Desert Ridge Jaguars
Division I, Section II
Coach: Jeremy Hathcock
Last year's record: 10-3, lost to Hamilton in the Division I semifinals
Returning offensive starters: 4, including WR Nick Colson, whose size (6-foot-4, 200 pounds) and speed will give the Jaguars a big target outside they haven't had in years.
Returning defensive starters: 4, including senior defensive back Anthony Hovorka, a three-year starter who'll join with Nathaniel Rodriguez to form one of the best duos around the line of scrimmage.
Aug. 24 vs. Gilbert; Aug. 31 vs. Mountain View; Sept. 7 at Highland; Sept. 14 at Hamilton; Sept. 21 at Skyline; Sept. 28 vs. Red Mountain; Oct. 5 at Basha; Oct. 12 vs. Mesa; Oct. 19 at North Canyon; Oct. 26 at Boulder Creek
Sept. 14 at Hamilton: A nice little rivalry has formed between these schools the past couple years, mostly because of their postseason meetings (2010 championship game, 2011 semifinals) adding on to the regular season matchups. It'll be a great test offensively for Desert Ridge against an elite defense, and probably another preview to a postseason matchup.
Sept. 28 vs. Red Mountain: Talk about a couple of dandy games in 2011, Red Mountain knocked off then-undefeated DR in the regular season, 20-13, but the Jaguars won the bigger game in the quarterfinals, 28-22. No reason this game won't be every bit as competitive and close as those, as both teams appear to be for real.
Oct. 5 at Basha: DR put up 450 yards rushing against Basha in last year's meeting as the Jaguars crushed the Bears. Jaguars' RB JJ Husar matching up against his former school from whence he transferred last winter probably means the calendar is circled on this date around Riggs Road.
Everyone knows who Desert Ridge lost to graduation - most everyone - but it's who's coming up that has the Jaguars thinking big again.
Yes, the Jordan Becerra-Joey Counts-Parker Rasmussen-Damani Moseby-Ruben Rodrigeuz-Alex Barrett era is over. It was a remarakable few years in which Desert Ridge went from meddling to championship contender, but it might not be over.
As coach Jeremy Hathcock called his team's approach the "Stanford model" of offense and defense this season, the Jaguars are not short on talent or potential.
The sometimes-outrageous numbers put up by its rushing game in recent seasons will be hard to match, but three offensive line starters return in Cody King, Josh Scow and Nick Allen), two of whom already have multiple Division I scholarship offers and Hathcock expects the third to receive a few soon.
JJ Husar transferred from Basha last winter, and, if he successfully recovers from preseason injuries, basically drops a potential 1,000-yard rusher in the backfield. He had 785 yards and 14 touchdowns in sharing carries for the Bears last season.
The Morrison twins - juniors Tarek (QB) and Taren (RB) drew praise for their potential, especially as runners. Both attended Desert Ridge as freshman but didn't attend school last year for family reasons.
Tarek can run and and throw and will have Nick Colson as an outside receiver at 6-foot-4.
The Jaguars' defense also took a hit with graduations but with Anthony Hovorka and Nathaniel Rodriguez they have two of the best defensive players in the East Valley, a duo which combined for 216 tackles in 2011. Starting linebacker Trevor Romero just got out of a walking boot and will need time to fully recover from injury.
It's only mid-August and Hathcock's team has felt the injury bug frequently, but with good health, QB development and defensive maturation, the Jaguars will continue to be an elite program.
Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune sports editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (480) 898-6576.