Division I, Section II
Coach: Leland Rodgers
Last year’s record: 5-5, missed Division I postseason.
Returning offensive starters: 4, including wide receiver Conner Helvig, who caught 48 passes for 821 yards and eight touchdowns last season.
Returning defensive starters: 4, including defensive back Caleb Chilton, who had 29 tackles and a pair of interceptions last season.
Aug. 24 at Desert Ridge; Aug. 31 vs. Highland; Sept. 7 at Mesa; Sept. 14 vs. Mesquite; Sept. 21 at Red Mountain; Sept. 28 vs. Basha; Oct. 5 vs. Marcos de Niza; Oct. 12 at Skyline; Oct. 19 vs. Chandler; Oct. 26 at Dobson.
Aug. 24 at Desert Ridge: The season got off to a bad start last year when the Jaguars steamrolled the Tigers in the season opener. However, Desert Ridge has lost its top playmakers and may not have running back J.J. Husar, who is dealing with a foot injury. The Jaguars will still be expected to win, but it’s a good time for the Tigers to play them.
Aug. 31 vs. Highland: The rivalry game is always important because Gilbert could be a fringe playoff team once again. A win against the Hawks early on is important to build some momentum, and plenty of players from each side know each other.
Sept. 28 vs. Basha: The Tigers have five games against elite teams, and to get into the postseason, will likely need to win at least one of them. The Bears lost quite a few players to transfer and graduation, so Gilbert seems to have a chance in this one.
Gilbert was expected to bring back one of the best passing combinations in the state this season, but those plans were derailed when quarterback Mitch Trail moved to Kentucky.
Now, the search for his replacement is on, and it may be found in the player on the receiving end of his throws. Conner Helvig, the team’s top returner, is battling Wyatt Smith for the starting quarterback job.
Trail was 120-of-200 for 1,694 yards with 16 touchdowns and 11 interceptions a year ago, with Helvig catching 48 of those balls for 821 yards and four scores.
If Smith wins the job, Helvig will move back to his customary position at wideout, but the competition is ongoing.
“It’s a tough call because you look at what Conner’s done and you know the potential and explosiveness he has (at receiver), and you want to utilize that,” Gilbert football coach Leland Rodgers said. On the flip side, “if he’s the clear cut favorite, he’s got to be behind center.”
Rodgers said he would be pleased if Smith won the job because it would allow him to keep Helvig as a skill weapon, but he’s not going to just give it to him.
“It’s actually been really good for the team,” Rodgers said. “A lot of people assumed since Mitch is gone Wyatt’s our guy, but Connor has been pushing him. Connor is a very good athlete and his athleticism has kept the competition alive.”
The team’s leading rusher from a year ago, Jared Johnson, graduated, and Rodgers said Taylor Malolo, Jimmy Hartman and Eric Hironaka will split time carrying the ball.
The team loses the majority of its starters on defense, but Rodgers said he likes the talent among the players moving up from junior varsity.
This is Rodgers’ first year as coach at Gilbert after working as the defensive coordinator at Mesquite last season. He replaces Dan Dunn.