Joe Germaine remembers what it was like to play his first season of varsity football.
Now that he’s a rookie coach, the new Queen Creek head man is glad to have a quarterback who doesn’t have to go through that.
“It makes a big difference,” said Germaine, the former Mountain View star quarterback. “I remember getting a lot of playing time as a junior in high school. The game was fast and the players were big. As I went into my senior year, the comfort level was just so much greater.”
While Adam Brzeczek must learn a new system under Germaine, he knows what to expect on Friday night, and it’s a common theme in the 4A-I Desert Sky Region this year.
Four of the five teams will have a signal caller returning who saw significant playing time last year.
In addition to Brzeczek, McClintock’s Chris Freudenberg, Saguaro’s Teddy Ruben and Apache Junction’s Roy Machuca are back to lead their squads. Cactus Shadows will have to replace Dillon Classen.
For coach Mike Gibbons, it is the first time in his tenure at McClintock in which he returns his quarterback.
“Last year, (Freudenberg) would have one audible for the week,” Gibbons said. “Now he can check from a run to a throw, or from a throw to a run. Depending on how the defense is playing, he can switch the call himself. He will have more freedom to check in and out of things. That’s the biggest advantage.”
In Saguaro’s spread offense, the quarterback must decide to hand off to the running back, throw the ball, or keep it himself. Last season, Ruben would take off before completely assessing the situation, coach John Sanders said.
“He sees things more now,” Sanders said. “We’re going to run a lot of no-huddle, and we’re putting it in his hands. We’ve given him a lot of responsibility. So much is going on with our offense that it takes awhile to be comfortable with it. Once you do, it’s pretty lethal."
Machuca ran an option offense, so there was a lot of pressure on him to think quickly and make the right reads. In this type of offensive scheme, in particular, repetitions and game action are key.
“As a quarterback, he’s evolved in about every way you can ask your kids to grow,” Apache Junction coach Rich Milligan said.
Coaches have enough worries each year to make their head spin. For all but one Desert Sky Region coach this season, breaking in a new quarterback won’t be one of them.
“Experience is the best teacher,” Gibbons said.
The rematch: Scottsdale Saguaro’s streak of three straight state titles was halted last year when it lost in the 4A-I semifinals, but the Sabercats have reloaded and have the capability to make it four in five years. Tucson Canyon del Oro will be the early favorite after thrashing everyone in 4A-I last year, including a 44-0 blowout of Saguaro on Oct. 2. The Dorados return Ka’Deem Carey, one of the most electric running backs Tucson has produced. Those two teams are overwhelming favorites to meet in the state title game, provided they end up on opposite sides of the bracket and don’t suffer significant injuries. The state title game preview could come on Oct. 1, when the Dorados head up to Saguaro for a must-see regular season contest.
New blood: Curt LeBlanc had a successful run at Queen Creek, but he was let go by the administration and is replaced by Joe Germaine. Germaine played quarterback at Mountain View, Scottsdale Community College, Ohio State and in the NFL, so he has the pedigree. But this is his first head coaching gig. He’s brought along some knowledgeable assistants, so it will be interesting to see how the change works out for the Bulldogs.
Staying put: Chad DeGrenier is one of the most innovative coaches in the state, and this offseason it looked like he was leaving. The Cactus Shadows coach accepted a job in Colorado before changing his mind. The Falcons have won a state title under his tutelage and last year’s squad went 12-1. He always seems to get the most out of his players. But will the Falcons work just as hard knowing their coach had plans to leave, or will this be more similar to the back-to-back losing seasons Cactus Shadows had in 2007 and 2008?
Players to Watch
Teddy Ruben, Sr., QB, Saguaro: The fleet-footed dual threat ran for 1,404 yards and passed for 1,406 more last season. Big brother Tim Ruben led Saguaro to a pair of state titles, and Teddy has his eye on one, as well.
D.J. Foster, Jr., DB/WR, Saguaro: The most dynamic player on Saguaro could be primed for a breakout year. He will line up all over the field for the Sabercats, and the coaching staff will get him the ball in a variety of ways. A shutdown cornerback, too.
Adam Brzeczek, Sr., QB, Queen Creek: Brzeczek threw for 1,412 yards and 14 touchdowns last season. He loses top receiver Kendall Augustin, but under the tutelage of new coach and former NFL quarterback Joe Germaine, Brzeczek could put up big numbers.
Chris Freudenberg, QB, Sr., McClintock: Freudenberg took over as starter late last season and was impressive, finishing with 926 yards passing and a 56 percent completion rate. He has a good stable of receivers, so expect to see the Chargers to throw the ball a good amount this season.
Harrison Pomeroy, FB/LB, Sr., Apache Junction: Without Pomeroy and Cy Maughmer, the Prospectors were upset in the first round of last year’s postseason. Pomeroy’s sports hernia injury lingered into the summer and he is just now getting healthy, but he is the team’s best defender and one of its leading rushers, so Apache Junction will need him to make a run this year.
1. Canyon del Oro: The return of Ka’Deem Carey — one of the most dynamic running backs this state has ever seen — makes the Dorados the favorite to repeat after an undefeated run last year. A few key pieces — including quarterback — will need to be replaced, but Carey makes Canyon del Oro the preseason No. 1.
2. Saguaro: The three-peat came to an end last year when the Sabercats lost in the semifinals, but several key players are back, and a fourth state championship in five years is definitely within reach. Teddy Ruben, D.J. Foster, Cyrus Hobbi and Brock Haman are the core of a team that gained valuable experience last year.
3. Cienega: After the top two teams, it looks like a pretty big dropoff, but we will give Cienega the nod here. Willie Willis was one of the better running backs in 4A last year, and he returns, as does quarterback Jordan Mills. So the Bobcats will be tough to beat.
4. Sabino: Lost most of the impact skill players from last season’s runner-up squad, but the Sabercats are always strong and have players waiting in the wings to fill the holes.
5. Apollo: Quarterback Jon Brown (2,295 yards passing, 25 touchdowns, six interceptions) is back for his junior year, as are his top two targets, David Gonzales and Chrisdeon Ayiyi.
Saguaro at Cactus, Sept. 24: The Sabercats will travel to Glendale to face off with 4A-II defending champion and preseason No. 1 Cactus. Saguaro has beaten the Cobras five times in the past four years, including a 38-21 win last year. It will be Saguaro’s biggest test of the year up to this point.
Canyon del Oro at Saguaro, Oct. 1: One week later, the Sabercats will welcome defending 4A-I champion Canyon del Oro to Scottsdale. The Dorados thrashed the Sabercats in Tucson last year, ending Saguaro’s 37-game winning streak. Saguaro brings most of its team back from last season, and has no doubt circled this game on its calendar.
Queen Creek at Apache Junction, Oct. 22: The battles between these teams often end up as instant classics. In the past, they have been grind-it-out affairs, with both teams content to run the ball and keep the scoring low. Will the addition of new coach Joe Germaine at Queen Creek make a change? Apache Junction dominated this contest last year, and the Bulldogs surely have revenge on their minds.
Cactus Shadows at Queen Creek, Oct. 29: The Falcons were the surprise team of 4A-I last year, starting the year with 11 straight victories before bowing out in the 4A-I quarterfinals. Coach Chad Degrenier will have to replace much of his team, including quarterback Dillon Classen. Queen Creek will be under the guidance of Joe Germaine, and this will be a key game when determining playoff seeding.