The hype, hoopla and any other synonym that starts with ‘H’ ends here.
OK, that’s not entirely true. These 16 pages of football fodder contain plenty more guesses (educated or otherwise), facts, information, analysis, things to watch and some forecasts.
After this, however, comes the real thing. Finally.
Hamilton starts this show in Flagstaff on Saturday night against Las Vegas’ Bishop Gorman, and the rest of our corner of the world begins this 15-week grind next week.
The East Valley football fodder spiraled in all sorts of directions during these six months of solitude. Some for better. Some for worse. And some the deliberation is going to take a long time to deliberate.
Finally, those processes are ready to unfold. The gathering of evidence officially begins this weekend.
Then: The Bears were coming off another 5A Division I state quarterfinal exit, this time in emotionally-crushing fashion to Mountain Pointe.
Now: The administration fired the school’s only coach, Tim McBurney, stemming from disagreements about the program and its direction. In comes Bernie Busken, who led Mountain View to glory in the mid-to-late 1990s before he was exiled. A polarizing figure back then, Busken vows he’s a different person and that it’s about his players, not him. There’s no question he can coach, and so far it’s gone without a hitch. Meanwhile, the Bears have returning experience and plenty of skill. And if they can find stability at QB and up front — “If you have those you have a chance,” Busken said — the Bears figure to remain contenders as part of the Chandler corridor of uber-competitive teams.
Then: Brett Hundley was dropping jaws and bulging eyes when he permanently stepped into the starting QB role against Peoria Centennial last year. The Wolves lost a two-possession lead in the final minute to rival Hamilton, then were punched in the mouth by the Huskies in the state semifinals.
Now: Hundley is back, and the Wolves are ready to take that next step and send coach Jim Ewan into retirement with something other than a nagging feeling of “What could have been.” Athletes aplenty, the Wolves will have an explosive offense, but a defense and special teams that must be completely re-built after only one starter from last year returns.
Then: The Firebirds came back from their only loss of the season on the field (Desert Mountain) and bigger “losses” to both a player’s immediate family and near-death experience of coach Charlie Ragle’s wife and loss of an unborn child. The fiery Ragle fired his team back up and won the state championship in its first season as a 5A-II school.
Now: Dynamic receiver/defensive back Davonte Neal transferred from Laveen Cesar Chavez; Lucas Petrullo transferred from Saguaro; Connor Brewer will close in on school passing records; and the Firebirds are championship contenders again.
Corona del Sol
Then: The Aztecs muddled through a miserable season of injuries.
Now: A different kind of misery unfolded this spring. Gary Venturo retired after 23 years and the school hired South Mountain coach Zane Zamenski. Controversy swirled when an anonymous letter on behalf of a dozen players was sent to the school district alleging lewd comments made to players and others around campus by Zamenski. The district agreed in its investigation, but ultimately chose to keep Zamenski and his staff. Now begins the rebuilding (in more ways than one) with the young Aztecs, a group as anxious as anyone for the chance to worry about football for once.
Then: The Huskies won a second consecutive 5A-I state championship.
Now: The Huskies are favorites to win a third consecutive 5A-I state championship.
Then: After moving up classes and divisions for the third time in nine years under Curt LeBlanc, the Bulldogs fell in the first round of the 4A-I playoffs, a fourth consecutive loss to end the season.
Now: Citing stagnation, the Bulldogs fired LeBlanc after a 65-36 career, and he’s now an assistant at Combs. In comes Joe Germaine, the former Mountain View and Arizona Rattlers standout QB who beat Arizona State in the 1996 Rose Bowl (that ASU defense included Queen Creek athletic director Paul Reynolds). Germaine only ascended to quarterbacks coach at Basha, but he has a veteran staff and his QB tuteledge could lead to big things for the Bulldogs as they try to take the next step up in 4A-I.
Then: The Lions were crippled by injuries and internal dissensions about the program’s direction in 2009, culminating with a first-round playoff loss to Mesa High and then-coach Jim Jones’ tirade about the new Fiesta Region.
Now: Jones saw the writing on the wall. He and the school parted ways and the school’s only coach (until now) is happily in the background as an assistant to Rodger Schenks at San Tan Foothills in Class 3A. In came Ron Wisniewski, a well-traveled college coach who was at Princeton. He has a bachelor of arts in astrophysics from Rutgers, a Masters degree in aerospace engineering from Colorado, and a Ph.D. in educational mathematics from Northern Colorado. He’ll need those smarts walking into a pressure cooker at a school with a fan base of high expectations and huge numbers.
