St. Mary's Knights
Division I, Section I
Coach: Todd Williamson
Last year's record: 5-5, did not qualify for Division I playoffs
Returning offensive starters: 6, including WR Lukas Treffers, who took advantage of coach Todd Williamson's spread-you-out, quick-paced offense with 77 catches for 1,053 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Returning defensive starters: 5, including middle linebacker Ray Casillas, last year's second-leading tackler with 70
Aug. 24 vs. North; Aug. 31 vs. Ironwood; Sept. 7 at Basha; Sept. 14 vs. Boulder Creek; Sept. 21 at Central; Sept. 27 at Westview; Oct. 5 vs. Maryvale; Oct. 12 vs. Brophy; Oct. 19 at Tolleson; Oct. 26 at Alhambra
Aug. 31 vs. Ironwood: This is where St. Mary's first encountered a sluggish offense and Ironwood took advantage. It's also a stiffer defensive test than North, and a young Knights squad will benefit from the uptick because of Basha looming on Sept. 7.
Sept. 14 vs. Boulder Creek: Besides being blown out by the Anthem school, this is the middle of a tough scheduling stretch for St. Mary's, which has Basha the week before and Westview two weeks after this one. One more win would have gotten St. Mary's into the playoffs, and it might happen again this season, but that extra win has to come from someone among the Basha/Westview/Brophy/Boulder Creek tier.
Oct. 12 at Brophy (at Phoenix College): OK, so the Broncos should remain heavy favorites in this game, but given the Broncos' talent and St. Mary's style of play, the longstanding, sometimes-bitter rivalry should be more entertaining than last year's 63-0 blowout by Brophy.
By Todd Williamson's estimation, things are actually looking up at St. Mary's.
The former Phoenix Central coach took over last year when Eddy Zubey left for Higley, installed a new high-speed offense, and got the Knights' win-loss record back to .500.
While those wins came at the benefit of a new schedule which featured mostly Metro schools, the losses came against good competition (Basha, Boulder Creek, Brophy, Westview). The young-again Knights have more growing pains ahead but optimism abounds.
"Our outlook on the season is over .500, and look forward to pull out a couple of unexpected wins, "Williamson said. "Overall, we are still rebuilding the program, but it’s going in the right direction."
Sophomore Gabe Losada will be Williamson's new quarterback after a terrific statistical season from Joseph Federico in 2011. Losada completed all three of his pass attempts in 2011, but he'll have a couple weapons in-hand, led by receiver Lukas Treffers, and more than half of the offensive lineup from a year ago is back.
"He will have pressure on his shoulders to run our high-pace offense, but he’s coming along at a good pace," Williamson said of Losada.
A slightly new-look defense will run through linebackers Ray Casillas and Ishmael Mahabir-Hill.
Short on numbers compared to most Division I schools, health and getting one of those "surprise" victories against a bigger school is key to nabbing a playoff spot, but internal optimism abounds toward the team's chances to pull off such a feat.
Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune sports editor. He can be reached at email@example.com or (480) 898-6576.