An early look at what to watch in Division I this season:
Mountain View’s offensive change: The Toros built up their football dynasty with a run-first, grind-it-out philosophy, but recently it wasn’t working. Chad DeGrenier is the new coach, replacing Tom Joseph, and he is a spread offense guru who isn’t afraid to throw the ball around if defenses allow it. Mountain View’s going to look much different this year, but will it lead to success in the win column?
Corona rebound: It was a difficult year for the Aztecs last season, as Zane Zamenski’s tumultuous one-season reign as coach came to an end in November following two separate investigations and a 1-10 record. Corona del Sol has one of the state’s best prospects in offensive lineman Andrus Peat, and another Division I recruit in defensive lineman Avery Moss. Joseph was hired to right the ship, but can it be done in only one season?
Desert Ridge’s dual quarterbacks: After Parker Rasmussen was injured late last season, Jordan Becerra took over at quarterback, and the Jaguars’ run-oriented spread option attack carved up defenses as the team made a surprising run to the 5A-I title game. Both Rasmussen and Becerra are back, and coach Jeremy Hathcock intends to use them both at quarterback. Can that last all season, and can they coexist doing it?
Geographical games: The main component used in computer scheduling was geography to lower the cost of travel, which renews rivalries and forces the East Valley teams to duke it out with each other for most of the year. All the top teams have several tough contests on their schedule, which has them grumbling about inequity under their breaths, but it should be a treat for fans.
Sectional supremacy: The season hasn’t begun, but Avondale Westview can pretty much be penciled in as the top dog in Section I, because while three teams are guaranteed a playoff berth, the Knights look like the only legitimate contender. Section II and Section III are where the East Valley teams lie, and, as Gilbert coach Dan Dunn puts it, both should be a “bloodbath.” Basha, Chandler, Desert Ridge, Hamilton and Mesquite are lumped together in Section II. Brophy, Desert Vista, Mountain Pointe, Mountain View and Red Mountain are in Section III. Only three teams from each section are guaranteed playoff berths, with the other seven at-large spots distributed based on power points, so it will be interesting to see how it all shakes out.
Players to watch
Josh Bamrick, Mesquite, Sr., LB: A defense known for doling out punishment the past few years might change some with new coach Matt Gracey, but not much. There’s no reason to with Bamrick back for his senior season and in the middle of it all. He had 148 tackles (89 solo), two interceptions, 11 passes defended and laid the wood on nearly every play. The Wildcats defense lost a lot from last year, but it has an anchor, one that’s tough to get past or through.
Jalen Brown, Mountain Pointe, So., WR/DB: Only a sophomore, Brown is already one of the nation’s highly regarded after a slew of national honors, including U.S. Air Force 2010 Freshman All-American first-team as a wide receiver. While he had a solid year as a wide receiver (25 catches, 282 yards, 3 TDs in 11 games) for the Pride, the 6-foot-2, 170-pound dynamic athlete made his biggest impact his first year as a defensive back. He had six interceptions, including three against Westwood, and 23 tackles. He has already received offers from Arizona State and Arizona while Yale has made contact after he won numerous camp MVP honors this summer.
Reggie Daniels, Hamilton, Sr., DB: Don’t worry about the raw statistics with Daniels in 2010 when he was a starting safety. He can run, hit, catch the ball (four interceptions) and played his best in the playoffs. He figures to grow and fill in a bit more into his 6-foot-2, 185-pound frame. Practically every Pac-12 school has offered him a scholarship, as have Arkansas, Michigan State and Notre Dame.
Andrus Peat, Corona del Sol, Sr., OL/DL: Consider that Peat, widely considered the top recruit this year in the state and one of the best in the country, is 6-foot-7, 305 pounds and still growing into his body. With very long arms and plenty of nasty in him, he’ll play both ways and is a level-headed kid. Peat and Moss in the trenches give new coach Tom Joseph and the Aztecs something big to bank on in trying to turn the program around. His father, Todd, and older brother/former teammate Todd Peat Jr. (now at Nebraska) have taught him well. Suffice to say the big-time programs in the country still on his list (Arizona State, Auburn, Florida, Florida State, Michigan, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Stanford, Texas and USC) are holding their collective breaths.
Devon Allen, Brophy, Jr., WR: In terms of Brophy’s offensive impact, it’s a tossup between Allen and returning quarterback Tyler Bruggman (both juniors). Bruggman’s return to health from a freak broken ankle late last season is a huge boost for the Broncos’ championship goals, but Allen’s a speed demon and a football player. He had 60 catches for 915 yards (15.25 yards per reception) and six touchdowns as a sophomore, and that was with three different quarterbacks. He’s not overly big (6-foot-1, 170 pounds) or physical, but he’s in a great system and should have a potentially great QB by his side.
