Division I, Section II
Coach: Steve Belles
Last year's record: 13-1, lost to Desert Vista in Division I state championship game
Returning offensive starters: 6, including quarterback AJ Thigpen, who saw limited action behind Blake Kemp in 2011 (143 passing yards, 203 rushing yards) but drew plenty of praise from coach Steve Belles for his summer work and play in the preseason scrimmage against Marcos de Niza.
Returning defensive starters: 5, including defensive back Cole Luke, who will often matchup against the opposition's top receiver and could see some snaps on offense. He's received plenty of Division I college's interest.
Aug. 24 at Mountain Pointe; Aug. 31 vs. Notre Dame (CA) (in Dublin, Ireland); Sept. 7 vs. Notre Dame; Sept. 14 vs. Desert Ridge; Sept. 21 at Mesquite; Sept. 28 vs. Chandler; Oct. 5 vs. Desert Vista; Oct. 12 at Dobson; Oct. 19 vs. Basha; Oct. 26 at Corona del Sol
Aug. 24 at Mountain Pointe: Before the big trip to Ireland comes the pesky Pride, a team capable of knocking off the Huskies and Hamilton knows it. Desert Vista game aside, better to get Hamilton early in the season if it's going to happen.
Sept. 14 vs. Desert Ridge: A great matchup anyway, but this one could be a nice display of offensive lines with both teams having ample talent in the trenches. Many would argue Desert Ridge has to win one first before this becomes a true rivalry, but whether true or not, it's going to be a great game.
Oct. 5 vs. Desert Vista: Yes, it's the "rematch." But we'll follow Belles' mantra that this game doesn't "cure" or "remedy" anything; perhaps only if they meet in the playoffs again. Given the two playoff losses in the Belles' era have come against teams the Huskies beat during the regular season (Brophy in 2007, Desert Vista in 2011) he has a point.
A slice of humble pie.
That's what Hamilton was served last November, when Desert Vista was an afterthought to another Huskies state championship, when the Thunder crushed Hamilton physically, 45-19, and, in unheard-of fashion, mentally.
The Huskies have since spoken of a "gift-wrapped" mentality some of them felt having beaten Desert Vista in the regular season, and the hope now is that big piece of pie was digested and turned into fuel.
Everyone knows the Huskies are title contenders again, but the luster of a 53-game winning streak no longer shines, and it's caused others to at least feel marginally better that this season won't be another Hamilton runaway as so many have in the past decade, and that the Huskies aren't invincible.
Hamilton knows this, and the Huskies have significant retention on its roster who lived a miserable end to 2011. The biggest (literally and figuratively) being that nearly the entire offensive line returns, and quarterback AJ Thigpen played a few games in mop-up duty in 2011.
The backfield should be strong again, with power runner Robert Richardson, speedy Kevin Walter (transfer from Desert Ridge two years ago) and Frankie Felix being the in-between type runner.
Belles also feels it's a big season for junior wideouts Izzy Simpson and Elijah Williams.
"A lot of unproven Friday night players for us," Belles said. "It’s exciting. It’d be a good year to have that with all those lineman coming in."
The offense should be impressive. The defense, however, could be the best around.
Six starters are back, featuring a secondary with Cole Luke. Qualen Cunningham could have have a huge year at defensive end after showing pieces of his potential as a sophomore who earned regular playing time. The Huskies like their chances of controlling the field with those two, and if opponents try to throw/run away from those two.
If the latter, Caleb Peart is a sophomore defensive end with big promise, and Luke Parrish and Santana Sterling return as starting linebackers.
"Guys on the other side are going to have to come up big because teams will run and pass opposite (Cole and Cunningham)," Belles said.
Belles called it "as fast a group as we've ever had," but there's inexperience in several spots. That hasn't often mattered by season's end for Hamilton, but real adversity made a difference in the championship game last year.
Will that adversity have an opposite effect this year?
Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune sports editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (480) 898-6576.