It’s an interesting juxtaposition.
Marcos de Niza has made no bones about its desire to get back — and win — the 5A Division II state championship, and the Padres feel the 2010 team can do it.
“Absolutely,” was Padres coach Roy Lopez’s answer to whether a title return is openly discussed in the locker room. “That’s our goal. We’ve said it.
“We’re not as flashy as last year, but we’re a really tight group. Losing in the finals (to Chaparral), they’re really hungry. Lots of kids got exposed to success we’re going to build on.”
On the other hand ...
"The bar was set high last year but we’re not looking at the finished product,” Lopez said following a scrimmage earlier this week which didn’t leave him particularly pleased. “We’re looking at the process. We want to make sure we don’t get ahead of ourselves.”
Still, it’s hard not to feel good in Padre-land. They have nearly a half-dozen players capable of playing college football somewhere, and, despite the loss of Tribune Player of the Year Ramon Abreu (Arizona State), return several key players at key positions from the squad that barely lost to Mountain Pointe to miss the region title, but knocked off powerhouse Peoria Centennial in the 5A-II semifinals.
The likes of RB Anthony Shivers, LB Adam Pavlenko and DB Dominic Sotello appear headed for huge seasons, and the Padres love Tommy Thornton, their new 6-foot-3, 205-pound quarterback whose family moved to town from Denver.
The freshman class is big, Lopez believes big things are coming from his sophomore group and guys like Thornton and Pavlenko have been leaders of the junior class.
“We’ve been lucky to kind of reload,” he said.
Some of that flashiness and on-field mistakes the Padres got away with in other games were both glaring and gobbled up by Chaparral in the championship.
Because of that experience, the Padres believe they can make a few small changes to yield that ultimate reward, a prize not many saw this school being part of five years ago when Lopez arrived.
“Ultimately be a little more disciplined and the biggest thing is not being caught up in hoopla. Just play to our level. That’s the biggest thing.”
Title game rematch? Chaparral captured its first state title under the direction of Charlie Ragle when it beat Marcos de Niza in Sun Devil Stadium last December. The Firebirds return plenty of talent, and will be boosted by the transfer in of former Laveen Cesar Chavez star Davonte’ Neal. Marcos de Niza lost many of its playmakers, but has a host of younger athletes ready to step in. The Padres will be buoyed by the addition of Tommy Thornton, a quarterback who excelled last season in Colorado. Peoria Centennial looms large on the west side of the Valley, but both of these programs have designs of making it back to the championship game. Could we see a rematch?
Reaching new heights: Williams Field drew much publicity for its regular season run through 4A-II, but it’s 5A-II companion, Perry, reached the playoffs in its first full season of varsity competition. This will be the first team in which the senior class has been in Preston Jones’ program for all four years, and with stud lineman Mo Latu, wideout/defensive back Andrew Jiminez and running back Chase Richardson returning as leaders, Perry feels ready to make a fast leap in Year No. 2.
Desert Valley Region dominance: Lost in Chaparral’s championship season was the one team that beat them: Four years ago Desert Mountain’s football program was in near-ruins on and off the field, but Tony Tabor has built up the Wolves in small increments each year, and last year’s bunch surprised many by reaching the state semifinals, where the Wolves fell to their Shea Boulevard rivals. Pinnacle went to the quarterfinals last year and has high hopes with a couple key skill players back and junior QB Jackson Harlett’s potential. Horizon should be improved as the Huskies bring back QB Ryan Stanford (2,285, 21 TD) and most of the skill position players.
Players to Watch
Anthony Shivers, Sr., RB, Marcos de Niza: He was stuck in Ramon Abreu’s shadow last season, but Shivers has the athletic ability to put up big-time numbers this season. He will likely split time at running back and wide receiver, but wherever Shivers gets space can lead to big yardage.
Connor Brewer, Jr., QB, Chaparral: Brewer looked like anything but a sophomore during last year’s run to the 5A-II state title, and after a successful summer, he’s turned into one of the best quarterbacks in the state. He didn’t attempt 20 passes in any game last season, but expect coach Charlie Ragle to loosen the reins this season.
Davonte’ Neal, Jr., WR/DB, Chaparral: The Laveen Cesar Chavez transfer is an explosive playmaker on offense and one of the better cornerbacks in the state on defense. With Brewer throwing him the ball, expect Neal to improve on a lackluster sophomore campaign.
Mo Latu, Sr., OL/DL, Perry: Colleges are very interested in Latu, the cousin of Cardinals guard Deuce Lutui, as a kid who could play on either side of the ball at the next level. He didn’t have huge numbers last season at defensive tackle (23 tackles and one sack) but often commanded double teams and allowed his teammates to make the plays. He should have a solid senior year.
Ryan Stanford, Sr., QB, Horizon: Stanford was one of the most prolific passers in the state last season, throwing for 2,285 yards and 21 touchdowns. He struggled at the end of the year — throwing seven interceptions in his last three games — but an impressive senior season should be on the way.
1. Chaparral: Quarterback Connor Brewer is back, and he gets a reinforcement in Davonte’ Neal at wide receiver. The defense will be steady. A repeat is definitely possible for the Firebirds, who continue to show that the jump to 5A didn’t hinder them one bit.
2. Centennial: The Coyotes are smarting from last year’s upset loss to Marcos de Niza in the semifinals. But Vegas Johnson and Jebron Harrington will keep Centennial among the 5A-II elite once again.
3. Marcos de Niza: Ramon Abreu and Justin Rodriguez might be gone, but there is a new wave of elite athletes at Marcos. Anthony Shivers, Martwon Weaver, JeRyan Butler and Adam Pavlenko believe this team can get a title after last year’s squad fell one win short.
4. Westview: Thousand-yard rusher Jordon Champion is back, and center Brennan Bowen will help open holes for him.
5. Sunnyside: Lost two games by a combined 13 points last year, but wants more after bowing out to Marcos de Niza in the quarterfinals.
Chaparral at Mountain View, Sept. 10: This was a big matchup of 5A-I vs. 5A-II last season, except the 5A-II school hammered the Toros. A repeat seems unlikely, right?
Desert Ridge at Marcos de Niza, Sept. 24: Points aplenty here, and whomever makes fewer turnovers/penalties and somehow slows the other team will in. The winner gets an early leg up on the East Valley Region race, but it’s too bad this one isn’t played a month later.
Perry at Westwood, Sept. 24: The Pumas missed out on a chance to start last season 5-0 when they lost by a point to Westwood. The schedule lines up the same way this season, so it’s a crucial game for Perry before it sees Chaparral, Marcos de Niza, Desert Ridge and Mountain Pointe in four of the final five weeks.
Pinnacle at Chaparral, Oct. 14: Pinnacle could be Chaparral’s closest competitor in the Desert Valley Region this year. The Pioneers hung tough with the Firebirds through one half last season, and a host of new skill kids at Pinnacle will get a clear picture of what will be required later in the playoffs.
Marcos de Niza at Mountain Pointe, Nov. 5: Last year Mountain Pointe spoiled Marcos’ home-field advantage and won the region in the regular-season finale. Whatever happens in the East Valley, this one is going to matter for both sides for 5A-I and 5A-II playoff positioning.