August 30, 2006 - Football is back. A simple phrase in the literary sense but a connotation that sends ripples through the slumber of summer sports.
It's a declaration of hope, of new dreams and the wiping clean the slate, whether you went 10-1 or 4-6 the previous year. From Catalina Foothills to Marana high schools - a 24-mile-football crazed corridor - the sentiment is no different. The only thing that varies is the way the game is approached in all its tactical glory.
At the very least, the phrase is a climatic promise of cooler afternoons and even colder Friday nights.
This season, the six high school football teams of the Northwest and Foothills enter the season with high hopes.
And while each is unique in its own way, they share many commonalities. Five of the six squads will feature a new arm at quarterback. Only Bobby Farley of Ironwood Ridge is the incumbent under center. For the rest - Daniel Nicholas of Canyon Del Oro, Robert Rowe of Marana, Cole Mayfield of Foothills, Cole Westerman of Mountain View and Chris Gonzalez of Pusch Ridge - the learning doesn't end in the classrooms this fall.
For these able-bodied slingers and their teammates there's a unifying goal: This year, it's my turn.
Canyon del Oro
Big. Overpowering. Bullies. These are words Canyon Del Oro High School head coach Pat Nugent wouldn't use to describe his team.
"We're not going to be big, again," said Nugent. "We'll be a small unit but we'll be fast, we're going to fly around the field."
Despite a lack of size, CDO has emerged as a perennial contender in Southern Arizona. This year will be no different when CDO takes the field for its second year in the Class 4A Division I Sonoran Region.
After a 10-2 (5-0 Sonoran Region) season, CDO still finds itself playing the role of underdogs to teams such as Sabino and Ironwood Ridge high schools, which figure to be among the region's top teams.
"We've been two-time league champions and everyone always looks past us," said Nugent. "We're perfectly fine with being the underdog every week."
CDO enters the season without the services of quarterback Ryan Lush and running back Peter Romero who graduated. Lush led the Sonoran in passing (1,866 yards) while Romero topped the region in scoring with 152 points - two more than Sabino's Glyndon Bolasky, who signed with the University of Arizona this fall.
Still CDO is loaded with weapons, including wide receiver Nick Ziegler and Aaron Tevis, running back T.J. Ruiz and quarterback Daniel Nicholas, who will replace Lush under center.
Unlike Lush, Nicholas is equipped with size. At 6 feet, 3 inches, the quarterback is expected to run the same offense as last year, which means maximizing the most out of his teammates.
"I think he's got enough weapons around him," said Nugent. "We're not going to ask him to do too much, just get the ball to people and he'll be OK. He's a great athlete."
Despite reloading this season, Nugent remains realistic about his team's chances of repeating as region champs.
"We have to keep working hard to keep it that way," said the seventh-year coach. "In high school, we're a few injuries away from really being hurt."
A successful season could hinge on the health of Tevis. The senior missed parts of last year - including the entire basketball season - after breaking his wrist in game four at Millennium High School and breaking his thumb two weeks later against Pueblo High School. Despite the injuries, Tevis led the Sonoran Region in sacks (9) and finished second overall in receiving yards (484).
"Aaron Tevis is going to make some big plays for us," said Nugent. "He's a heck of a football player."
Lost in the shuffle of offense is a solid defense that returns eight starters - including Andrew Dvorak, who finished second to Tevis in sacks last year in the region.
Don't let the "small" label fool you, when the season opens, CDO says it will be ready to compete among the best.
"We grew and got a little stronger and faster," said Ruiz.
If Ruiz is right and CDO can stay healthy, the Dorados may prove once again that size doesn't matter.
CDO will begin its season on Sept. 1 on the road in Scottsdale against Saguaro High School.
Date Opponent Result
Sept. 1 at Saguaro W 33-6
Sept. 8 at Tucson W 27-12
Sept. 15 Amphitheater W 34-33
Sept. 22 Millennium L 17-24
Sept. 29 at Santa Rita W 57-18
Oct. 6 Pueblo W 63-13
Oct. 13 Marana W 46-0
Oct. 20 at Sabino W 24-21
Oct. 27 at Rincon W 16-14
Nov. 3 Ironwood Ridge W 31-12
Prominently circled on the calendars of the Catalina Foothills High School football team is Oct. 20 at Cienega High School.
After a successful season that saw Foothills (6-5, 3-2) finish third in the Class 4A Division 1 Kino Region and qualify for the state playoffs, the Falcons were hit with the departure of quarterback Joe Arreguin, who transferred to Cienega for his senior campaign.
Revenge can be the ultimate of motivators.
"He quit, he didn't transfer, we look at it as he quit our team," said Foothills head coach Mark Brunenkant. "In the long run, we look at it as the best thing that happened; we approach it that way and sure the initial part is disappointing but the reasons why it happened were for all the wrong reasons."
