Red Mountain High School’s football program has tasted success in its first two years under coach Mike Peterson.
Peterson led the Mountain Lions to the semifinals in his first season, despite Red Mountain heading into postseason as the No. 14 seed in 6A. Last year, his team knocked off Queen Creek before falling to Pinnacle in the quarterfinals.
This season, however, Red Mountain is going for it all.
“Our main goal is to try and go to state,” said Ty McElroy, a senior running back for Red Mountain. “That’s the only thing on our mind. We want that ring.”
This season will be McElroy’s third at the varsity level. As a sophomore, he led the Mountain Lions in rushing with 632 yards and 7 touchdowns. He was poised for a breakout season as a junior, but a he suffered a dislocated elbow the second week of the season against Cesar Chavez.
The injury sidelined him until the final regular-season game against Westwood. But even then, he wasn’t 100 percent.
He spent the summer going to physical therapy for his elbow. He also spent time in the weight room strengthening his hips, which he also had trouble with in the past.
Now stronger than he’s ever been, McElroy is poised to redeem himself on the field.
“I feel like I have a lot to prove this year,” McElroy. “I’m going into this season with a chip on my shoulder. I just want to go out there and ball.”
McElroy will be part of a three-headed monster out of the backfield with senior running back Deonce Elliott and sophomore Josiah Villanueva, who Peterson praised for a breakout year as a freshman.
Each back should have the opportunity to put up big numbers this season, especially with a veteran offensive line blocking for them up front. Led by Arizona State commit Ben Bray, fellow tackle Jake Griffin and center Costen Cooley will anchor Red Mountain’s offensive line.
Several new wideouts will step into starting roles this season for Red Mountain, with returning starter senior Ramses Rivera II leading the way.
“We can’t platoon practice but we are trying to do that for a game where we can make adjustments for our offense and defense,” Peterson said. “Our best 11 guys will be on the field and we will balance it with that.”
For now, Red Mountain’s quarterback competition remains open. Seniors Hyrum Boren and Devon Bracy, along with junior Evan Svoboda have continued fighting for the starting job.
The Mountain Lions could also have sophomore Jalen Daniels in the mix after he finishes sitting out the mandatory five games due to the Arizona Interscholastic Association’s transfer rule. Daniels, the younger brother of former Red Mountain wideout Josh Daniels and safety Shaq Daniels, transferred from Chandler at the end of the 2018 season.
“The quarterback spot is wide open,” Peterson said. “It doesn’t come down to arm strength, it comes down to knowing the playbook. The fewest mistakes of the playbook will earn the start.”
Red Mountain has a history of being physical on defense, and this season will have to be the same as they will be tested right away by Desert Ridge on Friday, Aug. 23.
Peterson has looked upon returning starter George Ramirez to become the leader of the defense.
Ramirez burst onto the scene last season as a sophomore, recording 77 tackles at linebacker in his first season at the varsity level. He now makes the move back to safety, which gives him the opportunity to play the ball in Red Mountain’s defensive scheme.
“In our scheme, it’s not bad defense for your safety to lead the team in tackles,” Peterson said. “We look for big things from him.”
Ramirez recognizes that despite being a junior, he’s one of the few starters on defense this season with experience at the varsity level. While he prefers to lead by example on the field, he has seen himself become more of a vocal leader.
He knows the type of expectations the Red Mountain coaching staff has for all of the players, and he has taken it upon himself to help echo that to his new teammates.
“I expect these guys to try their hardest every day,” Ramirez said. “We’ve all been itching to get things going and now that it’s so close, we need to make sure we stay focused.”
Peterson admits that every team has its own character. Not one of his team’s in the past has been the same as another. One of the key characteristics he has noticed with this year’s team is how close they have become in short order.
Part of that has to do with several of them having played together since a young age. The chemistry those players share has begun to rub off on everyone else.
Each player now shares the same goal, regardless of age. They’re out to prove they can contend for a state title.
“We have really come together,” Ramirez said. “We all push each other to reach our full potential. One main goal is to help these seniors get a ring.
