It’s no longer about beating city-rival Hamilton.
It’s about going the distance, winning the state football championship.
Chandler talks about it every day. It got over the Hamilton hump last year, beating the Huskies for the first time in school history. But it was Hamilton that denied Chandler a trip to the Division I final in the semifinals in a 21-17 loss.
Since then, Chandler football players have been hard at work.
“It’s more about winning the state championship,” coach Shaun Aguano said. “We talk about it every day. I think getting over the hump last year helped us.”
To get there, the Wolves will have to get through a gauntlet first six weeks of the season that includes games against preseason Division II No. 1 Peoria Centennial (Aug. 29), Highlands Ranch (Colo.) Valor Christian (Sept. 12), defending Division I champion Phoenix Mountain Pointe (Sept. 19) and perennial power Hamilton (Oct. 3).
“We’ll have a good idea what kind of team we have by then,” Aguano said.
This could be a history-setting year for the Wolves, who come into the 2014 high school football season as azcentral sports’ No.1-ranked Division I team.
They have all of the pieces to become the first team in school history to win a state championship.
It starts at quarterback with dual-threat senior Bryce Perkins, who has running back Chase Lucas and big receiver N’Keal Harry, among a bevy of play-making receivers, around him to get the ball to.
“The bad part about it is we only have one ball,” Aguano said. “We’ll see how that works out.
“I think Bryce trusts those playmakers to make plays.”
The biggest concern Aguano has is filling in those eight spots on defense from graduation.
An anchor arrived from Chandler Basha with highly touted nose guard J.W. Windsor transferring in. He took part in spring football at Chandler.
Harry, 6-foot-4, 220 pounds, who transferred from Tempe Marcos de Niza, will start in the secondary at safety along with junior Mason Moran.
Those are two big, athletic safeties.
The cornerbacks are juniors who run track.
Chandler has one of the best defensive coordinators in the state in Thurmond Moore, who had five NFL coaching stops. When he came over to Chandler last year, the Wolves suddenly started stopping people. That had been Chandler’s Achilles heel during those great offensive years with Brett Hundley at quarterback.
“We have a brand new defense that is ready for the challenge,” Perkins said. “I think this year is our best chance to win state.
“I think as the year progresses we’ll be better and better.”
Preseason Arizona high school football rankings: Divisions I-VI
azcentral sports’ Richard Obert ranks the Top 10 teams in each division before the start of the 2014 season. He begins with Division I and works his way through Division VI. Is defending champion Mountain Pointe the team to beat in Division I?
Division I rankings
No. 1 Chandler: Fast, physical and hungry for school’s first state championship after coming close last year.
No. 2 Phoenix Mountain Pointe: Great offensive line, backs, defense and a rock-solid foundation of winning laid by coach Norris Vaughan.
No. 3 Chandler Hamilton: This might be the lowest preseason ranking since they began their rich tradition, but the ‘underdog’ role will motivate these guys more.
No. 4 Mesa Desert Ridge: Defense will have to lead the way, but the offense isn’t bad with junior QB Tate Shumway and backs Justin Irby and Alec Hathcock.
No. 5 Phoenix Brophy Prep: Another gauntlet schedule, but this a much more mature, experience group to handle the best of the best.
No. 6 Phoenix Pinnacle: QB Brian Lewerke has two big-play receiving treats in Adam Turner and Cules Rose to make this a special season.
No. 7 Phoenix Horizon: QB Dalton Sneed is back with a strong line and a defense that looks improved.
No. 8 Chandler Basha: The Gerald Todd coaching era, it appears, begins with sophomore QB Ryan Kelley, who appears to have what it takes to lead this team to the playoffs.
No. 9 Mesa Red Mountain: Wiz’s kids should be all right with depth and dogged determination.
No. 10 Mesa Skyline: A big line, a strong defense and continued improvement under former Desert Ridge defensive line coach Angelo Paffumi make this a sleeper team.
— Richard Obert
Preseason All-Arizona selections: