Division I, Section II
Coach: Matt Gracey
Last year's record: 3-7, did not qualify for Division I playoffs
Returning offensive starters: 2, including two-way lineman Aaron Tukuafu, the heart and soul of both the offensive and defensive fronts as the only returner.
Returning defensive starters: 2, including junior safety/kick returner Josh Davis, who might also see time in the offensive backfield.
Aug. 24 vs. Highland; Aug. 30 at Red Mountain; Sept. 7 vs. Chandler; Sept. 14 at Gilbert; Sept. 21 vs. Hamilton; Sept. 28 at Dobson; Oct. 5 vs. Chaparral; Oct. 12 at Desert Vista; Oct. 19 vs. Corona del Sol; Oct. 26 at Deer Valley
Aug. 30 at Red Mountain: A huge test on both sides of the ball early for Mesquite, and a thorough review will be forthcoming about where the Wildcats stand. They won this matchup with defense last year, and it'll be tough to repeat with such a new crew.
Sept. 14 at Gilbert: Along with the opener against Highland, the intra-district games are always intense and physical, and the Wildcats need to win at least one of the Highland-Gilbert matchups. We'd also be remiss to not mention that new Gilbert coach Leland Rogers was previously Mesquite's defensive coordinator.
Oct. 19 vs. Corona del Sol: Two programs in similar transition could be vying for a playoff spot. Two teams that want to run the ball means this could take less than two hours.
They're laying low in the weeds, keeping quiet while waiting for the season to unfold.
Mesquite may not have grandiose illusions of, say, an undefeated season. The Wildcats schedule is brutal, there are 12 seniors on the roster and only two starters return from the 3-7 struggle of 2011.
There were significant changes to the coaching staff as well, as coach Matt Gracey sought to bring in more assistants who suit his style. The changes include former Gilbert defensive coordinator Stacy Gardner, Nate Carr as offensive coordinator (Mountain Ridge and Sunnyslope), Corbin Smith and longtime EV assistant Rick Dunn.
All told, Mesquite has nearly 20 coaches in the program, and though "it's made a difference," in Gracey's mind in having these changes made, there's plenty of coaching to do.
The lack of experience, size and numbers on varsity isn't all bleak. Gracey said the younger ranks are increasing in numbers.
"It’s a different team, different group and I think with new coaches and it kind of feels like a new beginning," he said. "Where we’ve struggled and done things better.
"It’s not like a do-over, but a brand new start."
There are, however, expectations for the team and its newcomers. The dozen seniors on the roster want a playoff spot and the Wildcats aren't about to pack in this season and worry about the future.
Privately, there's a lot of optimism about this group of sophomores and juniors. They'll be tested early, often and late, but with the growing pains comes a belief that Mesquite being written off in 2012 is a bad idea.
"There’s a lot of chips stacked against us, schedule notwithstanding," Gracey said. "We’re not going to worry about it this year, we’ll get through with it."
Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune sports editor. He can be reached at email@example.com or (480) 898-6576.