While the preseason Super 25 football rankings won’t come out until late July, this is one of a series on teams that could contend in the Super 25 high school football rankings next season. We previously looked at De La Salle (Concord, Calif.), South Panola (Batesville, Miss.), Colquitt County (Moultrie, Ga.), Miami (Fla.) Central, Chandler, Ariz, DeMatha Catholic (Hyattsville, Md.), Allen, Texas; Cedar Hill, Texas, Webb City, Mo., and Clay-Chalkville (Pinson, Ala.).
Team: Bishop Gorman, Las Vegas
2014 finish: The Gaels went 15-0, won the state Division I title and finished the season as the No. 1 team in the Super 25 football rankings.
Tradition: Bishop Gorman has won six consecutive state titles.
2015 schedule: The Gaels open at home Aug. 29 with Arizona Division I state champion Chandler, then play at Utah 5A champion Bingham (South Jordan) on Sept. 4, then at Washington 3A runner-up Bellevue on Sept. 11. After that they play Sept. 18 at home with Long Beach Poly (Long Beach), which lost in the CIF Southern Section Pac 5 semifinals.
Top returnees (years listed are for next school year): Junior QB Tate Martell, who threw for 2,537 yards and 40 touchdowns and ran for 433 yards and eight TDs; junior WR Tyjon Lindsey (34 catches for 1,313 yards and 15 TDs); junior DT Haskell Garrett is being recruited by nearly every Pac-12 school; and OL Julio Garcia, a 6-3, 300-pound senior who has committed to UNLV.
Top newcomers: LB Palaie Gaoteote, who started last season as a freshman at Hawaii state champion Mililani and is the nephew of former NFL defensive end Maa Tanuvasa.
Toughest to replace: Head coach Tony Sanchez, who is now the head coach at UNLV. Kenny Sanchez, Tony’s younger brother and a longtime Bishop Gorman assistant, is the new head coach. On the field, Kenny Sanchez says the team will miss the intensity of DB Nicco Fertitta, who will be at Notre Dame this fall.
Outlook: When you play one of the toughest schedules in the country and then finish the season atop the Super 25 rankings, what do you do for an encore? You go out and try to do it again. At least, that’s the plan at Bishop Gorman. The Gaels have been so dominant in Nevada that one legislator proposed a bill that would ban them from the state playoffs. Bishop Gorman will prepare for those playoffs this year with a schedule that includes six teams that have been in the Super 25 in recent seasons.
“Since 2009, we began beefing up the schedule,” Kenny Sanchez said. “In 2010, we played De La Salle (Concord, Calif.) and Hamilton (Chandler, Ariz.). Since then, there’s been no reason to stop scheduling the best opponent we can. It wasn’t to win a mythical national title. The first reason is to play the best schedule we can so we can compete well in the state playoffs. The other reason is because it’s fun.”
While the Gaels lost some key players to graduation, including Fertitta and tight end Alize Jones, there’s plenty of talent returning, even if it is a bit on the young side. Garrett, Martell and Lindsey were three of the top sophomores in the nation last year.
“We return seven returning starters on offense,” Sanchez said. “A lot of those guys were sophomores last year. They are going to have to lead like seniors. We have a good group of seniors coming back too and they’re going to have to help the juniors be leaders. We have 70 kids, so every year, we’re going to lose seniors.”
Bishop Gorman will be strong again on the offensive line, led by Garcia and another UNLV recruit, Jaron Caldwell. The Gaels lost their top back, Russell Booze, to graduation, but Jonathan Shumaker and Biaggio Ali Walsh, the grandson of Muhammad Ali, give the team a one-two punch in the backfield.
“Jonathan is the kid who will run north and south and we just got from camp and Ali killed it at the camp and he was the fastest guy on the team. Both of those guys are going to run the ball a lot.”
Martell is another threat to run. His elusiveness has lead plenty of people to compare him to Johnny Manziel. Sanchez says that’s a bit premature.
“It’s true in the sense that Tate is like an escape artist,” Sanchez said. “It seemed like he had the eyes in the back of his head. But you can’t compare the two. One of them was a Heisman Trophy winner and te other is a junior in high school.”
Defensively, Haskell and senior Michael Geraghty lead a solid defensive front. Geraghty missed last season with a torn labrum but had 19 sacks as a sophomore. Behind them linebackes Ikem Okeke and Gaoteote are likely standouts.
The big question, though, is how well the Gaels can stand up to a brutal schedule.
“The problem with that schedule is there can’t be any down time,” Sanchez said. “You know you’re going to get everybody’s best game. We build our athletes for the long haul to sustain the punishment they’re going to take. We have to go 15 weeks with no bye. That’s going to be extremely hard.”
Follow Jim Halley on Twitter @jimhalley