After winding down Saturday night and Sunday and a few days off this week, Cave Creek Cactus Shadows football coach Chad DeGrenier will be back at work this Saturday preparing for next football season.
His first assignment will be returning to University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale for a look-see at the 4A Division I title game between Scottsdale Saguaro and Tucson Sabino.
“We’ll be playing Saguaro next year, so I’d like to see them and get a bit of a head start,’’ DeGrenier said, referring to Cactus Shadows’ rise next fall from 4A-II state champ to 4A-I competitor.
Cactus Shadows’ players, coaches, parents and fans were still basking in the glorious aftermath of its 15-0 title season. The Falcons dispatched Gilbert Higley, 28-14, in the first Arizona prep football championship game ever played at University of Phoenix Stadium. This year’s senior class suffered through an 0-10 season two years ago, giving the players a look from the bottom and a picturesque view from the top.
‘‘(Saturday) night a few families set up some parties and the kids came over and hung out,’’ DeGrenier said. ‘‘It was especially great for the senior parents who went through the 0-10 season.”
Next year Cactus Shadows will have the third-smallest enrollment among 4A-I schools. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. The two schools in 4A-I currently with the smallest enrollments are Sabino and Saguaro — this year’s 4A-I title-game combatants. Still, what took place this weekend brought reflection for DeGrenier.
‘‘What was neat for me was I got to coach our seniors all four years,’’ DeGrenier said. “I was the freshman coach their freshman year and then became varsity coach. To be able to see them mature over that time was amazing. The biggest jump was last year to this year. It was boys to men. They took care of themselves. Took care of the little things. They communicated. All the things you’d hope they’d do. They picked up on life skills that will help them in every way. That’s rewarding.’’
The strength of next year’s squad at the outset will be defense. Seven of 11 starters return. A new quarterback will be broken in, likely sophomore Dylan Classan, who has a shot to command the Falcons for three seasons as Phillip Aholt did. Classan quarterbacked Cactus Shadows’ 7-1 junior varsity team.
‘‘Defense will be the talk of next year for us,’’ DeGrenier said. ‘‘They didn’t get enough credit this year, but we’ll rely on them to lead us at the start next year.’’