It was late July, and perched in the football office, Chaparral coach Dave Huffine recalled seeing Desert Mountain's two best players, quarterback Kyle Allen and wide receiver Mark Andrews, on the Firebirds field throwing passes to one another.
If it sounds like an odd sighting given the "A" duo go to the rival-school eight miles down Shea Blvd., apparently it wasn't to Huffine.
There are very few so-called "skeletons" in either school's closet with this matchup: Kids grew up together, several of whom played football with/against each other since their youth. Coaches worked with and against one another for years; Even some (notably Gary McKay) who transferred from one school (Chaparral) to the other (Desert Mountain) this summer.
Toss in elite athletes on both sides of the field, starting with Allen (Texas A&M commit) and Andrews (Oklahoma commit). Chaparral has Trevor Wood, Elijah Castro (Pac-12 offers), Tyler Whiley, Joe Nauert (New Mexico State) and Izzy Simpson (NAU) among others, and it's why ESPNU is coming to Desert Mountain's campus.
"We have a bigger goals for the season than just one game, but not everyone gets an opportunity like this," Wolves coach Tony Tabor said. "It shouldn’t be something you dread or sick to your stomach. Have fun."
But even with all the temptations, hoopla and external distractions at a rolling boil, it's one game. It's an important one, not just for bragging rights, but eventually when power rankings enter the picture because both teams figure to have much success during the regular season.
"I talked about it Wednesday, if you're swimming and (ingest) a little water it won’t kill you, but if you panic it might," Tabor said. "Stuff will happen, it always does over the course of a game, but don’t let the surroundings take you out of completely you do.
"I don’t think all the piped-in stadium music or an environment people create during practice can replicate the environment, so you have to do your best and that’s it."
Since last year's meeting, a stirring 28-21 win for Desert Mountain in which Chaparral was left one foot short of Desert Mountain's end zone in the final seconds, both teams believe each is better.
Sean Paul Brophy is a year wiser as the Firebirds' starting quarterback this season after splitting time last year. Whiley and Hamilton-transfer Izzy Simpson are big-play kids and Trevor Wood is one of the best tight ends in the state, now healthy after missing all of last year with injuries.
A defense - again expected to be a strength of the Firebirds - allowed 56 points to Marcos de Niza two weeks ago - but the return of Nauert from injury and what Huffine deemed were correctable mistakes figure to help Chaparral get back to being an elite defensive team.
The Firebirds will need to be. They mostly-stymied Allen (117 yards, 2 TD, INT) and Andrews (4 catches, 40 yards, TD) in last year's matchup. But a fumble on the game's opening kickoff and Desert Mountain's ability to average four yards per carry ultimately hurt the Firebirds.
Allen and Andrews will always be under the spotlight, but Desert Mountain's ability to run the ball with five seniors up front will be crucial. So, too, has the emergence of Cruz Olivarez, who had seven catches for 100 yards and two scores last week.
"It's the same approach as we had against Saguaro," Huffine said, referring to another much-ballyhooed matchup from Week 1. "'Hey, let’s just go execute and we’ll be sky-high because it’s Saguaro and at home. If you worry about things that have no impact on the game, too many outside influences.
"Trust yourself and your teammates, and don’t try to be Superman."
All of which might be true, but given the recent history between Desert Mountain and Chaparral ....
"You don’t need any motivational speeches," Huffine said.
Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune sports editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (480) 898-6576.