Marcos de Niza Padres
Division II, Section III
Coach: Roy Lopez
Last year’s record: 9-3, lost to Cienega in the Division II quarterfinals.
Returning offensive starters: 7, including running back Mauriece Lee, who had 722 rushing yards, 405 receiving yards and 15 combined touchdowns last year.
Returning defensive starters: 2, including cornerback Priest Willis, the top prospect in the state who had 52 tackles, two interceptions and two fumble recoveries last season.
Aug. 24 at Notre Dame; Aug. 31 at Chaparral; Sept. 7 at Maricopa; Sept. 13 vs. Perry; Sept. 21 vs. Ironwood Ridge; Sept. 28 vs. Camelback; Oct. 5 at Gilbert; Oct. 12 at McClintock; Oct. 19 vs. South Mountain; Oct. 26 at Cesar Chavez
Aug. 24 at Notre Dame: This matchup was highly anticipated last year, but Marcos de Niza stormed out of the gate and rolled to a 56-6 win. The Saints have some good talent coming back so this contest should be closer, but the Padres will again be the favorite.
Aug. 31 at Chaparral: The Firebirds have won three straight state championships, beating Marcos de Niza for the first one and also dispatching the Padres in last year’s regular season. However, Chaparral lost Connor Brewer, Davonte Neal and many of its other key parts. The Padres can make a huge statement with a win in this game.
Sept. 21 vs. Ironwood Ridge: The schedule eases up after this game, so if Marcos de Niza can exact revenge on last year’s regular season loss, it can then get healthy down the stretch and prepare for the postseason. A win in this game is important for the Padres, who would like to secure a high seed for the playoffs to make their journey as easy as possible. It won’t be easy though, as Ironwood Ridge returns quarterback Tyler Williams (836 yards passing, 1,043 yards rushing, 24 combined TD last year) and also fancies itself a Division II contender.
The Marcos de Niza football team scrimmaged Hamilton on Tuesday, and by the end of it, coach Roy Lopez wasn’t thrilled. The Padres have the type of talent to be a contender in Division II this season, but penalties and other miscues had him heated.
“We got a good look and there were some things we weren’t really happy with, honestly,” Lopez said. “It’s going to be a work in progress.”
If Marcos de Niza can iron out its problems, though, the potential is there to compete for a state championship. The team went 9-3 last season and lost to Cienega by one point in the state quarterfinals.
Cornerback Priest Willis, the top senior recruit in the East Valley, is one of only two returning starters on defense, but talent won’t be a problem for the Padres on either side of the ball.
Marcos de Niza added South Mountain transfer linebacker Derek Craig and has the pieces in place to be another stingy defensive unit.
Offensively, University of Arizona commitments Mauriece Lee (722 yards rushing, 405 receiving, 15 TD) and Paul Elvira (48 catches, 774 yards, 12 TD) will team with Jaquese Moore as three tough covers. The Padres must replace quarterback Tommy Thornton, but Lopez has been encouraged by junior Josh Eckley, who will take over this season.
“He’s very athletic and very smart for being a junior,” Lopez said. “He has all the tools to be extremely good.”
The schedule is challenging again. Marcos de Niza starts the year against Notre Dame and Chaparral, then plays games against Perry, Ironwood Ridge and Cesar Chavez, among others.
But for the Padres, it’s less about the opponent and more about reaching their potential.
“Everybody’s in place, we just have to concentrate on the little things to get better,” Lopez said. “I’m not downplaying it. You need to have more than talent. That’s what we’re really focusing on.”