Last year Arreguin split time under center with Cole Mayfield, who will be the Falcons' fulltime starter this year. Arreguin and Mayfield, both juniors last year, alternated quarters. Arreguin finished with 780 yards (second in the Kino Region) in the air for the season, while Mayfield tossed for 319.
Already, Mayfield has the confidence of his coach.
"Cole is a team ballplayer and will do anything it takes to win," said Brunenkant.
Arreguin's former teammates share an equal disdain for their departed leader.
"We were all good friends with the guy so we're kind of bitter toward him right now that he took off on all of us," said senior wide receiver Steven Greer. "He wants to play Division I and he said he had no shot playing half a game all season long, which makes sense, but we thought it was selfish."
Cienega won the Kino Region last year and should be equally as strong this year with Arreguin.
The Falcons will rely on the experience of its senior running back tandem of Vince Alentado and Parker Young. Last year, the duo rushed for a combined 701 yards. Alentado was also a weapon for the Falcons' receiving corps - which returns starting wide receiver Steven Greer and tight end Brian Riley - hauling in another 241 yards from both quarterbacks.
Surrounding its experienced playmakers, however, will be a young team comprised of sophomores as well as a handful of juniors and seniors with limited varsity experience. Brunenkant is able to do this because of a deep talent-pool of players he credits to the success of the program's feeder team, the Tucson Chargers of the American Youth Football League. This year, Brunenkant's program has more than 120 players, the most in his nine-year run as head coach.
"Those kids are going to have to grow up real quick," said Brunenkant.
Not only will Foothills be without its former quarterback, the Falcons defense will be without the services of linebacker Chris Elkins, who graduated after leading the Kino Region in tackles (101) in 2005.
Foothills will begin its season on Sept. 1 at home against Cholla High School. Kick off will be 7 p.m.
Date Opponent 2005 Result
Sept. 1 Cholla W 28-27
Sept. 8 at Apollo L 32-37
Sept. 15 Santa Rita W 34-8
Sept. 21 Palo Verde L 13-28
Sept. 29 at Rio Rico W 63-8
Oct. 6 at Sahuaro W 34-7
Oct. 13 Nogales W 44-14
Oct. 20 at Cienega L 16-27
Oct. 27 at Catalina W 27-6
Nov. 3 Amphitheater L 19-3
This is the year for the Ironwood Ridge High School football team.
That's the motto adopted this season by the Nighthawks who enter the 2006 season looking for the program's first win in the state playoffs.
Ironwood Ridge has made the playoffs all three years the school has had a senior class but lost in the first round each time.
"We had a lot of success early in the wins and losses but we haven't really been able to break through," said Nighthawk head coach Gary Minor. "That's something we want to change, get that first playoff win."
Returning this year in pursuit of that elusive playoff victory is quarterback Bobby Farley. The senior has set lofty goals for both himself - 2,000 yards passing and 20 touchdowns - and the team.
Farley's 1,232 passing yards were good enough for third best in Sonoran Region in 2005. The quarterback regularly connected with receivers Colin Gilbert and Brian Martinez, who hauled in 65 percent of those yards. Both Gilbert and Martinez return to the program this year as seniors.
"I got two of the best receivers in state," said Farley. "Our line will step up this year and we'll be a lot better."
The Nighthawks struggled last season on the offensive line in the first year of the post-Daniel Borg era. Borg was an All-State guard who now plays for the University of Arizona.
Despite the inexperienced line, running back Dakota McQuay rushed for 713 yards. But McQuay graduated and taking his place will be juniors Adrian Ruiz and Djuan Cherry.
"He's potentially really explosive," said Minor when describing Ruiz, who spent half of the season on varsity last year and rushed for 41 yards on five carries, including a long of 24 yards in a 42-7 win over Marana High School.
The line returns three starters who have been working diligently in the weight room since last season ended.
"They're definitely stronger, we've got a couple of them that are squatting 485," said Minor. "They've all put on strength. There are three starters returning and a couple of other guys who need to step up."
Needing to elevate their game this season is a core of seniors who saw lots of playing time last year due to a roster that included only seven seniors. Still the Nighthawks managed a 6-5 (3-2 Sonoran Region) record and a state playoff berth.
"It was kind of a rough year, not too many seniors," said Gilbert. "But this year is a whole new story, there's more experience all around."
Winning the Sonoran region could come down to the season's final game against rival Canyon Del Oro High School. Last year, the Dorados knocked off their cross-town rivals 31-12. This year, Farley and Ironwood Ridge are ready to exact some revenge.
"Oh yeah," said the quarterback of the CDO game. "I can't wait."
Ironwood Ridge opens its season Sept. 1 at Flowing Wells High School. Game time is 7 p.m.
