Desert Mountain Wolves
Division I, Section III
Coach: Tony Tabor
Last year's record: 4-6, did not qualify for Division I playoffs
Returning offensive starters: 6, including QB Kyle Allen, a junior who's drawn several Division I offers this spring/summer after a sophomore season of 2,547 yards and 21 touchdowns in 2011. The Wolves are hoping an improved running game relieves some of the pressure on their passing game.
Returning defensive starters: 4, including middle linebacker Joe Duran, a three-year starter who had 166 tackles in 2011.
Aug. 24 at Mountain View; Aug. 31 at Dobson; Sept. 7 vs. Westwood; Sept. 14 vs. Chaparral; Sept. 21 at Notre Dame; Sept. 28 vs. North Canyon; Oct. 5 vs. Highland; Oct. 12 at Willow Canyon; Oct. 19 at Pinnacle; Oct. 26 vs. Sandra Day O’Connor
Aug. 24 at Mountain View: A 43-7 victory against the Toros got DM on the right track, but the Toros figure to improve along with the Wolves. A nice early test for DM running game and defense.
Sept. 14 vs. Chaparral: Shea Blvd. "rivalry" aside, Chaparral is talented but young, and the Wolves have more talent and experience than the past two seasons. Another "upset" from 2009's regular season finale could be in the making here, it's the Wolves best team since then. It's also a key two-game stretch with Notre Dame (Div. II) a week later.
Oct. 19 at Pinnacle: Another great test for the Wolves' defense and running game against a likely playoff team. This could mean the difference between playoffs or not for the Wolves.
Could this be 2009 revisited?
That was Desert Mountain's magical run to the (then-) 5A Division II semifinals and welcome reprieve from so many struggling seasons past. It's been a struggle since for Tony Tabor's program, but experience, health and talent pool appear to have risen again, and Desert Mountain sees November games in its future.
The offensive cornerstones are juniors Kyle Allen (2,547 passing yards and 21 touchdowns) and Mark Andrews (58 rec., 1,058 yards, 10 TD), undoubtedly one of the best passing combinations in the state. But it's a by-committee running game and return of four 275-pound-plus offensive lineman from a year ago (Rick John, Thomas Chiarello, Ryan Scheetz and Coleman Martin) that has Tabor as optimistic about his offense as any in his long tenure.
Alec Waltman should make an impact as well and an improved running game (after being injury-hampered in 2011) could chew the clock and make the passing game more dangerous.
Joe Duran will patrol the middle of the Wolves' defense. The three-year starter and leading tackler (166) is relentless, but he could have more help this year with Greg Frasco, along with Pat Tallman at nose tackle and Roberto Mariani (defensive end) anchoring the defensive line. Tabor also likes the speed of his secondary and three-year starter Jordan Sneed at cornerback.
Special teams is a bit in flux as the Wolves had a three-year starter and All-State in Matt Foley who's now at ASU, along with Eaton Wahlstrom (long snapper).
The rise of experience and athleticism comes expectations, and while the Wolves are embracing some genuine reasons for excitement, questions remain about embracing the long haul of a four-month season, and, to Tabor, "we have to maintain a level of maturity that we did not possesses last season."
"Our overall depth is better than even our state semifinal team of 2009," he said. "I believe and always will that the team will go as the big boys up front go. If we can protect Kyle and run the ball we can be playing deep into November which is our goal and mission of this year."
Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune sports editor. He can be reached at email@example.com or (480) 898-6576.