Chandler Hamilton lost three times in the past two football seasons to the folks up Arizona Avenue. Before 2013, Hamilton had never lost to Chandler.
Chandler currently sits atop of Arizona high school football. But Hamilton, which lost to Chandler twice last season, including the Division I title game, is hard at work through the hottest part of these August days (it was 114 degrees Wednesday afternoon) to get back on top.
Does Chandler’s latest streak of success gnaw at the Huskies?
“Not really,” highly recruited senior defensive tackle Garrett Rand said during a break in Wednesday’s practice. “They won a state championship once in a hundred years, so I think we’re mentally tough enough to get over that.”
It was the first state title Chandler won since the Arizona Interscholastic Association began a state playoff bracket in 1959. The Wolves won a mythical state title in 1949.
Hamilton is used to being the best.
It has won seven state championships since 2003, but has been state runnerup three of the past four seasons with the last championship coming in 2012. That’s a long time for Hamilton.
For now, it’s maneuvering through workouts, getting young but talented lines to mesh, giving senior quarterback Travis Lockhart plenty of reps, watching sophomore running back Jawhar Jordan shift gears, seeing athletic senior Kyeler Burke make the transition from receiver/running back to lock-down cornerback.
“We’re kind of looking toward getting to the mountain top,” Belles said. “We’ll see how this plays out. But this is a great class of seniors, and a real good class behind them.”
It starts with Burke, who was Hamilton’s biggest offensive threat last season. He won the game against Phoenix Pinnacle last season, making one of the more incredible catches of the season in traffic on fourth down that set up a late field goal.
Burke’s versatility on offense allowed Hamilton to find multiple ways to get him the ball.
But now Burke, 6-foot-1, 190 pounds, is moving to cornerback.
Belles says Burke will be “full-time defense and part-time offense.”
A main reason is that Belles wants to make sure he’s got somebody who can shut down everybody’s No. 1 receiver.
“He knows our whole offense, but I think he’s just the guy who can shut down the best receivers, and we’re going to need that,” Belles said. “We’re going to face some teams who have excellent receivers with, of course, the team down the road having more than just one receiver.”
Hamilton games are won in the trenches, in a grind-it-out style. Although this may not be the biggest Hamilton line under Belles, and still is young, the Huskies are tough, athletic, hungry, fueled by Rand’s tenacity.
“We’re actually even younger this year, but we have a lot of confidence in our defense,” Rand said. “It starts on the offensive and defensive lines, and it’s going to end there.”
Burke said he is excited about his senior season.
“Coming off the mountain top 0-2 (in the last two state finals), it kind of takes some of the pressure off,” Burke said. “But we still have the target on our back. It’s Hamilton and nobody likes Hamilton.”
PHOTOS: High school football preseason camps
Division I Section I
DB/WR Kyeler Burke, 6-1, 190, Sr.; DT Garrett Rand, 6-3, 275, Sr.; WR Kaleb Pitts, 6-3, 170, Sr.; WR Ian Anderson, 6-3, 180, Sr.; WR Chance Brewington, 6-3, 170, Jr.; RB Jawhar Jordan, 5-10, 160, So.; QB Travis Lockhart, 6-1, 185, Sr.
The Huskies’ only two losses last season came against Chandler – 52-24 and 28-7. The last one hurt the hardest, coming in the Division I championship game. Hamilton had an efficient, balanced offense, but hung its hat on defense with 51 sacks and 22 interceptions.
Every year since Belles has been the head coach, Hamilton has had a new quarterback. But senior Travis Lockhart had enough quality experience last year – he played the third series of every game except for the state final – to get this offense rolling. He has a good, accurate arm, a high football IQ, possesses poise and has so many targets that it has allowed Belles to make senior Kyeler Burke a full-time corner and part-time receiver/back. But Burke will be used on offense in big situations, especially with the game in the balance.
“It’s tradition that we always beat them (Chandler), so them beating us two or three times now, it hurts. We’re going to bring it.” — senior CB/WR Kyeler Burke.
Reach Obert at email@example.com or 602-460-1710. Follow him at twitter.com/azc_obert