PHOENIX - The Desert Vista football roster is one of the largest in the history of the school, but it could have been ever bigger if certain decisions weren't made.
Four of Hamilton's prominent players have Desert Vista ties.
If all had stayed put and didn't choose to open enroll, transfer or what have you Saturday's game would have a lot different look.
"It makes it more fun and gives a little extra incentive," Thunder quarterback Hunter Rodriguez said at Wednesday's media day at Wolfley's Neighborhood Grill. "When you know guys on the other team it gives the game a lot more meaning."
It's hard to get more meaningful than a state championship as Desert Vista (12-1) and Hamilton (13-0) meet in the Division I title game Saturday at University of Phoenix Stadium.
The Huskies enter the 2 p.m. kickoff with the nation's longest winning streak at 53 games and several the current Huskies might have never been part of it if circumstances were different.
Senior running back Clayton Stanchik attended Desert Vista as a freshman before transferring to Hamilton.
Senior running back/wide receiver Kendyl Taylor went to Akimel Middle School before the family moved to Hamilton district when his brother, Kerry, started playing at Hamilton.
Senior defensive back Reggie Daniels also attended Akimel, while defensive tackle Jaxon Hood's mother, Roslyn, and was a teacher and athletic director at Desert Vista at various times.
"My dad coached most of those guys in Pop Warner so they were my teammates," Taylor said. "We had great chemistry. I wish them luck but I also want the ‘W.' "
Rodriguez's has had back-to-back good seasons for the Thunder.
He has grown into a team leader, who stands in and takes a hit and gets right back up. Well, maybe not right back up, but he makes his way back to the huddle and keeps the Desert Vista offense moving.
His worst game of the year came against Hamilton in the 35-10 loss when he threw three of his five interceptions in one game.
Rodriguez, who signed a letter of intent to play baseball at Utah with hopes of walking on for football, knows he has to be better if the Thunder have a chance to knock of Hamilton.
"I learned a lot from that game," Rodriguez, who has 29 touchdowns and 14 picks over the last two years. "It wasn't the play calling as much as a lack of execution on my part. I've definitely progressed and tried to get better each week."
Been there, done that
Hamilton has been the state title game all four years the Huskies have been attending the school.
Desert Vista's players were in the eighth grade the last time the Thunder played for a championship.
There has to be at least a little bit of an advantage.
"There is a glow to it," Hood said. "It's the best way I can describe it. There is just a glowing to the whole atmosphere, at least there is for me. It can get the best of you if you focus on that instead of playing the game."
Bye-bye bye week
For the first time in a couple of years the big-schools didn't have a bye week in between the quarterfinals and semifinals and the season is ending in November instead of December.
It changed some things logistically this week for the Huskies.
"Sometimes there is a bye week before the Super Bowl and some times there is not, too," Hamilton coach Steve Belles said. "The whole thing is you play the hand you are dealt and it is what it is."
One thing the non-bye week schedule did was eliminate the Prep Bowl, a Hamilton tradition of having the scout team and the junior varsity players that have been called up play a full-fledge game on Thanksgiving morning.
"It's an intrasquad game against each other and they get after it," Belles said. "They are upset they are not going to get a chance to do it this year, but life is about disappointment."
The 10 head coaches of the teams playing in the five division title games this weekend have all coached in one before, totaling 38 appearances heading in this year's game and the group has won 24 of those games.
Leading the way is Lakeside Blue Ridge coach Paul Moro who is 11-5 in championship games, while Cactus' Larry Fetkenhier is 2-5 for the second most appearances.
Belles is next with a 4-2 mark. Saguaro's John Sanders is 3-0 and Chaparral's Charlie Ragle is 2-1.