A whole lot went right for Tempe Corona del Sol last season.
The Aztecs won nine consecutive games following an 0-2 start before falling to eventual champion Phoenix Brophy in the playoffs.
They found a quarterback in current junior Chase Cartwright, and J.R. Hamm rushed for more than 1,400 yards. The defense improved immensely in the final six weeks of the season, and they won the Central Region championship.
Almost all of those responsible for the 2007 success return this fall, but it’s the one who doesn’t (Hamm) that could indirectly lead to something better.
In addition to Cartwright (1,300 yards, 10 touchdowns, four interceptions) having a full season under his belt behind center, the Aztecs have speed in the backfield.
Hamm’s height (5-foot-7), strength and shiftiness were his greatest attributes, but with junior Michael Lange and senior Kirby Pellant, 20-yard gains are more likely to become 40 or 50 yards.
Kyle Benson and Evan Althiede are returning bruisers, but now the Aztecs have burners.
“We had great backs but were 20-yard backs,” coach Gary Venturo said. “It’d be nice to go the distance.”
That’s also the goal this season. Better passing and game management from Cartwright, health and experience has the Aztecs eyeing another region championship and deeper playoff run.
Venturo already said this team is further along than last year’s, which reached the state quarterfinals.
Questions remain, particularly with the team’s depth, offensive line and a deep Central Region, but so far there have been more answers than wonder for the first time in a few years.
“If we stay healthy, we’ll be there just like the other teams,” Venturo said. “I like the makeup of our team. They can go a long way.”