August 17, 2004
Mark Rhiner will admit it wasn't easy following Tim McBurney as the head coach at Tempe High, where McBurney built the Buffaloes' program into a playoff contender.
When Rhiner took over two seasons ago, he ran into the expected resistance from people who liked it the old way.
After leading the Buffaloes to a surprising 6-4 record last season, though, Rhiner believes the Buffaloes are about ready to return to contending status.
"We really think that if things go our way, we can be a playoff team," said Rhiner. "We expect to improve on our 6-4 record. We have a very difficult schedule, we have a difficult region (4A East Sky), but we feel like we can compete for the region championship this year."
Tempe has a reputation as a strong running school. Rhiner said that will continue this season.
"We're predominately a run team," said Rhiner, "but we will throw the ball more this year than last year. We averaged about 8-10 passes a game last year. I think we'll throw it more this year."
Rhiner has named Branden Robinson as the Buffaloes' starting quarterback.
"He was with us last year," said Rhiner. "Branden has learned a great deal in the last year. He is far ahead of any quarterbacks that I've had in the past in
terms of knowledge of what we're doing."
Tempe opens the season Sept. 3 at home against crosstown rival McClintock.
A year ago, Max Ragsdale entered his first season as the Prospectors' coach with oodles of optimism. Then reality hit. After being struck hard by graduation, the Prospectors struggled through an 0-10 season.
Ragsdale said he learned plenty from the experience.
"Most definitely I feel much better," said Ragsdale. "I kind of know what I need to get done. The kids are buying into the program. All these guys are my guys. I have been around the senior class since there were in grade school."
Ragsdale was impressed by how much work the team did in the weight room this summer. Now the question is will that translate into better football players? Ragsdale expects to get that answer Thursday when the Prospectors scrimmage Desert Edge.
Apache Junction opens Aug. 27 at Basha.
It is rebuilding time for the Titans. Last year, led by running back Terrell Toliver, Arcadia made the 4A playoffs en route to an 8-3 record. Toliver is gone. So is three-year starting quarterback Jimmy Bevell, the son of Titans coach Jim Bevell. Also gone is Shawn Lyons, who replaced an injured Bevell at QB last year. Lyons transferred to Chaparral.
"It's going to be a different year," said coach Bevell. "We're going to have some kids who have never taken a snap on varsity and that's a big deal. It will be tough. It will be interesting."
Sophomore Max Tenney will start at quarterback. Toliver's carries will be replaced by committee, though Bevell said Parker Howell is starting to separate himself from the rest of the running backs in practices.
Arcadia opens Sept. 3 at home against Phoenix Thunderbird.
CORONA DEL SOL
The last time Corona del Sol coach Gary Venturo had a competitive quarterback battle at the start of the season was 1997. Two juniors were competing that year and the next season the Aztecs reached the 5A quarterfinals with one leading the way.
Venturo has another quarterback quandary this season. Seniors Jake Nero and Blaise Johnson are getting the preseason reps. Both saw action last season with similar results.
‘‘It will probably come down to our scrimmage against Highland (Aug. 25),’’ Venturo said. ‘‘They're both good. We could rotate them, too. We'll wait and see. I think it's a good situation to be in.’’
Johnson is better suited as a rollout option quarterback. Nero fits nicely as a pocket passer. Nero passed for 641 yards and four touchdowns last season, completing 52 percent of his attempts during the regular season. Johnson threw for 499 yards and three TDs with a 48 percent completion average.