During practice leading up to this season, members of Bagdad’s football program wore training shirts with “King of the Mountain” written on the back.
As the defending state champions in Division VI, they’ve earned the title. And just to reinforce the notion that everyone else will be aiming for them this year, the shirts also feature a large bullseye right below the phrase.
Related: Arizona high school football preview
Coach Dalton Mills and his players aren’t shying away from the challenge.
“You’re the kings on the top,” Mills told his team. “You’re going to be taking people’s best shots. You’re going to have to handle adversity, because adversity’s definitely going to happen. You got to embrace it.”
Bagdad enters 2014 as azcentral sports’ No. 1-ranked team in Division VI, and the favorite to repeat as champions in the eight-man game.
This comes a year after the program won its first football title since 1952, when it was a six-man sport and there was no postseason tournament.
It was a special moment for Bagdad and Mills, who attended the school.
“Traditionally, Bagdad’s always been a baseball town,” he said. “So to win in football and kind of turn that tide a little bit, it was pretty neat.”
Bagdad is in excellent position to defend its crown, returning several key weapons from last year’s championship squad.
Senior quarterback Tony Jauregui threw for 1,610 yards and 32 touchdowns, and senior running backs Casey Jeans and Justin Pacheco combined for 1,749 yards and 23 touchdowns on the ground.
The defense faces more turnover, but Mills is confident the unit will still be in good condition.
“We did lose some big guys on defense,” he said. “But we have some good pieces, and I actually kind of feel like these guys have filled in better this year than (they) have on offense.”
After reaching the state semifinals in two of the previous three seasons, Bagdad finally broke through last year. And it decided it likes the feeling.
“We knew we were close,” Mills said. “We just never found a way to get over the top. So it’s a whole different feeling trying to actually prove yourself. And then when you do make it over the top, it’s a level of confidence that gets ingrained in your kids. And you can just feel the difference.”
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 VI rankings
No. 1 Bagdad: The defending state champion return their potent backfield of Tony Jauregui, Justin Pacheco and Casey Jeans.
No. 2 Pima: Last year’s semifinalist, led by QB Devon Kartchner and RB Andrew Judd, are aching to get back after losing only three starters.
No. 3 Heber Mogollon: State finalist loses arguably top D.VI player with graduation of Dallyn Despain, but tradition and a strong core make them title contenders.
No. 4 Phoenix Valley Lutheran: These guys will roll on offense with two of the more dynamic players in Elijah Bowie and Kyroin Newton. Depth may be the only issue.
No. 5 St. David: Strong coaching staff returns playoff team, led by QB Travis Davis.
No. 6 Kearny Ray: Dual-threat QB Destry Yocum makes this team go. He is back running the pistol as well as anybody in 8-man ball.
No. 7 Glendale Prep: This team is powered by the running of Myles Mattox and got stronger over the summer with dedicated weight-room sessions.
No. 8 Gilbert Christian: This state semifinal team returns QB Bailey Anderson, who threw 36 TD passes, including 10 in one game, last season.
No. 9 Elfrida Valley Union: they only won three games last year but they return all but two players and will be a handful for teams.
No. 10 Salome: Confidence was gained with a playoff win last year, look for the Frogs to play a smash-mouth style and get back for more playoff fun.
— Richard Obert
Preseason All-Arizona selections: