Notre Dame Prep Saints
Division II, Section III
Coach: Scot Bemis
Last year's record: 11-2, lost to Williams Field in 4A Division II semifinals
Returning starters offense: 6, including QB Jordan Gehrke, who's among the best in the state after a junior season of 2,358 yards, 24 touchdown and only four interceptions.
Returning starters defense: 7, including junior middle linebacker Luke Tafurri, who led the team in total tackles with 113. He returns to the middle of an experienced defense.
Schedule (all home games at Scottsdale Community College)
Aug. 26 vs. Marcos de Niza; Sept. 2 at Rio Rancho (New Mexico); Sept. 9 vs. Hamilton; Sept. 16 at Barry Goldwater; Sept. 23 at Desert Mountain; Sept. 30 vs. Chaparral; Oct. 6 at Shadow Mountain; Oct. 14 vs. Cactus Shadows; Oct. 21 vs. McClintock; Oct. 28 at Horizon
Aug. 26 vs. Marcos de Niza: There's not getting-your-feet-wet period in jumping up a couple divisions as Notre Dame is doing. Right off the bat the Saints get a Marcos team with speed, talent and a similar eye on a Division II championship.
Sept. 9 vs. Hamilton: A national TV game, probably because both these schools are going to Ireland together in 2012. The Huskies are big in size and numbers over the Saints, but even if Notre Dame can't pull off a shocker, they'll get plenty of power points and experience against a dynasty.
Sept. 30 vs. Chaparral: Speaking of Division II championship contenders, can the Saints hang with the best? Depth and two-way stamina could be key here against the Firebirds. Either way, it's a great mid-season barometer for Notre Dame.
The pain of that final day on Paradise Valley's Fieldturf is (almost) gone, and now begins another monstrous challenge for Notre Dame.
After falling to Williams Field on the final play of what was one of the best high school football games in the East Valley in the past several years, the Saints embark on an even more difficult journey.
Good thing they're armed with talent and experience, because by willfully moving from its enrollment size of Division IV, up to Division II, the Saints will face big-time teams nearly every week. It'll be a far cry from parts of its 4A-II schedule in years past, and rather unbalanced compared to other teams in Section III. Instead, the Saints get Marcos de Niza, Hamilton, Chaparral and Rio Rancho, a top New Mexico school.
"The biggest difference is every week," Saints coach Scot Bemis said. "You’re going to have some real good teams in lower divisions, but it’s every week and the depth (in Division II). We’re not going to cry about our schedule, we’ll go play and do what we do."
What the Saints will do, is rely on QB Jordan Gehrke to lead a solid offensive attack. Arguably the best overall QB in 4A-II last year, Gehrke will have a relatively new group of wideouts to work with, but the group was in the program last year, and, at Notre Dame, it hasn't taken long in recent years to the chains moving.
Besides the passing game, Notre Dame's defense returns a wealth of starters (seven) plus some more kids who saw significant snaps. The linebacker corps of senior captain Nick Orlando and Luke Tafurri will be the strength. Mo White (7 interceptions) will lead the secondary and Parker Zellers will help lead the defensive line. Six kids on defense started as juniors in 2010.
As is the case at most schools, it's been nearly four months between spring and summer ball of practices, teaching and drills. Friday nights are a different game, and a really different one upcoming for the Saints.
"It’s still a new team and we need to find out the identity of our team and play some opponents and play against other people," Bemis said. "Our kids have to do it live instead of practice, and between practice and spring football it's been about 14 weeks since spring. We’ve put in a lot of time. Hopefully we’re ready to go."