Outlook: It’s a whole new crew at Seton Catholic.
Well, almost. Niko Villegas, Steven Fugger and Antonio Campanella have been around the block, and played significant roles in winning the Division IV state championship in 2012. The rest, nearly 45 of the 2013 roster, got its collective feet wet at best behind a Class of 2012 which was big, strong, fast and populated. And injuries forced Fugger into the lineup on the offensive line, and Campanella, who was about No. 4 or 5 on the running back chart but was called up to varsity and became the instant starter because of injuries.
Campanella turned out to be Seton’s leading rusher last year, a small, shifty back who ran for 648 yards (7.6 yards per carry) and eight touchdowns.
Will many more follow his general path could determine how well the Sentinels hold up in their title defense. Niko Villegas came on strong at the end of last season defensively, and he’ll play much the role Matt Haggerty starred in last year on offense (WR), defense (defensive back) and special teams as a returner.
Kyle Johnson started one game last season, and the senior gets his chance after three years behind Ryan Bresnahan and David Gesicki.
Johnson is one of nine seniors on the roster, so nearly everyone else are talented but inexperienced juniors, though the class was undefeated as freshman and on JV last year.
“How well will that transition to the varsity level remains to be seen,” Seton coach Rex Bowser said. “It’s a really, really good junior class.”
Other than a roster overhaul, not much else changes with Seton. It’ll be most of the same offense and defense (save a few wrinkles). The questions will be about depth (which Bowser said he underestimated a bit in 2012 when the Sentinels faced a rash of significant injuries during the season) and how quickly the JV-to-varsity transfer is absorbed. The Sentinels hope it’s quickly, because Goodyear Estrella Foothills (a Div. IV playoff team), Maricopa (a Div. III playoff team in 2012) and Snowflake (which went to the Div. IV semifinals last year) in the first month of the schedule.
“Our approach isn’t going to change,” Bowser said. “The kids understand we have a target on our back. We know that. We’re not saying anything about 2012 or anything, it’s being 1-0 after Week 1 and that’s as far as we’ll go. Obviously we had a big thing last year and you can’t ignore it, so we talk about how it can help us this year.”
Division IV, Section IV
Coach: Rex Bowser
Last year's record: 13-1, defeated Lakeside Blue Ridge to win Div. IV state championship
Returning starters: 2 on offense/ 1 on defense
Top returners: RB Antonio Campanella (85 carries, 648 yards, 8 TD; 12 rec., 108 yards, TD); DB Niko Villegas (45 tackles, 4 INT); OL Steven Fugger; QB Kyle Johnson (9 of 19 passing, 117 yards, 2 TD)
Aug. 30 at Estrella Foothills; Sept. 6 vs. Maricopa; Sept. 13 vs. Snowflake; Sept. 20 at Cortez; Sept. 27 vs. Coronado; Oct. 4 at Florence; Oct. 11 vs. Coolidge; Oct. 18 at Combs; Oct. 25 vs. Chino Valley; Nov. 1 at Rio Rico
Sept. 6 vs. Maricopa: The Sentinels have a front-loaded schedule (on paper) and the Rams were a playoff team a year ago and striving for consistency under Cory Nenaber, and while both teams lost a lot from 2012, the Rams are a solid early-season challenge for a Sentinels' squad which will need them.
Sept. 13 vs. Snowflake: An even bigger challenge for Seton against one of the better programs in Div. IV. Again, however, Snowflake must replace a lot of its lineup from last year's semifinals.
Oct. 11 vs. Coolidge: Coolidge made headlines in losing JT Gray to transfer and subsequent finger-pointing at Hamilton, but the Bears have some more talent. The schedule appears to drop off after this point, which means Seton should have success, but might not get a lot of help in the power rankings' strength of schedule. That makes Oct. 4 at Florence and this game pretty vital.
Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune sports editor. He can be reached at email@example.com or (480) 898-6576.