Then: The Trojans won a second 2A state championship in Flagstaff, but internal pressures led to coach Bill Morgan’s resignation, which led to son Jordan Morgan withdrawing from the school during spring semester. Jordan latched on at Chandler for a week while waiting to have his AIA appeal heard, but that never happened as the Morgans headed for the White Mountain, where the California-bound Jordan will play his senior season at 3A-power Lakeside Blue Ridge.
Now: Kevin Allen, who hails from Minnesota, will be the program’s new coach. With a new coach and suddenly without its best player heading into the season, it’ll be a time of transition for the Trojans. But it’s hard to see V.C. not being one of the premier teams in 2A this fall.
Heard and read enough? So have we.
It’s finally time to see.
Carousel of coaching craziness: In an offseason full of changes (and in the case of Corona del Sol, almost a second coaching change), Basha’s hiring of Bernie Busken to replace the fired Tim McBurney raised the most eyebrows. Beyond Busken’s return to the East Valley since he parted ways with Mountain View in 2001, Corona del Sol hired Zane Zamenski to replace the retired Gary Venturo. That caused a ruckus this summer when he was suspended by the Tempe Union school district for lewd comments made to players and around campus. Despite the district’s investigation corroborating the allegations to a degree, Zamenski was reinstated as coach. It’s all water under the bridge now, as both Busken and Zamenski set their sights on creating their own footprints with their respective schools this season and beyond. Both have talented kids and good participation numbers to work with.
Chandler schools: Busken also knows he entered into a school district that puts a premium on athletics, and it’s showed. Hamilton looks poised to win a third consecutive 5A-I state championship, while neighbors Chandler and Basha figure to be two top contenders at dethroning the defending champs. Led by Brett Hundley, the Wolves have as good a chance as they’ve had in recent years at beating Hamilton in this, Jim Ewan’s final season after 40 years of coaching high school and college football in the Valley. With a few key returners and Busken’s coaching abilities, the Bears could be considered early favorites to win the Central Region ...
Clogged Central: ... But they could just as easily be overtaken by the likes of everyone. Defending region champion Mountain View returns most of its defense. Gilbert, along with fellow brethren schools Mesquite and Highland, should be improved. And even Corona del Sol can make a run if the Aztecs can fill a couple key skill position voids and, unlike last season, stay healthy.
E.V. equals? Look out for Desert Ridge in the East Valley Region. The Jaguars have put up points like the national debt the past couple years, and with their starting WR trio returning with new QB Parker Rasmussen, they’ll do it again. More ball control and a better defense will tell the tale of their success. Marcos de Niza (5A-II) and Mountain Pointe figure to be the toughest competition, and the Pride have question marks heading into the follow-up to a Cinderella 2009 season.
Players to Watch
Josh Dennard, Sr., WR/DB, Brophy: A starting WR as a sophomore who played mostly on defense last year, he’ll play both ways this season and the Broncos love his big-play potential.
Brett Hundley, Sr., QB, Chandler: The best QB in the state after a sensational junior season, his arm/legs/smarts go beyond his years. He gives Chandler its best chance to send coach Jim Ewan into retirement in style.
Izzy Marshall, Sr., DB, Mountain Pointe: A do-everything athlete at 6-foot-2, 200 pounds, he’ll likely play both ways for the Pride, but shines at linebacker and safety. Boise State and nearly every Pac-10 school has paid visits.
Justin Newman, Sr., LB, Mountain View: Headed to the military academies next year, the 6-foot-3, 185-pound defensive end/tight end needs to come up big for the Toros, especially since standout defensive lineman and Oregon-bound Sam Kamp was lost for the season in summer passing league (broken collarbone).
Todd Peat, Sr., OL/DL, Corona del Sol: A monster in the middle when healthy, he and younger brother Andrus as well as C.J. Anderson form a formidable trio in the trenches for the young Aztecs. Peat missed five games last season with injuries, but the 6-foot-2, 290-pound tackle has hordes of Division I schools in hot pursuit.
Kyren Poe, Sr., QB, Hamilton: The next in a long line of senior signal-callers to succeed at Hamilton, Poe takes the reins after sharing time with Travis Dean last year. Poe has the arm but his legs give Hamilton another dimension behind a huge offensive line.
Sam Papa, Sr. WR/LB, Desert Ridge: He suffered a hip injury in mid-October and missed the rest of the season in which he was sorely missed in late October and November. Papa is the team’s heart and soul defensively, and one of a trio of receivers with Paris Clark and Jordan Becerra for new QB Parker Rasmussen, who transferred from Highland this summer.
