Many of the faces are changed, but that giant target remains on the Valley Christian football program.
For the past five seasons, the Trojans have been the kingpins of 2A football. They’ve gone 54-9 in that span and made three trips to the state championship game, winning twice. The second title came last season, when the Trojans capped a 12-1 year with a win over Willcox in the title game.
They are the team everyone wants to beat, no matter who is in the uniform or who is standing on the sidelines.
“Having that success is going to put us in the position that we are going to get teams’ best games and we are always going to have to work for everything that we get,” said Trojans first-year coach Kevin Allen. “For me, as a coach, I like that because what you have here in this program are things that have been working. But we have to remind the kids what it takes to maintain that level of success.”
That level of success the past five seasons was with Bill Morgan as head coach, but Morgan resigned in March and soon after his son, Jordan Morgan, left the school. Morgan, who was the Trojans’ quarterback, safety and punter last year, finally wound up at Lakeside Blue Ridge, where he will play his senior season.
Despite the turmoil that comes with getting a new head coach and losing one of its best players, Valley Christian is confident it will be in the mix come November.
“We have a lot of pride,” said senior Drew Bond, who will move from tight end to quarterback this season. “We take a lot of pride in who we play and how we play. We just trust each other so much and it’s like a big brotherhood.”
Allen is no stranger to the program, which helps. He has been teaching at the school since 2008 and was an assistant in 2008, working with the offensive line and running backs. His familiarity with the players and the culture of success at Valley Christian has helped ease the transition.
“Most of these kids I’ve had in the classroom and I’ve gotten to know a lot of these kids coaching in ’08,” Allen said. “When you have a relationship outside of football, whether it’s in other sports or in the classroom or other school activities, that makes it much smoother for the players as well as myself.”
Can the Eagles soar? Is this Scottsdale Christian’s year? All signs point to the Eagles having the talent to finally climb to the top of the 2A mountain. But to get there, they’ll have to knock off nemesis Valley Christian, as well as power programs like Phoenix Christian and Northwest Christian.
New blood: This may be the last time we see this many medium- to large-size schools coming online in one year. There are six new schools playing an independent varsity schedule this year, including Campo Verde (in Gilbert), Combs (Queen Creek), Poston Butte (Florence/San Tan Valley), Vista Grande (Casa Grande), Shadow Ridge (Surprise) and Sierra Linda (Tolleson). With the population surge in Arizona seemingly over, these six schools may be the last new ones for a while. There are also two more 1A teams joining the football ranks this year. Both Mesa Prep and Scottsdale Prep will play a varsity schedule this season, joining the likes of Chandler Prep and Veritas Prep. All four of these schools are Great Hearts Academies charter schools, an organization that is growing and beginning to field more and more varsity athletic programs. Gilbert Christian is not far behind, as they will field a team that will play a 1A junior varsity schedule. Gilbert Christian plans to move to 11-man football as soon as possible, but that will depend on enrollment numbers at the private school.
Big challenge: Rodger Schenks, who has made several coaching stops in the East Valley, takes over the football program at San Tan Foothills, a 3A school in the San Tan Valley. The school is just in its second year of varsity and went 1-9 a year ago. Schenks will be helped this season by assistant Jim Jones, the former coach at Red Mountain. Schenks and the Sabercats are faced with one of the toughest schedules in 3A, so it will take a drastic improvement to see a big increase in victories.
Tribune Top 5
1. Blue Ridge: With the influx of talent coming to the Yellow Jackets in quarterback/safety Jordan Morgan (from Valley Christian) and running back Chayse Russell (from Winslow), their biggest challenge will be maintaining team chemistry.
2. Florence: The Gophers will need to replace much of their line, but the dynamic trio of QB Jace Hulsey, RB Cade Clemans and WR Kyle Washington can do damage behind even an inexperienced line.
3. Show Low: Quarterback Rathen Ricedorff threw for just under 3,000 yards last year and many of those yards were to big-play wideout Josh Weeks, who at 6-4, 195 may be the best receiver from outside the Valley.
4. Round Valley: The Elks dropped off a bit in 2009, but return their top skill-position players in Chantz Davis, Shawn Lindsay and Rulon Udall, along with a good group of linemen. They should find themselves playing a few rounds into the playoffs.
5. Fountain Hills: The Falcons lost a lot of offensive and defensive production to graduation last year, but do return quarterback Rainer Greenstreet to lead the offense.
1. Scottsdale Christian: The Eagles went toe-to-toe with state champ Valley Christian a year ago and return the bulk of that team. Quarterback Miller Bentley gives SCA a proven leader and players like Micah Madden and Chauncey Wright are explosive.
2. Valley Christian: Much has changed at Valley Christian, but much will remain the same. The Trojans are big up front once again and have a bevy of athletes. However, these athletes are largely untested and have little time to get adjusted.
3. Yuma Catholic: Shamrocks made it all the way to the state semifinals last year and return the majority of their front line as well as quarterback Julian Higuera. They’ll need to find a new running threat to match last year’s playoff run.
4. St. Johns: Always a tough team to play, especially at playoff time. No one gets up to play teams from the Metro area like the Redskins, who will have a new set of skill players, led by junior quarterback Aevan Thomas.
5. Northwest Christian: The Crusaders were the lone team to knock off Valley Christian last year and return one of the top small-school running backs in the state in Casey Jahn.
1. Joseph City
4. The Orme School
5. St. David
Players to Watch
Drew Bond, Sr., QB, Valley Christian: Moving from tight end to quarterback this season. How well he handles move will go a long way toward determining how far the Trojans go this year. He has the size (6-3, 200) to play the position, but being under center is a whole new ballgame.
Josh O’Neill, Sr., LB, Scottsdale Christian: Was the region’s defensive player of the year last year with 158 tackles. O’Neill leads a defense that returns nine starters, so he may make fewer tackles because runners may not get past the Eagles’ stacked front line.
Rocky Brittain, Sr., QB/LB, Tempe Prep: Was offensive and defensive leader for a young Knights’ team last year. Brittain’s leadership will go a long way toward getting the Knights into the 2A playoffs for the first time.
Miller Bentley, Sr., QB, Scottsdale Christian: Bentley is big, 6-1, 200, and had moderate success throwing the ball last year in his first year as starter for the Eagles. If his accuracy improves, the Eagles’ offense will be difficult to stop.
Florence at Fountain Hills, Sept. 17: Both teams made the semifinals last year and both are expected to get that far or better again. Both teams have holes to fill and this early-season meeting will show how far each squad has progressed.
Scottsdale Christian at Valley Christian, Sept. 17: The AIA schedule makers really need to move this contest to late October, because these two programs appear to be at a point of contending every year. Last year, Valley Christian won a hard-fought, 35-28 game, but the only two players to score for the Trojans, Jordan Morgan and Addison Bare, are gone. SCA has the horses to win 2A and a victory against Valley will be confirmation of that.
Show Low at Blue Ridge, Oct. 22: It may be a bit out of the East Valley, but it’s the biggest 3A game of the year. These two teams met in the 3A title game a year ago and are two of the favorites in the conference. Show Low returns the majority of its offensive playmakers, but Blue Ridge adds transfers Jordan Morgan (from Valley Christian) and Chayse Russell (from Winslow) to an already outstanding program.
Fountain Hills at Empire, Oct. 29: Last year, the 3A South title came down to the regular-season finale between these two teams. This year’s region title could come down to this game again.