With the high school football season just around the corner, some teams will look to continue their run of success while others will look to regain it.
Seton Catholic has been a dominant program at the Division IV level during the past three years, going 36-4 in that span. Coach Rex Bowser said much of that success is due to the continuity within the system at the school.
“Our kids come in as freshmen and they learn the system,” Bowser said. “They’re not having to learn a bunch of new stuff every year.”
That consistency will be put to the test this year as the Sentinels look to make it deeper into the playoffs after being eliminated in last year’s semifinals by Mohave Valley River Valley.
Seton loses starting quarterback Kyle Johnson, who threw for over 2,400 yards and 36 touchdowns in 2013. It opens the door for senior Zach Wade to take over the Sentinels’ high-powered offense, which has averaged more than 40 points per game the past three years.
Wade appeared in 10 games last year, completing 35 of 59 passes for 468 yards and six touchdowns with four interceptions.
“To be a successful quarterback for us, it’s simply a matter of making good decisions and putting the ball where it needs to go,” Bowser said. “(Wade) doesn’t have to have a giant arm or anything like that, and I think Zach is going to be very good at that.”
Wade will be in control of Seton’s aerial attack, but much of Seton’s work is done on the ground. For that, senior Antonio Campanella gets the nod for a third year as the Sentinels’ workhorse running back.
Campanella, who is mostly a scatback, was solid as a sophomore, rushing for 648 yards and eight touchdowns. He topped that last year as a junior, rushing for 1,273 yards and 18 touchdowns. Bowser said Campanella is now 155 pounds, up from 145 a year before.
“He’s not the stereotypical running back,” Bowser said of Campanella’s size. “But he’s got great vision, he has great cutting ability and he’s one of those guys, he’s really tough to get the big hit on.”
On defense, the secondary appears to be solid, but the front seven may need some retooling.
Senior safety Dominic Johnson, the team’s leader in tackles (81) and interceptions (four) in 2013, returns to lead the secondary alongside junior Brandon Garcia and senior Manny Estrella.
Up front however, things aren’t as stable. Bowser said the only real returning starter is senior outside linebacker Patrick Larsen, who tallied 62 total tackles and eight tackles for a loss in 2013.
Although some may see the lack of experience as an issue, Bowser said the new blood could be a blessing.
“I thought at times last year our defense was a little soft,” Bowser said. “I think our defense will be a little stronger this year.”
Like Seton, Tempe Prep will try to improve on its recent run of success in Division V. The Knights have gone 25-12 the past three years and gotten as far as the semifinals in the 2012 state playoffs.
The Knights used a quarterback-by-committee approach last year in their run-heavy offense, as Tempe Prep only attempted 91 passes all season.
Gone is quarterback Benjamin LeBeau, but seniors Jesse Brittain and Daniel Hiser along with junior Gabriel LeBeau return as signal callers.
The key cogs in the Knights’ offense are the running backs, and Tempe Prep returns four of their top five rushers from a year ago. Junior Isaiah Brittain and senior Alex Akiu are the primary ball carriers and averaged 8.6 and 9.3 yards per carry, respectively, last year.
On defense, the Knights will need to find ways to get after the quarterback and continue to force turnovers. The Knights only tallied 16 sacks but intercepted 19 passes as a team last year.
Finding a way to replace the departed Joseph Zwemke, who had 5.5 of those sacks, will be a priority. Likely candidates are junior Connor Woltz, who had 2.5 sacks last year, and senior Alek Rodriguez, who had 1.5 sacks.
On the other hand, finding ways to get interceptions will not be as problematic. Senior Jonah Simminger, who tied for the team lead in interceptions last year with five, returns as does Gabriel LeBeau, who had three picks.
While Seton and Tempe Prep have successfully made the playoffs the past few years, Division V schools Chandler Prep and Valley Christian will be looking to regain past success.
Chandler Prep has had one solid season under coach Duncan Aepli in 2010, when the Titans went 8-2. Things got rocky after that, with the team going 9-16 the past three seasons.
Valley Christian used to be a powerhouse at the Class 2A level under former coach Bill Morgan, but after his abrupt resignation following the 2009 season, things haven’t gone as smoothly. The Trojans have gone 10-20 the past three seasons, including a 5-5 finish in 2013 under first-year coach Jeff Rutledge.
“More than anything, we’ve just got to be consistent,” Rutledge said. “Last year, we just weren’t consistent. We’d play well one week and didn’t play well the next week or we’d go in spurts throughout the game. We’ve got to develop a consistency and take care of the little things and you have a chance.”
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