“We want this year to be special for them.”
Mesa High’s football program is under new leadership for the first time in three years, as Chad DeGrenier was hired as head coach after two seasons at Mesquite. DeGrenier hopes to lead the Jackrabbits back to the playoffs for the first time since 2015. Mesa will look to junior quarterback Gabby Mendoza to lead the offense for the second year in a row.
On defense, senior linebacker Osaiasi Taueli will lead the way as one of the best in the state at his position. Taueli currently has offers from the Cal-Berkeley, NAU, UNLV and UTEP. Senior athlete Jaden Green, who is among the top long snappers in the country, will look to make plays all over the field for the Jackrabbits.
Mesa opens the season on Friday, Aug. 23 against O’Connor.
The second of three Mesa district schools to have a new head coach, Skyline High School’s football program is now under the direction of former Chandler High assistant George Hawthorne. Blake Roebuck has taken command of the Coyotes’ offense at quarterback, while senior wideouts Garrett Lindley and Williams McGown help on the outside.
Senior linebacker Alex Sanchez will lead a defense that lost several starters to graduation or transfer in the offseason. Along with Sanchez, safeties Jaden Murray and Zeke Branham are the only three returners for the Coyotes’ defense this season. Despite new starters on both sides of the ball, Hawthorne is confident in his team’s ability to compete at a high level on the field.
Skyline opens the season on Friday, Aug. 23 against Mountain Ridge.
Several returning starters on both sides of the ball set up what could be a promising season for coach Mike Fell and the Mountain View Toros. Senior quarterback Brandon Nieto steps in to lead an offense that has all nearly all of its receivers back, as well as three starting offensive linemen.
Defensive ends Malaki Ta’ase and Zach Peavler bring experience to the defensive line, while linebackers Josh Soelberg and Joey Syrek will fill the void left by Jeremiah Hollen, who graduated in May. The Toros aim to return to the playoffs after not making it last season.
Mountain View opens the season on Friday, Aug. 23 against Corona del Sol.
Westwood High’s football program has had consistency under alum Kyle Ide since he took over two seasons ago. But with several starters graduating in May, Ide will look to the few returners he has on both sides of the ball to lead the way this season. On offense, it starts with running back Victor Sanchez and wide receiver Jonny Collier.
The Warriors will be led by seniors Josh Warren and Daniel Lerman on defense. The two combined for 51 tackles last season. Junior defensive end Cain Courtney also figures to cause problems for opposing offenses at defensive end this season for Westwood.
The Warriors open the season on Friday, Aug. 23 against Queen Creek.
Dobson High is the third Mesa school with a new head coach this year, as Bill Godsil made his way to the Mustangs’ program after spending the last two seasons at Coolidge. The Mustangs went 2-8 last year and are in search of a new quarterback after senior Nicolas Saro graduated in May. Leading rusher Damyian Duarte returns as a junior at running back while leading receiver Xavier Jimenez also returns as a junior.
On defense, the Mustangs will be led by leading tackler in 2018, Pierre McNeal at linebacker. Duarte will also see time on defense as well on what will likely be a young group for Dobson.
The Mustangs open the season on Friday, Aug. 23 against Shadow Ridge.
The Jaguars had their worst season since Jeremy Hathcock took over the program in 2006. While Desert Ridge still made the playoffs, it finished just 3-9 on the year. Injuries were one of the main causes of the team’s struggles, but with several talented players returning, Desert Ridge may return to its old ways.
Austin Kolb has improved tremendously since last season, as the junior appears to be more confident in the pocket. He should be, as he has Cal-commit Aidan Lee and Andrew Chino at his disposal. San Diego state commit Joquarri Price leads what will be a potent defense, along with linebacker Koby Hathcock, an Iowa State commit at long snapper, leading the charge at linebacker. The Jaguars are determined to change course from last season, and they will be tested right out of the gate.
Desert Ridge opens the season on Friday, Aug. 23 against Red Mountain.