Editor’s note: The next in a series of previews leading up to the beginning of the high-school football season on Friday, Aug. 22. Today, we look at some of the Valley’s top small schools.
Phoenix Northwest Christian had been used to being at the top of the small-schools mountain, appearing in the state-championship game every year from 2010 through 2012 and winning two titles.
So, after losing in the first round of the Division V state playoffs last season, it makes sense for Northwest Christian to want to get back to a higher elevation.
In that case, this year has started out well — at least from a metaphorical standpoint — as the team recently returned from a training camp in the high altitudes of Flagstaff, which coach Dave Inness said was an excellent bonding experience.
“It was actually one of the better camps we’ve ever had here,” Inness said. “This group’s fun to be around.”
Northwest Christian relied heavily on underclassmen last season, particularly sophomores. This year, guys like Drew Inness — the coach’s son and a 1,700-yard passer at quarterback in 2013 — and Travis Pollay, who racked up 1,000 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns a season ago, should shine as juniors.
Northwest Christian will have plenty of competition in Division V, especially from around the Valley. Phoenix Arizona Lutheran was the top overall seed and a state semifinalist last season, and will be joined as contenders by teams like Phoenix Bourgade Catholic, Tempe Prep, Glendale Joy Christian and Scottsdale Prep.
Chandler Seton Catholic has gone 36-4 over the past three seasons and made the Division IV semifinals a year ago.
It has some holes to fill — particularly on the defensive front, where only one of seven starters returns — but it also has a lot of strengths, like senior running back Antonio Campanella and a receiving corps that brings back three of its top four performers from last season.
It’s enough to have Seton Catholic optimistic about its title chances.
“Do we have what it takes? Yeah, I suppose we do,” coach Rex Bowser said. “I think we deserve to be in the discussion. I’ll say that.”
Fountain Hills, with 2,600-yard passer Luke McDermott, and Goodyear Estrella Foothills could join Seton Catholic in challenging traditional rural powers Show Low and Lakeside Blue Ridge, as well as last season’s Division IV runner-up, Monument Valley River Valley.
In Division VI, a handful of Valley schools dot the radar.
They are led by Gilbert Christian, the No. 2 seed and a state semifinalist a year ago, and also include Phoenix Valley Lutheran, Glendale Prep and Mesa Arete Prep (formerly Mesa Prep).