The beauty of high school football is the quick rise of previously anonymous players. Just ask former Dobson running back T.J. Thomas, an unknown at the start of 2011 who turned a monster senior campaign into a scholarship to Fresno State. Additionally, players like Marcos de Niza’s Priest Willis and Desert Mountain’s Mark Andrews were relative unknowns before announcing themselves in a big way in 2011.
The same will happen this year, and here are 10 players who could be ready for breakout seasons:
Conrad Burnap, Red Mountain linebacker: Fellow linebacker Dalton Kirk is the only Red Mountain defensive starter returning from last year, and while expectations and the defense run through Kirk, his compadre on the outside is in line to make his presence known. Burnap didn’t play much on varsity last season, but was drawing praise from coach Ron Wisniewski in spring ball and it’s only intensified during August practices. Wisniewski said he could be the best player on the team. The Lions will need it with so many new faces defensively.
Qualen Cunningham, Hamilton def. lineman: OK, the junior’s size (6-foot-4, 220 pounds) and position (defensive end) alone means he won’t be the next premier tackle like Tevin and Jaxon Hood the previous two years. But Cunningham could be by his senior year, and, for now, his lengthy body and quickness at defensive end could evolve into being equally disruptive. He had 36 tackles and 3 1/2 sacks in regular season action on varsity as a sophomore (and not many sophomores see extended action at Hamilton), though he didn’t see much time in the postseason. A lot returns defensively from the Huskies’ 2011 season and Cunningham will lead the charge at the line of scrimmage. Similar to his predecessors, Cunningham even has an atypical number (13) for a defensive lineman.
Kyle Gladstone, Cactus Shadows wide receiver: Gladstone seemed well on his way to a breakout campaign as a junior, catching six passes for 90 yards and a touchdown in the season opener against Boulder Creek last year. However, he tore his anterior cruciate ligament in the contest and was sidelined for the rest of the season. Gladstone is back and should put up big numbers, especially with third-year starting quarterback Bryce Kinsler getting him the ball. Cactus Shadows likes to throw, and Gladstone should be the big beneficiary this season.
Ivan Jones, Queen Creek quarterback/safety: Carson Jones is returning for the Bulldogs under center, so there’s no rush to put Ivan Jones at quareterback, 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.
Tarek Morrison, Desert Ridge quarterback: Whether it be through the air or on the ground, the quarterback at Desert Ridge always seems to make headlines. The Jaguars used to feature a pass-happy scheme, but switched primarily to the running game in the past two years with Jordan Becerra and Parker Rasmussen running the show. Those two have graduated, and Morrison is expected to be the next in line. He is similar to them with his dual-threat capabilities and should start putting up impressive numbers in the season opener on Aug. 24 against Gilbert.
Bryce Perkins, Chandler quarterback/wide receiver: He’s a 6-foot-3, 180-pound sophomore who has yet to take the field in a varsity uniform, but already has scholarship offers from Arizona State and UCLA. The younger brother of former Chandler standout RB Paul Perkins, comparisons to former Chandler QB stud Brett Hundley are premature now, especially since Darell Garretson is the team’s starting QB in 2012. So Perkins will likely play wide receiver most of the season where his size, speed and understanding of “the other side” of passing equations could help his development as a QB if he’s “the guy” as a junior and senior. For now, however, his speed and raw athletic ability still means a (temporary) position switch won’t contain his potential.
Dionte Sykes, Chandler tight end: At Basha last season, Sykes had only seven catches for 93 yards and two touchdowns, but that isn’t a fair indication of his potential. The 6-foot-2, 195-pound receiver has reported scholarship offers from Arizona State, Michigan, UCLA and several others, and should be a prime target of quarterback Darell Garretson this season for the Wolves. In the past few seasons, Chandler wide receivers have put up big numbers in the team’s pass-heavy offense. With a capable quarterback and good receiving options, the Wolves won’t shy away from going through the air again, and Sykes will team with Perkins as an impressive duo.
Zach Werlinger, Basha quarterback: Kyle Duran threw for 3,077 yards with 29 touchdowns as a senior for the Bears last season. Now that he’s gone, it’s Werlinger’s turn. He was 24-of-29 for 228 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions in limited playing time a season ago and has vast potential. Coach Bernie Busken said of Werlinger: “At this point of his career, he’s maybe ahead of anybody I’ve ever had.” That’s high praise considering Busken has coached John Beck at Mountain View, a quarterback who eventually made the NFL. Werlinger will have University of Arizona-bound Nate Phillips (72 catches, 1,265 yards, 7 TD) as his main receiver, and will play a large role in Basha’s fortunes.
Trevor Wood, Chaparral tight end: The junior is part of major roster changes in Scottsdale, where the three-time defending champions have lost practically everyone from the championship teams. New QB Sean Paul Brophy is also a youngster, but growth helps when you have a 6-foot-4, 220-pound tight end running down the middle of the field. New Firebirds coach Dave Huffine believes Wood will see a healthy number of college coaches strolling around the school with interest in Wood, who might soon be the best receiver of his size at Chaparral in a decade.
Matt Young, Desert Vista quarterback: Young move from his big 44-yard interception return for a touchdown against Hamilton in the Division I state championship last November, to now trying to avoid such incidents. He’s gone from QB, to defensive back/kick returner/receiver, and back to QB. After being Hunter Rodriguez’s backup in 2011 and part-time player on defense, if he can throw enough to aid already solid athletic ability, the Thunder offense will have some new wrinkles along with the patented “fly sweep,” to take advantage of Young’s abilities. His in-season tutorial playing defense in 2011 might serve his signal-calling days ahead for the better.