First in a series previewing high school football in the state.
The favorite: Yuma Catholic. Will once again put plenty of points on the scoreboard, a season after averaging more than 43 per game on the way to a state title.
The challenger: Phoenix Northwest Christian. Last season’s first-round exit is the exception to the rule for a team that went to the championship each year from 2010 to 2012.
The dark horse: Phoenix Arizona Lutheran. Last year’s top seed has the depth and the talent to be right there again.
The intrigue: Eagar Round Valley will look to improve its defense after surrendering 63 points in the state championship last season. … Glendale Joy Christian appears primed to take another leap forward in its second year of 11-man football. … St. Johns coach Mike Morgan needs four wins to reach 300 for his career. … Tempe Prep returns a deep senior class and will play hard and fast. … Two years removed from a state-title appearance, Morenci will try to rebound after getting bounced in the first round in 2013. … Phoenix Bourgade Catholic’s passing game is in good shape with its quarterback and top two receivers returning. … With Small Schools Player of the Year Matt Munsil having graduated and his older brother, former coach Will Munsil, joining the staff at Arizona Christian University, Scottsdale Prep has two big holes to fill.
Players to watch: Travis Barney, Sr., QB/DB, Benson; Kai Cienfuegos, Sr., LB, Miami; Jagan Cleary, Sr., QB, Yuma Catholic; Brady Cook, Sr., WR, Arizona Lutheran; Taylor Fitzgerald, Sr., RB, Tucson Pusch Ridge Christian; Aidan Grantham, Sr., DB, Williams; Drew Inness, Jr., QB, Northwest Christian; Heath Motes, Sr., QB/S, Thatcher; Trent Padilla, Sr., OL, Round Valley; Carter Rodriguez, Sr., RB, Yuma Catholic; Nick Smith, Sr., QB, Scottsdale Prep; Tonka Watson, Sr., RB, Joy Christian; Ricky Wilson, Sr., LB, Queen Creek San Tan Foothills; Ryan Wilson, Sr., OL, San Tan Foothills; Ethan Workman, Sr., RB, Round Valley.
The favorite: Bagdad. The defending champs have all the pieces to make it two in a row, including arguably the most loaded backfield in the division.
The challenger: Pima. Plenty of experience returns, with only three starters gone from last season’s state semifinalist. This year could bring the next step.
The dark horse: St. David. A perennial playoff contender in the eight-man game, this is a team that could thrive if not given the proper respect from the rest of the division.
The intrigue: Heber Mogollon should challenge again after reaching the state-championship game last season. … Salome’s hard-nosed style could lift it back into the playoffs, a season after being eliminated in the second round. … Elfrida Valley Union graduated just two players from last year’s team, and should turn things around following a disappointing 3-5 campaign. … Phoenix Valley Lutheran should have no trouble scoring points, but a lack of depth could leave it exposed if injuries strike. … Gilbert Christian appears to be underrated after making the state semifinals a season ago. … The former Mesa Prep is now Mesa Arete Prep, and Amy Arnold’s group will look to improve upon last year’s first-round playoff exit.
Players to watch: Bailey Anderson, Sr., QB, Gilbert Christian; Johnny Boren, Jr., OL, Pima; Elijah Bowie, Jr., WR/DB, Valley Lutheran; Chance Bray, Sr., LB, Joseph City; E.A. Fonte, Jr., DB, Bagdad; Joe Gaylor, Sr., DB, Mogollon; Casey Jeans, Sr., RB, Bagdad; Lane Lunt, Sr., TE, Pima; Myles Mattox, Sr., RB, Glendale Prep; Mitchell Mayberry, Jr., DB, St. David; Baylend Stephens, Jr., LB, Mogollon; Xavier Sturdevant, Sr., LB, Duncan; McKay Turley, Sr., DL, Mogollon; Laken Yargus, Sr., OL, Bagdad; Destry Yocum, Sr., QB, Kearny Ray.