Players to Watch
Emanuel Gant, So., QB/SS, Tempe: The Buffaloes turned over the reins of their offense to Gant as a freshman last year and Gant showed that his future, and possibly the program’s future, is bright. Now a sophomore, Gant has bulked up to 6-2, 205 and should improve greatly on his .500 completion percentage with the majority of the other skill players returning. Gant is the type of player that can put a team on his shoulders and carry it. Look for big things this year and the next two years from Gant.
Ivan Jones, Jr., QB/DB, Queen Creek: Carson Jones is returning for the Bulldogs under center, so there’s no rush to put Ivan Jones at quarterback, but he seems destined to make plays wherever he is. Early on, the transfer from Chandler could fit nicely in the secondary, where his natural athleticism will be readily apparent. Don’t be surprised, though, if he gets snaps at quarterback as the season goes on, or if coach Joe Germaine figures out different ways to get his talented junior the ball.
Christian Kirk, So., WR/DB, Saguaro: Saguaro had never had a freshman play on varsity before Kirk did so a season ago, and he led the team in catches (34) and receiving yards (589) to boot. Kirk picked up scholarship offers from UCLA and Arizona State in the offseason and should play an even larger role in the offense this year. He will line up at receiver, running back and sometimes at quarterback on offense and will also play in the secondary and return kicks.
Luke Pineda, Jr., QB/DB, Campo Verde: Had a very strong first half of the year last season and showed he can be effective both as a passer and a runner. He threw for 919 yards and seven touchdowns (with a .560 completion percentage) and was the teams’ second-leading rusher with 411 yards. The Coyotes were a balanced offense last year and with an experienced Pineda returning, they should remain balanced, but more efficient.
Luke Rubenzer, Jr., QB, Saguaro: Rubenzer excelled last year as a sophomore, completing 120-of-166 passes for 2,554 yards with 32 touchdowns and four interceptions. He had a safety valve in D.J. Foster who made everything easier, so the degree of difficulty may increase in 2012 with Foster now at Arizona State. However, Rubenzer has other weapons at his disposal, and will also add another dimension running the ball this year, which will give defenses more to worry about.
Sean Schweichler, Sr., RB/KR, Williams Field: While Alex Howard received the bulk of the carries for the Black Hawks a year ago, it was hard not to notice Schweichler. When he did get a rushing attempt, he usually made the most of it, carrying the ball 42 times for 499 yards, an average of 11.9 yards per attempt. He also excelled at wide receiver, averaging a team-best 23.29 yards per reception. Schweichler was arguably most dangerous as a kick returner, bringing back three kickoffs or punts for touchdowns. He was slowed by a knee injury near the end of last season, but should put up impressive numbers as the go-to guy on offense for Williams Field.
Sept. 21: Cactus at Saguaro: These two teams met in the championship game last season and could very well do so again. Saguaro went 2-0 against the Cobras a season ago and this will be another prime time matchup.
Sept. 21: Campo Verde at Poston Butte: These two teams have already developed a rivalry because they battled in the independent league before picking up an AIA schedule last year. The Broncos captured a 10-7 victory a season ago and this year’s matchup could again be close.
Sept. 28: Saguaro at Desert Vista: The Sabercats led the Thunder by 22 points at halftime of last year’s contest but Desert Vista stormed back for the 31-28 victory. Both teams are defending state champions (Saguaro in Division III; Desert Vista in Division I) and should be contenders again. Depth problems hurt Saguaro in the second half last year, so the Sabercats must get out to a lead early and then try to hold on.
Oct. 26: Williams Field at Queen Creek: These two teams meet again in the regular season finale, and it could be another hotly contested affair. The Bulldogs squeaked out a 22-20 victory to end last season and both teams are stocked with talent again. These are the cream of the crop among Division III schools in the area and it should be another showdown.
Can Williams Field or Queen Creek break through? The Bulldogs have made the semifinals and quarterfinals the past two seasons before being derailed by Saguaro both times. The Sabercats are the two-time defending champions and preseason favorites again. However, Queen Creek has nine starters back on offense and a key transfer in quarterback/defensive back Ivan Jones. Williams Field, meanwhile, made the 4A-II title game in 2010 before losing in the first round of the playoffs last year. The Black Hawks have a versatile running back in Sean Schweichler who will make that team go. Both teams have been in contention the past two seasons. Can either get past Saguaro — as well as Cactus and Sabino — to win it all?
Saguaro’s new era: Jason Mohns has taken over for the ousted John Sanders as coach of Saguaro. The team has won five state titles in the past six years and is the favorite to do so again in 2012. Led by quarterback Luke Rubenzer, wide receiver Christian Kirk and running back Gena Adams, Mohns has the weapons. He has been a head coach before, but not on this stage. Will there be speed bumps, or will it be another smooth ride to the title?
New schools keep building: It was a successful first year for both Campo Verde and Poston Butte, who each made the Division III postseason. Both teams are aiming to get to the level of consistency currently held by Queen Creek and Williams Field, and seem to be on that track.