In 2006, the Hamilton football program began a trend of venturing out from Arizona to play some of the nation’s premier teams. The Huskies have acquitted themselves well in these high-profile matchups, winning several and staying competitive in the losses, proving they deserve mention among the country’s top programs.
It’s taken a few years, but this season more than ever partly because scheduling became difficult when the Division was dropped from 40 teams to 29 this season, Arizona’s other elite programs have gotten on board.
On Friday night, Basha faced Henderson Green Valley, one of the better teams in Nevada.
Desert Ridge, Desert Vista and Avondale Westview joined Hamilton in the “Brothers in Arms Classic” on Saturday, pitting them against top California teams at Cathedral High in San Diego.
It doesn’t stop with the opening week.
On Sept. 6, Red Mountain will play Westlake Village (Calif.) Westlake, and on Sept. 14, Chandler faces Bellflower (Calif.) St. John Bosco — the No. 2-ranked team in the country, according to Fox Sports.
Arizona football received a big boost last weekend when Mountain Pointe upset nationally-ranked Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas) and Tucson Salpointe Catholic cruised past Henderson (Nev.) Liberty, 48-7.
There is already some intrigue surrounding Arizona football based on the Pride’s win, and more success over the next few weeks would really turn some heads.
“I talk to a lot of people from out of state, and I think we’re the most underrated state in the country,” Desert Ridge coach Jeremy Hathcock said. “Some people still think of Arizona as a desert with lizards and cactus. They never think of sports. You’re dealing with some entrenched thoughts, but we’re right on the cuff of being with (the top) states. And I’m not just saying that because I’m an Arizona coach. It truly is getting better.”
Despite a full ledger of games against the out-of-state opponents, this may not be the ideal year for any grand proclamations.
With the way this year’s schedule lines up, we may look back in a few weeks and not have learned anything at all.
“It’s too small of a sample, and it’s (more about) just getting to play someone else,” Basha coach Bernie Busken said. “Sure, you want to do good for state pride, but it’s just a game.”
On the other hand, Mountain Pointe’s emphatic win over Bishop Gorman gives one room to dream.
Chandler has its hands full against St. John Bosco, but is never short on athleticism.
Desert Ridge might not beat Serra, but a close showing — much like Brophy accomplished last season in a 27-14 loss to Rancho (Calif.) Santa Margarita — would still help the state’s case in terms of national perspective.
Coaches tend to downplay the significance of these matchups because a trophy is more tangible evidence of success — “I was hired to win a state championship,” Hathcock said — but there’s still no harm in adding icing to the cake.
What if, for instance, Mountain Pointe runs the table and wins the Division I title?
That would mean regular season wins over Bishop Gorman, Chandler, Hamilton, Desert Vista and Brophy. Let’s say the Pride beats Basha, Desert Ridge and Hamilton in the playoffs to win the championship.
In past years, a local team not named Hamilton would not get much love on the national scene even if it won a state title. However, Mountain Pointe can’t be ignored anymore now that it defeated Bishop Gorman on national television.
If Arizona shows well in the next three weeks and any Division I team subsequently goes undefeated, it deserves to be recognized on a larger scale, and the influx of these matchups will only help that cause.