big games are going to have to be won with defense.
There are several teams that look equipped to slow down the rapid-firing, no-huddle spread offenses that have taken over high schools.
Here is a look at some:
Phoenix Mountain Pointe
This team won 14 games in a row because it was physical and punishing on defense.
Linebacker Wesley Payne will be missed, and coach Norris Vaughan has to replace his entire secondary from last year’s Division I championship team, but he’s got a good corps of linebackers (led by Keondre Churchwell and Austin Cronen), a great defensive front (namely Bruce Hester), and athletes in the back layer (Dale Black and Tyrek Cross included) who are ready to take those spots and keep this machine rolling.
Glendale Deer Valley
This may be the best defensive front in the state, at any level, led by 6-foot-7, 270-pound senior end Brian Calhoun, who had 13 ½ sacks and 14 quarterback hurries on Division II semifinal team last season.
Also back are nose guard Marquette Mitchell (eight sacks and three QB hurries) and end Marlon Roberts (9 ½ sacks, 12 QB hurries). The Skyhawks’ secondary is fast and athletic, led by Mataio Mageo, who had four interceptions in 2013. Xavier Aldersman is a speedy, physical safety at 6-3, 200. If the Skyhawks make a championship run, it will because of their defense.
Phoenix Brophy Prep
Seven starters return from a defense that got beat up last year with so many injuries. One of the lost injured was 6-6 defensive end Connor Murphy, who is back, stronger than ever, ready to make an impact and give the Broncos a huge boost. Then there is cornerback Isaiah Oliver, who is one of the more dangerous cover guys in the state with his ability to go the distance every time he intercepts a pass. Manning the middle is junior linebacker Walker Adams, who set a season school record with 134 tackles last season. The Broncos had a rare losing season last year, but, a healthy defense this year, will go a long way in pushing the Broncos to elite status again. A brutal schedule once again, leading off with No. 1 nationally-ranked (by USA Today) Las Vegas Bishop Gorman, will either make or break the Broncos.
The Firebirds’ offense could be a work in progress, but the defense is rock solid, led by defensive end Brandon Jamison, linebacker Robbie Kleifield and safety Kurt Shughart. Those three are the heart and soul of a defense led by defensive-minded head coach Conrad Hamilton. Hamilton is looking for highly touted offensive tackle Keenan Walker to make an impact on the defensive line. The defense dominated Scottsdale Saguaro in last year’s opener, but this time around, it won’t be so easy. Saguaro is loaded top to bottom both sides of the ball, and Chaparral’s defense will get an immediate challenge. Hamilton will find out how good these guys are right off the bat.
If the Huskies make it back to the Division I final, it will because of the likes of Caleb Peart and Garrett Rand up front and solid athletes behind them, such as linebackers Tristen Vance and David DeSilva and cornerback Morris Kroma. There are a lot of spots that need to be filled, but Hamilton has a way of quickly plugging holes with a new wave of athletes every year. Watch for the Huskies to be faster and more physical this season.
Deer Valley isn’t the only great defense in the West Valley. The Coyotes year in and year out find athletes to make plays on defense. Last year, defensive end Michah Navarrette was a nice discovery. He returns after a 17-sack season. And he’s surrounded by athletes, such as Randy Rodriguez, who didn’t play last season because of an injury. Brett Tonz is a beast in the middle of the defensive front, and the secondary is quite competent.