This football season could be shaping up as the year of the repeat.
In both Class 4A and 5A, all four state champions from last year have been tagged as preseason No. 1’s in the Tribune’s first batch of rankings.
Hamilton’s offensive line can move mountains, and although Chandler and Brophy will be breathing down the Huskies’ necks, they are a decent bet to win their third straight title.
In 5A-II, Centennial is no longer the top dog, as Chaparral looks to go 2-for-2 in state titles since its move up from 4A.
Running back Ka’Deem Carey gives Canyon del Oro the slight edge as the favorite in 4A-I, but Saguaro has a talented cast and will look to regain the throne it held for three of the past four seasons.
Glendale Cactus will be challenged by East Valley teams Williams Field and Notre Dame in 4A-II.
The season may still be a few weeks away, but we’re ready to get it started. Here are our top-5 teams in each division as fall practice gets underway:
1. Hamilton: The 2-time champions have the best offensive line and defensive backfield in the state. QB Kyren Poe is more of a two-way threat than Travis Dean was, and despite uncertainty in the defensive “front seven,” the Huskies always seem to figure themselves out.
2. Chandler: Is this the year? QB Brett Hundley is a senior phenom, it’s Jim Ewan’s last year coaching and Valley Christian-transfer Jordan Morgan will help the defense (if he wins a hardship appeal). Health and the defense will tell this tale.
3. Brophy: A lot of questions up front where the Broncos have lost their veterans from state championship games, but how the QB situation shakes out here is critical. The Broncos are young but aren’t short on talent, and there are reasons why kids from all over the Valley seek out Broncos coach and former QB Scooter Molander for his teachings and training with young signal-callers.
4. Mountain Pointe: Last year’s Cinderella, the Pride lost its 3,500-yard, 51-TD backfield of Davon Jones and De’Andre Currie. No longer an unknown, the offense must find new ways to score to help one of the better defenses in the state.
5. Desert Ridge: Highland-transfer Parker Rasmussen transferred into Jeremy Hathcock’s offensive tutelage, and the Jaguars return 10 guys on defense. If Sam Papa can return to old form after he suffered a season-ending hip injury late last season, the Jaguars’ defense could finally be good enough to help the explosive offense make a deep run.
1. Chaparral: Quarterback Connor Brewer is back, and he gets a reinforcement in Davonte’ Neal at wide receiver. The defense will be steady. A repeat is definitely possible for the Firebirds, who continue to show that the jump to 5A didn’t hinder them one bit.
2. Centennial: The Coyotes are smarting from last year’s upset loss to Marcos de Niza in the semifinals. But Vegas Johnson and Jebron Harrington will keep Centennial among the 5A-II elite once again.
3. Marcos de Niza: Ramon Abreu and Justin Rodriguez might be gone, but there is a new wave of elite athletes at Marcos. Anthony Shivers, Martwon Weaver, JeRyan Butler and Adam Pavlenko believe this team can get a title after last year’s squad fell one win short.
4. Westview: Thousand-yard rusher Jordon Champion is back, and center Brennan Bowen will help open holes for him.
5. Sunnyside: Lost two games by a combined 13 points last year, but wants more after bowing out to Marcos de Niza in the quarterfinals.
1. Canyon del Oro: The return of Ka’Deem Carey – one of the most dynamic running backs this state has ever seen – makes the Dorados the favorite to repeat after an undefeated run last year. A few key pieces – including quarterback – will need to be replaced, but Carey makes Canyon del Oro the preseason No. 1.
2. Saguaro: The three-peat came to an end last year when the Sabercats lost in the semifinals, but several key players are back, and a fourth state championship in five years is definitely within reach. Teddy Ruben, D.J. Foster, Cyrus Hobbi and Brock Haman are the core of a team which gained valuable experience last year.
3. Cienega: After the top two teams, it looks like a pretty big dropoff, but we will give Cienega the nod here. Willie Willis was one of the better running backs in 4A last year, and he return, as does quarterback Jordan Mills, so the Bobcats will be tough to beat.
4. Sabino: Lost most of the impact skill players from last season’s runner-up squad, but the Sabercats are always strong and have players waiting in the wings to fill the holes.
5. Apollo: Quarterback Jon Brown (2,295 yards passing, 25 touchdowns, six interceptions) is back for his junior year, as are his top two targets, David Gonzales and Chrisdeon Ayiyi.
1. Cactus: The Cobras lost many skill players from last year’s title team, but have several linemen coming back, as well as running back Lashaunn Norris, who is ready to step in and fill the shoes of Allen Woods.
2. Mingus: Nick Alred and Juan Gonzalez are both back for the Marauders, who lost in the semifinals last year to Santa Rita.
3. Williams Field: A solid first season ended bitterly with a first round, overtime loss to Amphitheater, but the Black Hawks should rebound nicely.
4. Liberty: Running back Dan Mihelich is a big loss, but Liberty has eight other offensive players returning, including quarterback Andre Gattie.
5. Notre Dame: A down year last season and quarterback Will King is gone, but the Saints have one of the top coaches in the state in Scot Bemis and a solid program. A lot depends on the younger players stepping up.
1. Blue Ridge: Defending champions lost 80 percent of the offense to graduation and longtime defensive coordinator, but gained Show Low transfer Chayse Russell (1,200 yards rushing, 24 TD) and the Cougars’ defensive coordinator.
2. Florence: Terrific season crashed to Blue Ridge in semifinals; must replace many in the trenches, but skill position starters return.
3. Show Low: Lost top RB and defensive guru Danny Hawkins to Blue Ridge, but Rathen Ricedorff (2,963 yards, 41 TD) is best QB in 3A.
4. Round Valley: Lose three key linemen, but perennial contenders return QB Chantz Davis.
5. Fountain Hills: 2009 state semifinalists return nearly all of the big boys up front, but who will pass and run behind them?
1. Scottsdale Christian: Seventeen starters return, including 10 on defense.
2. Valley Christian: Star Jordan Morgan is gone, along with coach Bill Morgan. The Trojans have a proud tradition, but do they have enough to absorb significant losses at the skill positions with new coach Kevin Allen?
3. Yuma Catholic: Eddie Harris will be tough to replace at running back, but almost every other key piece returns.
4. St. Johns: Lost a heartbreaker to Valley Christian is semis last year; has the talent to get that far again.
5. Northwest Christian: Lost a lot, but running back Casey Jahn could carry this team.
1. Joseph City: Defending state champions return QB Tracy Pourdier (12 TD, 0 INT) and RB Remington Baldwin.
2. Mogollon: Dynamic backfield of QB J.T. Maner (1,748 yards, 29 passing TD; 942 yards rushing) and RB Boone Baker (1,624 yards, 26 TD) return for perennial contenders.
3. Bagdad: QB Zachary Loveall could be the best QB in 1A and the experienced Sultans are bitter about a blowout loss to Mogollon in the semifinals.
4. St. David: Quarterfinalists from ‘09 only lost four seniors to graduation from last year.
5. Orme School: Semifinalists in ‘09 fell to Joseph City.