Peoria Centennial has 25 players who have pressed 300 pounds or more on the bench. Team speed is as good as any coach Richard Taylor has had. Tailback Dedrick Young is a workhorse getting major-college attention. And the defensive line could be the best he has ever had.
It all adds up to the Coyotes being the No. 1-ranked team in Division II by azcentral sports entering the 2014 high school football season.
“I like the work ethic,” Taylor said. “I like their quickness and speed. They need to listen better, more attention to detail.”
They should be fast learners in Week 1 when they play host to the No. 1 team in Division I, Chandler.
Last year, Centennial opened the season with a 41-21 loss at Chandler, followed by 10 consecutive wins.
“You’re never ever ready for a team like that,” Taylor said. “Last year, we didn’t know who Chase Lucas was. It might be worse that we know who he is now.”
No matter what, the opener will shape a team that just might have the firepower to keep up with Chandler.
It starts with the defense, which, at this point, is ahead of the offense, Taylor said.
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The defensive front comprises of 6-foot-1, 215-pound Micah Navarette on the edge with Brett Tonz moving inside on the line. Navarette had 17 sacks in a breakout junior season, his first on varsity. Bozton Sanders worked hard in the off-season to become the middle linebacker, allowing Young to move inside and outside at linebacker.
Sophomore Andrew Nichols is a beast on the edge at 6-3, 220 pounds. And Randy Rodriguez (6-3, 225) adds more athleticism and power and speed to the defensive line after missing last season because of an injury.
“Some positions we’re young, but the defense is ahead of the offense,” Taylor said. “This is a more athletic defense than we’ve had.”
Centennial could use both Daniel Smith and Isaac Steele at quarterback, but because they’re both so valuable to the team, Taylor will keep them on the field with Smith playing receiver and Steele at defensive back when they’re not at quarterback.
Last year, both filled in at quarterback during the 10-game winning streak with injuries.
Smith is more of the pocket passer. Steele is the athlete, able to take off and run for big plays.
The key will be a strong run game, led by Young, who had more than 1,600 rushing yards last season. He is surrounded by young, fast, talented backs and another solid offensive line, led by juniors Steven Bailey and Marshal Nathe.
Centennial hasn’t won a state championship since 2008. It has knocked on the door since then, finishing runner-up in 2010 and 2012 and losing a close semifinal meeting to Scottsdale Chaparral in 2011.
The Coyotes appear ready to smash the door down.
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 II rankings
No. 1 Peoria Centennial: This team is loaded, top to bottom, with two-way star Dedrick Young leading the way.
No. 2 Glendale Deer Valley: These guys will pressure quarterbacks up and down the field and the secondary is athletic making it hard for QBs to find open targets.
No. 3 Peoria Liberty: QB Tyler Wyatt is the closest thing to a one-man wrecking crew.
No. 4 Tucson Salpointe Catholic: This could be one of coach Dennis Bene’s toughest jobs, replacing so many great players from a 14-0 championship team, but the foundation was down long ago for annual success and the defense is impressive.
No. 5 Scottsdale Chaparral: From Ron Estabrook to Charlie Ragle to Dave Huffine to Conrad Hamilton, the Firebirds’ coaching chain is linked with championships.
No. 6 Marana Mountain View: Loaded with athletes, led by Tucson-transfer Demetrius Flannigan, a receiver/defensive back who committed to Arizona.
No. 7 Gilbert Mesquite: With an all-star cast of coaches, led by Jim Jones, and a stout defense and strong run game, this team could get back to the semifinals.
No. 8 Vail Cienega: They won their last four games but a 1-5 start was too much to overcome. This is a playoff team with so many strong pieces on both sides of the ball.
No. 9 Oro Valley Ironwood Ridge: They had a rare down season last year with five losses, rebuilding from a state championship 2012 season. But they’re on their way back up.
No. 10 Florence Poston Butte: New coach Paul Moro makes them an instant success story.
Preseason All-Arizona selections: