VX football preview: Hamilton Huskies - East Valley Tribune: Hamilton

VX football preview: Hamilton Huskies

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Posted: Saturday, August 17, 2013 6:37 pm

Outlook:  The team to beat.

Whether such a statement makes you giggle or groan, it's hard to navigate around such a declaration. After all, Hamilton is the defending Division I state champions, has played in the biggest game every year since 2007 and returns nearly everyone along its offensive line and defense.

The defense, in particular, could be one of the best in Arizona in years.

The Huskies aren't unbeatable - no one really is - and the schedule will be more than formidable (featuring trips to California and Nevada). But beating them in the regular season has proved difficult enough in recent years - turns out the sky fell on everyone else after the Huskies' 0-2 start to 2012 -  let alone in the playoffs (Desert Vista did in 2011 to snap a then-53-game winning streak).

The defense is senior-heavy and has never returned this experienced, and while Qualen Cunningham (also with plenty of Division I college offers) and Brady Denton are seniors, junior Caleb Peart and sophomore Garrett Rand (6-foot-3, 260 pounds) are going to be forces even beyond this season.

The linebackers and secondary are all seniors, as eight starters already have Division I scholarship offers. The Huskies are big, fast and the secondary experience will help employ a blitz-heavy scheme.

Led by Casey Tucker, who has more than a dozen Division I colleges interested in the dominant tackle, three offensive lineman return along with tight end Chad Nelson, wide receiver Elijah Williams will be a big-play threat and running back Tyrell Smith.

Sammy Sasso will be the team's quarterback, as the senior saw limited reps last year but was a unanimous choice for team captain this summer. But it's going to start with the running game.

Early in 2012, the Huskies learned in painful ways what happens when an offense (especially turnovers) isn't playing its part, but once the Huskies made some changes and figured out what they can do, nobody beat them.

The same holds true in 2013. The defense can carry this group, and if the running game can help Sasso's development and the senior can make a few throws and avoid turnovers, the rest of Division I might be competing for the runner-up trophy.

Division I, Section I

Coach: Steve Belles

Last year's record:  12-2, defeated Mountain Pointe to win Division I state championship

Returning starters:  6 on offense/ 8 on defense

Key returners:  DL Qualen Cunningham; DL Caleb Peart; LB Levi Sterling; LB Santana Sterling; DB Jalen Jenkins; DB Juwon Jones; OL Casey Tucker; OL Bryce Holland; OL Salvador Lopez; WR Elijah Williams; QB Sammy Sasso

2013 Schedule

Aug. 31 at Chula Vista Eastlake (Calif.); Sept. 6 vs. Brophy; Sept. 13 vs. Pinnacle; Sept. 20 at Liberty (Nev.); Sept. 27 at Mountain Pointe; Oct. 4 at Chandler; Oct. 11 vs. Basha; Oct. 18 at Gilbert; Oct. 25 vs. Highland; Nov. 1 at Perry

Key Games

Aug. 31 at Chula Vista Eastlake:  Trips to other destinations didn't go well for Hamilton on the field last year (Ireland) and Chula Vista is good. These Huskies have been through all this before, so they know the drill, but 0-1 isn't fun, even if you know you have a really good team.

Sept. 6 vs. Brophy:  There hasn't been much love lost between these schools over the years, especially in the postseason, so it's interesting to see them face each other on the "freedom" portion of the schedule. A healthy Brophy team last year would have been a great matchup with Hamilton, and the Broncos are completely different after graduations. But both know games and opponents like this matter in the playoffs.

Sept. 27 at Mountain Pointe:  Yes, the "rematch" of last year's championship game. Both teams are pretty similar to last year's final game, and it won't undo what happened to the Pride to end 2012, but Mountain Pointe has justifiably been chosen as one of the few teams who can compete with Hamilton again this season.

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[Stats Courtesy of MaxPreps]