Jordan Becerra, Desert Ridge, Sr., QB: The senior’s story is well known by now. Becerra began last season as a wide receiver, but an injury to quarterback Parker Rasmussen moved him under center, and Desert Ridge used a variation of Saguaro’s spread offense to highlight the strengths of Becerra and running back Joey Counts to make a run to the state championship game. Becerra finished the season with 1,128 yards rushing, 464 yards receiving, 382 yards passing and 16 total touchdowns. Rasmussen, Counts and Becerra are all back this season, which makes the Jaguars one of the top contenders to Hamilton’s crown.
Kyle Duran, Basha, Sr., QB: It’s not the senior quarterback’s goal, but attention can be hard to come by when Brett Hundley, Connor Brewer and Teddy Ruben share the same position as he did in 2010. It’ll be tougher to stay out of the spotlight in 2011 if the Central Region Player of the Year repeats or improves on last year’s 63 percent completion percentage, 2,102 yards, 25 touchdowns and eight interceptions. He’s big, strong, just mobile enough and will have weapons at his disposal.
Anthony Lopez, Mesquite, Sr., RB: At times he carried the Wildcats offense in 2010 and he might have to do as much again in new coach Matt Gracey’s system. Stop Lopez, who’s about as fast as anyone in the East Valley with a dash of toughness, and opposing coaches say you stop Mesquite. Problem is, he can beat you on special teams (as he did to Highland) as well. He ran for 1,552 yards (8.7 yards per carry) and 21 touchdowns as a junior. He also caught 13 passes for 176 yards out of the backfield.
Kendyl Taylor, Hamilton, Sr., RB/WR: As has often been the case at Hamilton in recent years, there hasn’t been a go-to guy out of the backfield, but Taylor could break that mold this season. He’s not Marshall Faulk, but his versatility and explosiveness make him nearly as dangerous in the high school realm. He ran for 784 yards (a whopping 11 yards per carry) and nine touchdowns, then caught the second-most passes on the team last year (48) for another 700-plus yards. The Huskies love to mix it up and give multiple guys significant snaps, and that may not change this year. But with Taylor, it might.
Javon Williams, Chandler, Sr., WR: How do you defend a 6-foot-5, 175-pound receiver with speed? Thankfully it’s other coaches’ problems. It’s still a problem for them, as Williams averaged 22 yards per reception last year for 664 total yards and eight touchdowns. Protection, the maturation of new quarterback Darell Garretson and how well the Wolves can force defenses to pay attention elsewhere (especially with Lloyd Mills on the other side) will determine what kind of a season Williams has, but there won’t be a shortage of college suitors in the stands.
Aug. 26: Mountain Pointe at Hamilton — It’s not just a rematch of last year’s state semifinals that the Huskies dominated, it’s a starting point for the Pride to see where they stand against the three-time defending big-school champion in the season opener for both teams.
Sept. 2: Mountain View at Desert Ridge — The Toros suffered their first losing season in school history last year and subsequently fired coach Tom Joseph. Chad DeGrenier has taken over, and this game should be a good indication of just where Mountain View stands in the Division I hierarchy.
Sept. 9: Brophy at Red Mountain — Mountain Lions coach Ron Wisniewski likes his offensive line, and the addition of Gilbert transfer Marcus Brantley should make the offense more explosive. An early matchup against the talented Broncos should be telling.
Sept. 16: Hamilton at Desert Ridge — A payback game perhaps for the Jaguars after last season’s 21-13 5A-I title game loss, and it could certainly put Hamilton’s current 40-game winning streak in jeopardy. No doubt the Hamilton defense will be tested in a big way by Jordan Becerra and Joey Counts.
Sept. 16: Chandler at Basha — It’s about time Basha gets to play the other Chandler schools during the regular season, rather than some occasional random occurrence during the playoffs. It’s not like many of these kids don’t know each other well.
Sept. 30: Brophy at Mountain Pointe — The Broncos return to the scene of last year’s wild quarterfinal loss to the Pride. It’s another excellent measuring stick against possibly the toughest team Brophy will see.
Sept. 30: Hamilton at Chandler — This game had a huge amount of hype last season, but the Huskies took care of business once again, and have still never lost to the Wolves. Chandler doesn’t have star quarterback Brett Hundley, but there is still plenty of talent back as the Wolves get another crack at Hamilton.
Oct. 6: Red Mountain at Mountain View — The battle for Brown Road supremacy is back on. These two teams aren’t state title favorites like they’ve been during past matchups, but the rivalry should be intense after a couple years off.
Oct. 20: Hamilton at Basha — Another contender gets its shot at the Huskies. The Bears were the No. 2 seed in the postseason last year but were shocked in the first round by Gilbert. How will they stack up against Hamilton?