Date Opponent 2005 Result
Sept. 1 at Flowing Wells W 51-7
Sept. 8 Moon Valley W 17-13
Sept. 15 Cienega L 3-34
Sept. 21 at Pinnacle L 31-7
Sept. 29 Amphitheater W 24-19
Oct. 6 at Rincon W 29-21
Oct. 13 Sabino L 21-42
Oct. 20 Pueblo W 52-0
Oct. 27 at Marana W 42-7
Nov. 3 at Canyon Del Oro L 12-31
Willie Dudley is a patient man. After two lean years, where wins were scarce, patience may finally be paying off for the Marana High School football coach and his embattled Tigers.
In Dudley's mind, patience will equal perseverance and eventually yield the ultimate prize.
"Our goal is to win a state championship," said the coach who enters his third season as skipper of the Tigers. "You might think I'm nuts but we play in a conference where, if you win our conference you can win the state championship. If you don't think you can win, you shouldn't line up."
The Tigers have adopted Dudley's fiery disposition and a new attitude is beginning to take shape in the Marana football camp.
"We're still trying to learn how to win," said Dudley. "If we stay healthy, I think we're exciting and have a chance to put the ball in the end zone."
The Tigers patience and resolve will be tested from the beginning. Marana will be without two of its most dynamic players for the first three to four weeks of the season - a non-conference stretch that could potentially bury the Tiger's hopes before conference play even begins.
Missing from action will be Robert Rowe (mononucleosis) and Emmanuel Haley (severely dislocated wrist).
In Rowe, the Tigers have a junior quarterback who can both pass and run - a perfect combination for an offense that will be designed to throw more than in years past. Last year's quarterback Danial Silva, was more prone to run and only passed for 339 yards on the season.
It's Haley's job to ensure that Rowe has enough time to do both. The bruising 6-feet, 3-inch 290-pound senior right tackle was getting looks from several colleges before injuring the wrist playing tackle football this summer.
Touchdowns have been hard to come by in years past. Last year the Tigers (4-6, 1-4 Sonoran Region) found the end zone only nine times. This season, despite the absence of Haley, the Tigers will benefit greatly from the team's strongest asset: it's offensive line, which returns all but one starter from last year's squad.
A sturdy and tight-knit offensive line - backed by seniors Ramon Gallegos and Logan Tripp and juniors Kyle Lundeen, Will Yourn and Justin Martin - will have the task of protecting back-up quarterback Garrett Magee in the interim.
Returning in the skills positions on offense will be running back Tanner Henry. The senior led the team in rushing last season with 413 yards.
While the offense rights itself, Dudley is confident in the capability of his young defense, comprised mostly of juniors.
Despite the road bumps of the past, Dudley and his players are excited about the future. More than 100 players have joined the program's three levels this year and Dudley will carry 44 players on varsity, the most during his tenure.
"We're always the underdog," said senior tight end Wes Hanson. "So we need to come out and start beating some people, shock some people."
Playing in one of the toughest conferences in the state will eventually behoove Marana. It will just take a little patience.
Marana will begin its season on Sept. 1 at Catalina High School.
Date Opponent 2005 Result
Sept. 1 at Catalina L 0-28
Sept. 8 at Palo Verde L 0-35
Sept. 15 at Willow Canyon W 14-6
Sept. 22 Rio Rico W 42-16
Sept. 29 at Desert View W 20-7
Oct. 6 Sabino L 7-42
Oct. 13 at Canyon Del Oro L 0-46
Oct. 20 Rincon L 14-48
Oct. 27 Ironwood Ridge L 7-42
Nov. 3 at Pueblo W 42-7
Pusch Ridge Christian Academy
The first thing one notices when stepping onto the practice field at Pusch Ridge Christian Academy is the number of players - lots of them.
The Pusch Ridge football team is the perfect example of the old adage that "winning is a cure-all."
More than 60 players - ranging from freshman to seniors - have surfaced for the up-coming season as the Lions look to defend their Class 2A Central Division title. And although many of the familiar faces from that squad are gone, the winning sentiment is the same around Pusch Ridge.
The big question around campus is, will the new breed of players, of which up to a third of the 60 are brand new to the program and the sport, be able to live up to the old?
"It's a good challenge," said Pusch Ridge head coach David Brittain. "We get to hopefully teach them good habits. They don't have to re-learn something a different way; they learn how we block, how we tackle, how we practice. I used to think you're not going to really have a good JV team unless they are playing in the younger years - seventh and eighth grade - but I think this year will prove me wrong."
Gone from last year's 10-1 squad is a core of seniors who led the 2A Central in practically every category including passing (Ryan Morgan, 1,846 yards), tackles (David Sharp, 116) and sacks (Zach Abrams and Daniel Thoss, 6).
