Division I, Section III
Coach: Kelley Moore
Last year's record: 3-7, did not qualify for Division I playoffs
Returning offensive starters: 4, including Lucas Moen, who shifts from running back to quarterback this fall as arguably the team's best athlete.
Returning defensive starters: 5, including JyJawon Torrence, who'll lead a young defense (particularly up front) after a 2011 season of 68 tackles.
Aug. 24 vs. Desert Vista; Aug. 31 at Mountain Pointe; Sept. 7 vs. Gilbert; Sept. 14 vs. Red Mountain; Sept. 21 at Dobson; Sept. 28 at Westwood; Oct. 5 vs. Skyline; Oct. 12 at Desert Ridge; Oct. 19 at Highland; Oct. 26 vs. Mountain View (Mesa)
Sept. 7 vs. Gilbert: It's a brutal start to the season schedule for Mesa (to put it mildly) with Desert Vista, Mountain Pointe, Gilbert and Red Mountain. If the Jackrabbits can slip out with at least a win in this four-game opening stretch perhaps it'll keep their heads up just enough to keep pushing for a playoff spot.
Sept. 21 at Dobson: An old-school matchup at its finest between some grizzled coaches, programs and blue-collar kids. Smashmouth football will be on display for those who love to watch two sides line up and collide.
Oct. 26 vs. Mountain View: Besides the natural rivalry, this game could have implications for both teams when it comes to postseason bubble talk. Besides, it's not as if the Jackrabbits wouldn't want to return the favor on the 30-14 loss hung on them by the Toros last year.
The numbers are encouraging: 53 kids on varsity and 30 more kids overall in the Mesa football program than any of the past five seasons.
The practices have been encouraging, as has the "intangibles" of locker room camaraderie, attitude, effort and discipline.
The results? Well, that's the big, proverbial shoulder shrug.
Consecutive 3-7 seasons have made the Jackrabbits' 2009 championship game appearance feel like forever ago, and while the construction continues in earnest, Kelley Moore's program sees small gains ahead.
Lots of new faces and new positions, especially in the trenches, will make for a challenging beginning to the season. And that's without mentioning the schedule, which is relentless.
Changes galore on the roster. Only one returning lineman (a bigger deal since many Mesa kids play both sides of the ball) and this year's quarterback, Lucas Moen, is also one of the better defensive players on the team. He switched to QB as a natural athlete whom Moore believes will throw well enough to help the running game.
That is, if the big kids up front can block.
Moore sees good things ahead from Russell Baptiste, who transferred in from Skyline but has been hampered by injury (it could be a couple more weeks). Robert Schrock is back as a two-way starter as a sophomore in 2011. Noe Perales has impressed Moore as the kicker.
"They have a tremendous amount of heart, and they have to be able to practice at a level that heart matters," Moore said. "We’ve been practicing like an average team in intensity and tempo, and have moments looking like a championship team, but then go back to the doldrums.
"I’d say about 75 percent mental and 5 percent that it’s been 2 losing seasons (in a row). That's brand new, and not good because it’s not something we want to get used to. Discipline problems for the most part have been good; kids have been pretty impressive. We just have to practice at a different level."
Those in charge of putting these pieces together are also new, including longtime EV coach Roger Suchomel (notably former successful coach at Westwood) as offensive coordinator and former Skyline defensive coordinator Scott Howard.
"It’s not like we’ve been winning football games, but the program is healthy with all the other things, and the cool thing is it matters to our kids," Moore said. "Now we have to win some games and maybe we’ll pull some more kids."
They have a tremendous amount of heart. They have to be able to practice at a level that heart matters. We’ve been practicing like an average team (intensity, tempo) and have moments looking like a championship team, but then go back to the doldrums.
I’d say about 75 percent mental and 5 percent that it’s been 2 losing season. It’s brand new, and not good because it’s not something we want to get used to.
Discipline problems for the most part have been good. Kids have been pretty impressive. We just have to practice at a different level.
Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune sports editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (480) 898-6576.