There’s no secret surrounding the Saguaro High School football program, as the Sabercats may have one of the most talented rosters ever assembled in state history.
“We aren’t hurting for talent, but it’s a matter of them coming together as a team and establishing an identity,” Saguaro coach Jason Mohns said. “We still need to find out what we do right and what we do wrong.
“But this is a fun group and it’s the biggest senior class we’ve ever had.”
Saguaro will field 30 seniors this season, most of whom have scholarship offers. In total, more than 20 players on this year’s team have Division I offers.
Their streak of six straight state championships has put the rest of the nation on notice: Saguaro heads into the season ranked No. 22 overall in the country by MaxPreps.
“We know where we have to be and we aren’t there right now,” Mohns. “The preseason rankings are exciting, but they mean nothing if we don’t execute.”
Led by five-star defensive back Kelee Ringo, the top-ranked defensive back in the country in the 2020 class, Saguaro’s defense might rank among one of the best in the nation.
Opposite of Ringo is four-star cornerback Jacobe Covington, who wreaks havoc on an opposing pass-game in man-to-man coverage.
Meanwhile, linebackers Damian Sellers and Will Shaffer – an Arizona State University commit – control the inside along with four-star junior defensive end Quintin Somerville and junior defensive tackle Alani Ma-afu.
That only scratches the surface of the type of talent Saguaro has on defense.
“We have the talent, but more importantly we have the work ethic,” Covington said. “That’s what really matters. We push each other to work hard every day. That’s the biggest thing with this team, we’ve just been working even harder than before.”
On offense, senior quarterback Tyler Beverett returns under center for the Sabercats.
Beverrett, who recently committed to Bucknell University, is protected by one of the best offensive lines in the state, led by a pair of highly-rated tackles in Bram Walden and Jaylan Jeffers – who recently committed to the University of Oregon.
With senior Tye Kassen alongside Walden and Jeffers, it makes for a comfortable pocket for Beverett to find players such as three-star senior wideout Matt Polk.
Beverett also has one of the state’s most elusive backs lined up with him in senior Israel Benjamin, who rushed for 1,675 yards and 27 touchdowns last season.
A high-powered offense and lockdown defense bring together the perfect mix for Saguaro to chase its seventh straight state championship. But they recognize there is still plenty of work ahead of them.
“Once we come together with all of our energy, we can beat anybody,” Covington said. “We feel like we have a chip on our shoulder and are out to prove something this year.”
Saguaro heads into the 2019 season as the favorite in the 4A Conference alongside Tucson powerhouse Salpointe Catholic. However, with the installment of the new eight-team Open Division, in which the top eight teams from the 6A, 5A and 4A conferences play in a separate playoff bracket, Saguaro could be thrown into the mix for an outright state championship.
However, that depends on Saguaro’s ability to capitalize on the opportunity. And games against Nevada’s Faith Lutheran and California’s Cathedral Catholic, a top-50 ranked team this season, are must-wins – at least, in the eyes of Saguaro coach Jason Mohns.
“It adds another level of excitement to the season,” Mohns said. “If there was a year that it was the right year for us for the state to have the Open Division, it would be this year or 2016, the two years we have the depth to be in the mix.”
Mohns knows getting to the Open Division won’t be an easy feat for his team, especially given that it’s likely only one team from the 4A Conference will make it to that postseason tournament.
But he has confidence in his team’s determination to prove it has what it takes to compete against the powerhouse schools in 6A and 5A.
“We have our toughest games in the first five weeks of the season,” Mohns said. “I told my team that we’ve always been slow to start the year. But we can’t do that this season if they want to make the Open Division. We need to take things one game at a time.
“Our kids are hungry to prove they can play with those teams.”
Scottsdale schools gear up for new season
Injuries began to derail Chaparral High School’s football team last season, as the Firebirds finished 5-6, losing to Desert Vista in the first round of the playoffs.
But with a plethora of returning talent, led by quarterback Jack Miller, running back Jared Williams and wideout Tommy Christakos, Chaparral could put itself in contention for an appearance in the Open Division playoff.
On defense, Chaparral returns six starters from last season, including cornerback Kamdan Hightower. The Firebirds figure to be able to shut down opposing offenses this season, allowing for their potent offense to score points at will.
Chaparral opens the 2019 season against Hamilton on Friday, Aug. 23.
Conrad Hamilton makes his way to north Scottsdale as head coach after serving as the defensive coordinator for Mountain Pointe last season. He takes over a Wolves’ program that went just 3-7 last season, but Hamilton is determined to establish a new culture for the program.
Desert Mountain’s strength this season will likely be its defense, led by a talented linebacking corps in Max Weinmeister and transfer from North Carolina, Caden Taylor. Jojo Plunkett is one of the returning starters at safety this season, and figures to be a ball hawk for Desert Mountain.
The Wolves open up the 2019 season against Apollo on Friday, Aug. 23.
Notre Dame Prep
Notre Dame Prep returns three offensive lineman from its state runner-up team last season. Led by Oklahoma State commit Cade Bennett, returning starter Dominic Mastro should find success at running back after rushing for 1,553 yards and 13 touchdowns last season.
On defense, Notre Dame nearly its entire front seven, led by linebackers Brock Locnikar and Connor Butt. The Saints will be without athlete Jake Smith this season, who did a little bit of everything for Notre Dame before graduating and signing to play with the University of Texas.
Notre Dame opens the 2019 season against Sunnyslope on Friday, Aug. 30.
Horizon High School figures to have a young football team this season, with just eight total starters returning. Two of three starters on offense come from the offensive line, however, providing veteran experience for the newcomers.
Jake Martinelli steps in as quarterback as a senior, replacing Isaac Enriquez, who led the team in total yards last season.
On defense, the Huskies return five starters, including linebackers Ryan Alsup, Shane Cornwell and Jay Rudolph, one of the team captains.
Horizon opens the 2019 season against Marana on Friday, Aug. 23.
Coronado High School’s football program struggled last season, finishing 1-9. However, with senior quarterback Mikel James returning, it provides an opportunity for the Dons’ offense to have experience leading the way.
On defense, Coronado returns several starters. James makes the transition to safety for the Dons, where he had 49 tackles last season.
Coronado opens the 2019 season against Arcadia on Friday, Aug. 23.
Scottsdale Christian looks to build upon a strong season in 2018, in which the Eagles finished 7-4 and made the playoffs. The Eagles will look to a new quarterback this season, as the team graduated several key seniors from last year’s team.
On defense, Scottsdale Christian will be led by Will Chambers, who plays offensive and defensive line.
The Eagles open the 2019 season against Valley Christian on Friday, Aug. 23.
Scottsdale Prep will look to returning starter Oscar Frias to lead the offense. He will benefit from returning wideouts Daxton Strader, Finley Hobbs and Carson Boyll, who led the team in receiving yards last season.
On defense, linebacker Thomas Reinhardt returns as a junior after leading the team with 77 total tackles as a sophomore. Junior linebacker Michael Barnes also returns after posting 58 tackles in 2018.
Scottsdale Prep will open the 2019 season against Heritage Academy on Friday, Aug. 23.