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Arizona Class 5A football preview
Hamilton, Centennial are favorites but there are plenty of contenders
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Tuesday, July 27, 2010
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For years, Arizona’s Class 5A Division I football teams snickered at their Division II counterparts. With the exception of Centennial (Peoria), Division II was the runt who talked a big game but never had the skills to play with the big boys.
Photo by Todd Shurtleff
Davonte' Neal burst onto scene at Chavez, but now
leads 5A-II contender Chaparral.
Not any more.
Numerous Division II teams besides Centennial proved on the field last season that they could both hang with Division I teams and beat Division I teams – and elite ones at that.
Chaparral (Scottsdale) and Sunnyside (Tuscon) both beat Mountain View (Mesa), the state’s most storied 5A program and a playoff quarterfinalist last year.
Boulder Creek (Anthem) beat 5A-I playoff team Mountain Ridge (Glendale).
Marcos de Niza (Tempe) came within a hair of handing 5A-I semifinalist Mountain Pointe (Phoenix) its only loss of the regular season in a 26-23 game, and Sunnyside nearly handed Salpointe (Tuscon) its second loss of the regular season in a 10-7 game.
There’s no question the gap has closed,” Mountain View coach Tom Joseph said. “There’s a lot of talented kids at Division II schools.”
The 2010 season is likely to cement that notion with more “upsets,” but then the cards will be reshuffled. In 2011, the Arizona Interscholastic Association will reduce the number of conferences in football from seven to six in an effort to make state championships more meaningful by keeping mediocre teams from earning the lower seeds in the playoffs.
That means some of these Division I and Division II teams will find themselves in the same conference – maybe even the same region. Four years ago, that would have been cause for concern. Now it’s a reality that simply whets the appetite.
Here’s a preview of what to look for in the 2010 5A-I and 5A-II seasons.
: With OT
spearheading the best offensive line in the state, a ton of skill returning and a tradition that keeps on growing, the Huskies are the top dog again this season. Dare we say a three-peat looks like a foregone conclusion?
5A-I TOP CONTENDERS
Brophy College Prep (Phoenix)
: By now it should be apparent that Scooter Molander can coach. He turned an erstwhile mediocre program into a perennial contender that has already won two state titles The Broncos’ lines are always the linchpin of this program. If they get control of the points of attack, watch out.
: The state’s best quarterback,
, is a dual threat who plays with poise and has a whole lot of experience. But can Chandler’s defense make enough strides for the Wolves to finally get over the Hamilton hump? Chandler has never beaten its intra-city rival.
Red Mountain (Mesa)
: The Mountain Lions are instituting a whole new scheme under first-year coach Ron Wisniewski. Red Mountain was young, but had loads of talent last season. The former Princeton assistant will only get the most out of his team if he can institute a more disciplined approach for this underachieving program.
: Basha has always played great defense and that won’t change. But now they have a coach in Bernie Busken who demands discipline, mistake-free football and knows how to win. The sleeping giant could awaken this season. Just what the city of Chandler needed: another football powerhouse.
Mountain Pointe (Phoenix)
: The Pride lost both of their uber-talented running backs (De’Andre Currie and Davon Jones) from last year’s state semifinalist, but the defense – perhaps the state’s best – is loaded, fast and hungry to prove that last year’s 10-0 regular season was no fluke.
Desert Ridge (Mesa)
: With 16 returning starters (10 on defense) and a quarterback transfer who coach Jeremy Hatchcock thinks is his best ever, the Jaguars could make a deep playoff run if they can hold onto the ball, both by limiting turnovers and through time of possession.
Desert Vista (Phoenix)
: See Red Mountain above. The Thunder always has size, speed and skill, but they never seem to live up to their potential. Discipline has been the biggest historic failure of this program. Playing in the state’s best region, the Fiesta, doesn’t help either.
: Expect coach Richard Taylor’s group to be motivated after a stunning semifinal loss to Marcos de Niza (Tempe) last season. The Coyotes have talent oozing from their pores and a king-sized chip on their shoulders. They should also benefit from a tough non-region schedule that features 5A-I powerhouses Chandler, Phoenix Brophy and Mesa Red Mountain.
5A-II TOP CONTENDERS
: The defending champs have every right to believe they are the favorites once again. With quarterback Connor Brewer, receiver
and offensive tackle
, the Firebirds should have another explosive offense. There is also enviable depth at almost every position.