Tony Vaitafa, Sr., LB, Mesa: The 16-year-old is the physical and emotional leader of the Jackrabbits with 98 tackles and 9 1/2 sacks last season. With the loss of lineman Chase Allen (opted not to play football) and top returning runner Asure McMillan (no longer on the team), the Jackrabbits need Vaitafa to stay the course academically and qualify to play in the brutal Fiesta Region.
Christian Westerman, Sr., OL, Hamilton: Arguably the No. 1 high school player in the state. The tackle tandem of 6-foot-5, 295-pound Westerman (Texas) and Tyler Johnstone (Oregon) spearhead the best offensive line in the state on paper. Even if teams know what’s coming from the Hamilton rushing attack, it still may not matter.
Zach Williams, Sr., LB, Basha: Outstanding in the middle of a solid defense as a junior with 142 total tackles, seven sacks and two interceptions, he should only improve his senior season under new coach Bernie Busken. Williams and WR Dejzon Walker could wind up being the two best players in the Central Region this season.
1. Hamilton: With the best offensive line and secondary in the state, the two-time defending 5A-I champions have few weaknesses. They’re planning on a 15-game season.
2. Chandler: In Jim Ewan’s final season as coach, Brett Hundley and the offense should have little trouble putting up points. The questions lie in a revamped defense and special teams, but this could be the school’s best chance at a championship in eons.
3. Brophy: Loads of potential but very young, the Broncos solidified themselves in these rankings a few years ago. If either incumbent QB Chase Knox or sophomore Tyler Bruggman emerges as a playmaker, the Broncos can make a huge run. And they’ll never be out-coached with Scooter Molander’s staff.
4. Mountain Pointe: Last year’s dual-Cinderella story with Mesa, the Pride lost a backfield of 3,500 rushing yards and 54 TDs. But the defense is expected to be every bit as good as last year while a new group of offensive skill players develops.
5. Desert Ridge: Like Chandler, offense is never a problem here under Jeremy Hathcock, and that’s not changing this year with Highland transfer Parker Rasmussen and three talented wide receivers. But it’s the 10 returning starters on defense and healthy return of Sam Papa (hip) that will make the difference.
Chandler at Centennial, Sept. 3: This was Chandler QB Brett Hundley’s coming out party last season despite the blowout loss. The Wolves’ defense will be tested big-time again against the 5A-II powerhouse Coyotes.
Desert Vista at Mountain Pointe, Sept. 16: The Ahwatukee Bowl swung big in Mountain Pointe’s favor last year, but D.V. sees its troubles last season as just that: last season.
Highland at Desert Ridge, Sept. 16: Parker Rasmussen transferred from Highland to D-Ridge this summer and Jaguars coach Jeremy Hathcock projects him to be one of the best to go through his system. The Hawks have other plans for their former teammate.
Brophy at Chandler, Sept. 23: A miracle regulation and overtime comeback last year went to Brophy. The Fiesta Region studs will slug it out again in a top-loaded region race.
Red Mountain at Mesa, Sept. 24: Mesa got its intra-city rivals in the playoffs en route to the state championship game, but the Jackrabbits have lost key players and Red Mountain hired the NASA of football coaches in Ron Wisniewski.
Hamilton at Chandler, Oct. 1: Speaking of miracle finishes, Hamilton pulled one out on Chandler last season to keep their city brethen winless against the Huskies. Was last year Chandler’s chance? Or can Hundley and Co. make it happen (at least) once before Jim Ewan retires?
Desert Ridge at Mountain Pointe, Oct. 15: Desert Ridge led 28-0 at halftime last season, but the rest won’t be revisited here for the Jaguars’ sake. Mountain Pointe’s strength figures to be its defense again, and D-Ridge has made it clear it can score fast and furious. Will D-Ridge make the next leap?
Brophy at Hamilton, Oct. 22: Another in-region preview of the state championship? There’s no point ever betting against it with these schools. Everyone knows about the Huskies by now, but can a young Brophy team handle the intense Fiesta competition?
Highland at Gilbert, Oct. 29: City schools usually don’t like each other much on the field, and this is no exception. Both teams should be improved from last year’s struggles, which means a playoff spot could be won/lost here.
Mesquite at Basha, Oct. 29: Two teams who love to beat up each other will do it again (witness last year’s 7-3 outcome). The Wildcats are darkhorses in the Central Region, and we know Mike Reardon and Bernie Busken-coached teams will be prepared.
Mountain View at Basha, Nov. 5: Busken facing Mountain View for the first time since he was essentially forced out in 2001 is one thing, but implications of region championships and home playoff games will be far more interesting.