Losing that many star players would often spell doom for a program but that may not be the case at Pusch Ridge. Last year, running backs Dallas Howell and Sharp joined the team for the first time as seniors and dominated.
Howell's 518 rushing yards were good enough for second in the Central Division, despite never having played a down before his senior year. Pusch Ridge is hopeful the same will ring true this year for players such as Chris Gonzalez, who takes over at quarterback for Morgan.
This year's squad will have a different look for not only players, but schematics as well. Always regarded as an offensive team, coaches are shifting the focus to defense. To do this, Brittain and his staff are using their most dynamic and veteran players on defense; a move he believes will pay huge dividends.
"We've finally come to our senses and realized that every year we say this is going to be a great defensive football team," said Brittain. "Even if we have to give our defense the best caliber athletes and our most veteran players. We really want to have a run stopping defense."
The offense won't be without its weapons, however. Aiding first year-quarterback Gonzalez will be Luke Atchley and Alex Boost in the backfield and Tyler Akin and Jay Reynolds in the slots.
Akin was on last year's team and accepts the challenge ahead of the Lions in 2006.
"We need to just get better, get stronger and faster and help the team win, even if that means getting dirty," said the junior who led the Central Division in receiving yards (674) last year.
Pusch Ridge lost to Scottsdale Christian in its home opener Aug. 26.
Date Opponent 2005 Result
Aug. 26 Scottsdale Christian W 2-0
Sept. 8 at Northwest Christian W 34-3
Sept. 15 at Bisbee W 20-16
Sept. 22 Benson W 43-30
Sept. 29 at San Manuel W 33-7
Oct. 6 Miami W 47-0
Oct. 13 at Hayden W 14-7
Oct. 20 Ray W 27-7
Oct. 27 San Carlos W 44-0
Jared Hiller and Dan Moore each raise a finger in the direction of Arthur Pack Park and almost in unison begin to reminisce of the days growing up playing for the Marana Broncos.
"Broncos, right over there," said Hiller, to the field adjacent from the Mountain View High School football practice field.
This year will be the final year as teammates for more than 20 seniors who grew up playing football together.
As a result, there's a quiet confidence in the Mountain Lion football camp this summer, the product of a senior-laden squad with plenty of game experience. Last year's team featured just 14 seniors, which forced head coach Wayne Jones' 29 juniors into the trenches.
Despite the lack of senior-leadership, Mountain View (5-6, 3-2 5A Southern Region) made the 5A Division II state playoffs as a No. 13 seed before bowing out to Glendale Ironwood High School in the first round.
Hiller and Moore will shoulder a majority of the load on offense this season out of the Mountain Lions' backfield. The two bruising backs - Hiller, a senior, and his understudy Moore, a junior - combined to rush for 1,486 yards and 18 touchdowns in 2005. This season the bar is set higher.
The goal this year is 2,000 yards, said Hiller, a state runner-up in wrestling, who rushed for 999 yards last season.
Although defenses will key on Hiller and Moore, Jones' refers to his deep backfield, which also includes senior Jeremy Walrath and Cameron Kapher, as a four-headed monster.
A relentless running game will help take some of the pressure off first year starting quarterback Cole Westerman. In limited action last year backing up Joey Felix, Westerman passed for 185 yards and a touchdown on 22 attempts.
Senior-laden or not, Mountain View will be tested early and often. The first test comes in week one against North Canyon High School, a team that averaged 38.5 points a game en route to winning the Class 5A Division II state title. Before entering region play, Mountain View will host Gilbert and travel to Yuma Kofa High School and Tempe Marcos De Niza High School.
"We hope to see a tough, competitive ball club," said Jones, who enters his 18th year at the helm of Mountain View football. "I think when people play us they're going to know that they were in a ball game."
Returning to lead the defense will be senior defensive back Danny Washburn, who led the team with three interceptions in 2005.
The difference between wins and losses may come down to field position. This summer, Jones is searching for a punter to pin opposing offenses deep in their own zone.
Jones has high regards for newcomer Sergio Carrillo who will handle all other kicking duties.
The senior joins the football squad from the school's soccer team and instantaneously enters into "the family."
"We've been working a lot harder than we have in the previous years," said senior lineman, Matthew Simon. "It just seems we have a good family atmosphere this year."
Mountain View opens its season Sept. 1 at home against North Canyon. Kick off is 7 p.m.
Date Opponent 2005 Result
Sept. 1 North Canyon L 12-33
Sept. 8 at Amphitheater W 24-6
Sept. 15 Gilbert L 13-31
Sept. 22 at Kofa W 49-0
Sept. 29 at Marcos de Niza L 25-37
Oct. 6 Buena W 28-20
Oct. 13 at Salpointe Catholic L 31-41
Oct. 20 Tucson W 35-14
Oct. 27 Sunnyside L 9-23
Nov. 3 at Flowing WellsW 61-19