Marcos de Niza (Tempe)
: After upsetting Centennial last season, the Padres bungled their way through a state championship loss to Chaparral. That heartache should fuel them this season. So should the exceptional talents of players such as running back
and transfer QB
, who started at Ponderosa High in Parker, Colorado last year and was one of the state’s top-rated passers. Marcos will be flat-out fun to watch.
: The Knights are accustomed to playing second fiddle to Centennial in the Desert West Region, but last season they also had to share the spotlight with Millennium (Goodyear). That should change this season as a large group of players return to take another crack at dethroning the Coyotes.
: The Blue Devils were a hair away from being crowned Tucson’s best team last season. Only a 10-7 loss to 5A-I’s Salpointe stood in the way of a perfect regular season. Sunnyside played Marcos tough in the quarterfinals last year and should be in contention again.
: Was last season’s quarterfinal run a one-hit wonder behind a strong senior class or have the Tigers arrived as a program? We’re about to find out.
: Dana Zupke’s crew earned the No. 3 seed for last year’s playoffs and promptly fell flat in the first round against Ironwood (Glendale). The Pioneers have some proving to do if they want to be considered in the same class as rival Chaparral (Scottsdale).
: The Pumas had just 10 seniors on last year’s roster, made the jump from 4A-II to 5A-II yet still made the playoffs. Why? Don’t be fooled by the Gilbert in front of the name. That’s just the location. This is a Chandler district school and when you play in Chandler, you win. The Pumas are a potential budding powerhouse.
10 PLAYERS WORTH WATCHING
Christian Westerman, Sr., OT, Chandler Hamilton; Brett Hundley, Sr., QB, Chandler; Connor Brewer, Sr., QB, Chaparral; Ka’Deem Carey, Sr., RB, Canyon del Oro (Oro Valley); Anthony Shivers, Sr., RB, Marcos de Niza; Devonte' Neal, Jr., WR, Chaparral; Cyrus Hobbi, Sr., OT, Saguaro (Scottsdale); Mo Latu, Sr., DT, Perry; Todd Peat Jr., Sr., DT, Corona del Sol; Aulelio Olomua, Sr., TE, Mesa.
FIVE THINGS WE LIKE
1. The budding Centennial-Chaparral rivalry:
Centennial had it easy for a few years in 5A Division II. Nobody could hang with the Coyotes during their three-peat years (2006-2008). But now the Firebirds have arrived and they won’t be going anywhere. Of course, Marcos de Niza could easily make this a three-team party.
2. Bernie Busken at
The scowl, the persistent chip on his shoulder, the incredible coaching acumen, the surprising sense of humor -- Busken has many detractors in Arizona after an infamous exit from Mountain View, but everyone deserves a second chance. Busken is getting it as a school primed for success in a great district and a favorable region. Watch out for the Bears.
3. The Fiesta Region:
Every coach in every region tells reporters at the beginning of the season that his region is brutal. In the Fiesta, they’re not lying. Last season, two Fiesta teams made it to the 5A-I state championship game, three made it to the state semifinals, and four made it to the quarterfinals. The scary part? With the possible exception of Mesa, the region could be even better this year.
4. Central High (Phoenix):
Once a league doormat that set state records for futility, the Bobcats won the Metro Region and made the state playoffs last year. The Metro is no powerhouse, but progress is progress and quarterback Andrew Laboto is worth the price of admission. It won’t happen in 11-on-11, but Central even beat Hamilton, 21-15, to win the Surprise passing league tournament this year.
5. The Fifth Annual Sollenberger Classic:
Defending 5A-I champ Hamilton. Class 4A defending Nevada state champ Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas). The cool pines of Flagstaff. The last day of Arizona Cardinals training camp. What’s not to like?
Mountain View (Mesa, Ariz.)
Top contenders: Westview, Millennium
Champ: Marcos de Niza
Top contenders: Mountain Pointe, Desert Ridge
Top contenders: Chandler, Brophy Prep
Champ: Mountain Ridge
Top contenders: Sandra Day O’Connor (Glendale),
Boulder Creek (Anthem)
Top contender: Sunnyside
Craig Morgan is a freelance writer who has covered professional, college and high school sports in the Phoenix area for the past 18 years. He currently serves as the Phoenix correspondent for CBSSports.com, covering the Arizona Cardinals and other local teams. He also writes a weekly column and other features for The Arizona Republic. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.