Divison III, Section I
Coach: Eddy Zubey
Last year's record: 5-5, did not qualify for Div. III playoffs
Returning offensive starters: 6, including QB Mythias Young, who's being thrusted into the starting job via position switch, but who ran for 350 yards and was 9-of-15 passing for 175 yards as a running back in 2011.
Returning defensive starters: 5, including middle linebacker Hunter Cruz, who was a first-team All-Section performer as a junior and returns as the team's leading tackler.
Aug. 24 at Carl Hayden; Aug. 31 vs. Campo Verde; Sept. 7 at Poston Butte; Sept. 14 vs. Apache Junction; Sept. 21 vs. Vista Grande; Sept. 28 at Williams Field; Oct. 4 at Queen Creek; Oct. 12 vs. Seton Catholic; Oct. 19 at Casa Grande; Oct. 26 vs. Arcadia
Sept. 7 at Poston Butte: Higley's new emphasis on the running game this season will get a great test in execution against Poston Butte's defense, one of the better units in Division III in 2011 and one that shouldn't fall far in 2012.
Sept. 28 at Williams Field: The obvious rivalry given these schools are three miles apart, but it's been a struggle for Higley the past couple years, and the Knights would love to close the gap (at bare minimum).
Oct. 4 at Queen Creek: Higley's offense could resemble the (successful) model that Q.C. has been the past couple seasons, but the Knights need to hold up defensively. As of mid-August, Zubey thinks his team can.
What is it about Higley and quarterbacks the past two years?
Last year the Knights were on their way to the Division III playoffs, until senior quarterback Eric Kump suffered a season-ending knee injury against Williams Field, and the Knights re-tooled their offense, couldn't stop the opposition and lost three of their last four games.
The Knights thought they had a quarterback this season, until he moved to Tucson two weeks ago for family reasons.
That leaves Mythias Young as the man in position switch. Young could be a sleeper out of the backfield with his running ability, and he threw 15 passes last season, which the Knights believe will be just enough balance to make opponents' defenses pause.
Higley will run a "pistol" type offense with Young, fellow speedsters Tristan DeCosta and Thomas Bush, and will do behind three returning offensive linemen (center Logan Wenton, Drew Aho, and a solid recruit and basketball player in Quinn Bailey).
Besides switching to an offense similar to Queen Creek or Williams Field than last year's wing-it passing game (when Kump was healthy), Zubey changed his defense to a 3-3-5 because of an abundance of linebackers and safeties.
He'll also be the defensive coordinator for the first time in his coaching career.
"It’s definitely a work in progress," he said. "We have a good system in place but it’ll take some time."
Similarly, patience could prove virtuous down the road, as Zubey noted 66 freshman in the program and 500 freshman at the school, the most since the school opened.
In the near future, the Knights believe they'll be a playoff team. But avoiding injury and rolling the dice on significant changes on defense - Higley allowed at least 40 points in four of the final five weeks in 2011 - will decide that.
Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune sports editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (480) 898-6576.