Conference/Region: 4A-I/Desert Sky
2008 record: 14-0, won 4A-I state title
Coach: John Sanders, third season, 28-0
Returning offensive starters: 2, linemen Kody Innes and Cyrus Hobbi, who have college scholarship offers.
Returning defensive starters: 1, Jordan McDonald, who has been in the shadows of other great Saguaro linemen but should break out this year.
Outlook: The Sabercats have been great the past three seasons, rolling to a 41-1 record and three state titles. The future is also bright, as Saguaro’s sophomore and junior classes are laden with talent.
The question is: What about this year?
The team lost all but three starters from last year’s dominant group, including eight players who will be playing Division I football. No skill players return, and the dominant defense has been gutted.
Coach John Sanders said as many as seven sophomores could start, while only three or four seniors will get significant playing time. But for a team on a 33-game winning streak, the goal is always a state title.
“I don’t believe in rebuilding,” Sanders said. “I’m not using that term. The two seniors I do have, they want to win.”
The key will be transforming all the young talent into football players.
Kyle Faunce, a transfer from Indiana, will be the quarterback. D.J. Foster, just a sophomore, is expected to be moved all around the field on offense and will be a big-time contributor.
Danny Clark will be the starting tailback.
“These kids are all wide-eyed puppies,” Sanders said. “They’ll be big dogs some day, but right now they’re pups.”
If Saguaro wins its first seven games, it will tie Mesa Mountain View for the longest winning streak among 4A and 5A teams in Arizona history at 40.
To do so, the Sabercats will have to beat Peoria, Glendale Cactus and Tucson Canyon del Oro, among others.
“They know (the winning streak) won’t last forever, but they don’t want it to end on their watch,” Sanders said.
Sept. 4 vs. Copper Canyon
Sept. 11 at Sunnyslope
Sept. 17 vs. Peoria
Sept. 25 vs. Cactus
Oct. 2 at Canyon del Oro
Oct. 9 vs. Moon Valley
Oct. 16 vs. Cactus Shadows
Oct. 23 at McClintock
Oct. 30 at Apache Junction
Nov. 6 vs. Queen Creek
-- Sept. 17 vs. Peoria: The Panthers gave Saguaro a huge scare in last year’s 4A-I semifinals, but both teams have lost plenty of talent. This is Saguaro’s first big test.
-- Oct. 2 at Tucson Canyon del Oro: Saguaro travels to Tucson, where it will face one of the best teams in the state. CDO’s Kadeem Carey will be the best running back the Sabercats see in the regular season.
-- Oct. 30 at Apache Junction: The Prospectors love to run the ball, but the Sabercats seem built to stop the running game. Which team will give in? This result should clear up the region race quite a bit.