It's hard to believe that, after finishing 14-0 and winning the state championship, the Canyon del Oro Dorados may have snuck up on anyone.
Sometimes, the Dorados made it look easy in a magical 2009 season led by first-year coach Dustin Peace and Southern Arizona player of the year Ka'Deem Carey.
"The great thing about football is not every year's the same," Peace said. "People didn't expect us to be as talented as we were last year. This team has its own identity."
The Dorados, who play at cross-town rival Ironwood Ridge this Friday at 7 p.m., weren't dominant initially. "If you didn't realize it," Peace said, "we didn't click until (after) our first few games."
CDO lost key components such as all-around playmaker Jared Tevis, wide receiver/defensive back Josh Robbins and quarterback Mike Lewis. While teams may be gunning for the Dorados this year, they may actually enter the season in a more stable position than they entered the 2009 campaign.
"Quarterback is more stabilized than last year at this point," Peace said. "We're pretty sure Jason McBrayer's the guy." McBrayer backed up Lewis last year, but he's more mobile, and has a long-running chemistry with Carey that's bound to be helpful.
"We know what we're going to run this year," Peace said. "So we're ahead of the game from last year."
Peace is starting his second season as the head coach, and his ninth season with the Dorados overall, after a stint as an assistant at Flowing Wells. This year could actually prove to be less transitional than 2009.
"We also have the best running back on the West Coast," Peace said.
That would be the senior Carey, who rushed 224 times for a Southern Arizona-leading 2,738 yards and 43 touchdowns. Carey had a playoff game in which he scored six touchdowns and rushed for more than 400 yards.
Other returning seniors, and all-league players, are Jesse Caldwell, Bobby Henkel, David Catalano and Eddie Smith.
"On the offensive line, we have (Jesse) Caldwell, Joey Banks, and Taylor Ulrich," Peace said. "We also have a whole bunch of new juniors. A lot of bodies to play up front."
They also have the addition of middle linebacker Blake Martinez, an all-regional transfer from Santa Rita. Another senior, Martinez may have a defensive impact similar to that of Tevis a season ago. Peace is very excited about him. It's possible that Martinez could be to the defense what Carey is to the offense.
Then there's the play of Catalano at nose tackle. His job is not necessarily to make the tackles, but to break down the opposing offensive lines, so teammates can make them. "I think our defense is strong again this year," Catalano said.
Peace's assessment on the upcoming season?
"Not any game will make or break our season. Our (in-season) goal is to improve each week. Our overall end goal is to be state champions."
Canyon del Oro
Region: 4A Sonoran
Coach: Dustin Peace
(14-0, 4-0) 2nd season
Aug. 27 at Ironwood Ridge
Sept. 3 Santa Rita
Sept. 10 at Tucson
Sept. 16 Queen Creek
Sept. 24 Nogales
Oct. 1 at Scottsdale Saguaro
Oct. 8 Catalina Foothills
Oct. 15 Flowing Wells
Oct. 22 at Pueblo
Nov. 5 at Sabino
Catalano gets push for CDO's defense
David Catalano has been approached by three Division I schools, but the stats for the senior at Canyon Del Oro may not do him justice.
"If he's not the best defensive lineman in the city," said coach Dustin Peace, "I want to see who is."
A senior, Catalano is the nose tackle for the defending state champions.
"Being a nose tackle, my job is to get in my gap," Catalano said. "One thing I did was get penetration."
"I made a lot of tackles. Someone trapping. I would hit the center and knock him back, so Garrett Henderson could make the tackle." Catalano was an all-league performer in the 4A Sonoran Region last year.
"One thing our team does well is running to the ball. I would go to the opposite side from where I (had started) and sometimes make the (saving) tackle."
The Dorados defense may have been overshadowed by Ka'Deem Carey and the glamorous offense, but the Dorado defense held opponents to less than 10 points on eight different occasions, and shut out Sabino in the state title game.
"I look up to Coach Peace," Catalano said. "He's understanding about things. He drives us.
"He tries to bring out his emotions on the field. Emotion is something we come out with in the second half."
Catalano believes the Dorado defense is "strong again this year. We have a new middle linebacker, Blake Martinez. We have Jesse Caldwell, and Bobby Henkel." Henkel had five of CDO's 33-1/2 sacks a season ago. Catalano was a big part of it with his penetration. "It's a team effort."
— Curtis Elliott