Outlook: One of these years, Higley will have a talented starting quarterback who'll make it through the season.
It could be this year.
Two years ago, the Knights had a good one in Eric Kump, until he was lost for the season in late September 2011 to a knee injury, and the Knights' fortunes seemed to crumple with him.
Last year, the Knights' starting quarterback transferred a couple weeks before the season began. A 4-6 campaign followed, and while Mythias Young and Thomas Bush gave Higley a pair of 1,000-yard rushers from the QB and RB positions, respectively, the lack of balance proved painful against better competition.
Enter sophomore Tyler Bloom, who started the final two games of the 2012 season for the Knights as a freshman. He held his own, and coach Eddy Zubey said he's been something of a typical youngster learning the most important position on the field (good days and rough days). The work-in-progress also partly explains Higley's gradual treading into its schedule, which culminates with Saguaro and Williams Field to end the regular season.
But Bloom can throw, and he's working with Brandon Large, who returned to the East Valley as a teacher in the district after being the quarterback at Westwood during Zubey's tenure at the Mesa school before Large left to play in college.
"It’s been awesome," Zubey said. "I'm not a quarterback coach and I finally have a quarterback coach who’s played at the college level coaching our kids.
Without Thomas Bush and Mythias Young running wild in the backfield, Higley has an open competition between Nick Bush (Thomas' younger brother) and Desert Ridge-transfer Ricky Marshall for the bulk of carries.
The Knights do have an anchor up front in Quinn Bailey, a 6-foot-6, 275-pound tackle with a half-dozen Division I scholarship offers. Next to him, tight end Nick Colson (also a Desert Ridge transfer who sat out last season) has a handful of Division I offers as well, and returning starter Drew Aho. Linebacker Logan Johns is expected to return from a serious knee injury in mid-September after surgery ruined his summer, and defensive end Mason Johnson will anchor the front seven of Higley's veteran defense.
That could be a much-needed defense if possibly four sophomores wind up starting come Week 1.
Division III, Section III
Coach: Eddy Zubey
Last year's record: 4-6, did not qualify for Division III playoffs
Returning starters: 3 on offense/ 7 on defense
Top returners: WR Trent Gilbert (16 rec., 217 yards, TD); Kole Hunter (9 rec., 124 yards, TD); LB Logan Johns (42 tackles, 5 tackles for loss, sack, blocked FG); OL/LB Quinn Bailey (23 tackles, 1 1/2 sacks, FR); DL Mason Johnson; OL/DL Drew Aho;
Aug. 30 at Yuma; Sept. 6 vs. Desert View; Sept. 13 at Phoenix Christian; Sept. 20 vs. Cactus Shadows; Sept. 27 at Queen Creek; Oct. 4 vs. South Mountain; Oct. 11 at Apache Junction; Oct. 18 vs. McClintock; Oct. 25 at Saguaro; Nov. 1 vs. Williams Field
Sept. 27 at Queen Creek: There's a realistic chance the Knights could be 4-0 or 3-1 at this point, but still won't have a clear idea what kind of team they have. This game - even if QC isn't the juggernaut of 2012 - will answer those questions.
Nov. 1 vs. Williams Field: Win or lose here for Higley, there could be playoff implications for both schools, whether it's to simply earn a playoff spot or notch a home game (based on power ranking seeding). It'd be one example of how Senior Night could actually be trumped.
Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune sports editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (480) 898-6576.