In Norris Vaughan's mind, there are two sports that really test toughness at a higher level than all the others.
Of course, football is one. The other is boxing.
Both, according to the Mountain Pointe coach, force the participants "to stick their nose in there."
By the time 9:30 this evening rolls around, the Pride will have done just that about 60 times against Hamilton, which is clearly the heavyweight champion of Arizona.
The Huskies have won 40 straight "bouts" and three consecutive big-school state titles.
In other words, the Pride doesn't get a chance to open the season against a low-rung contender. To put it in boxing terms, there is no tomato can. They will be championship tested from the start.
"We don't have a chance to get warmed up, do we?" Vaughan said last Saturday. "We have some growing up to do before we get there. We will have a lot of young, inexperienced players who we are counting on. They are talented but we'll see where we stand real quick."
It is a rematch of last year's Class 5A Division I state semifinal, won 34-10 by Hamilton, but both teams have much different looks.
At the same time, there are some constants as well.
Hamilton has had the most depth of talent in the state and will simply reload, while Mountain Pointe will continue to be physical and bring a level toughness that has been prevalent since Vaughan took over before the 2009 season.
"We feel that being physical is a very important part of our success," Vaughan said. "At this level, if you can be more physical, wear them down, then you are going to do some good things."
That style has started to envelop other sports at Mountain Pointe and boys basketball coach Brian Fleming is more than welcoming.
"As long as I have coached, football players have always brought a certain level of toughness that other players don't have," said Fleming, who is also a football assistant coach. "But with Norris' players it is magnified even more. They have a confidence and physical presence that brings a certain edge to the program."
Vaughan's preseason program is designed to find it and weed out those who are not willing to bring that side of their personality to the forefront.
"There are a lot of good athletes who can't hack it," he said. "They don't like the contact or they don't want to be part of it. That's fine, go play another sport. We want players who are going to stick their nose in there."
The official numbers read that Hamilton only has five total starters (one on offense and four on defense) coming back, but that belies the talent the Huskies have in place. Most of their games are blowouts so the second team has plenty of experienced talent.
Hamilton will be just fine with running back Kendyl Taylor back and quarterback Blake Kemp stepping in to the lead the offense. On the other side of the ball, defensive lineman Jaxon Hood, defensive backs Reggie Daniels and Robert Milus will keep the intensity brewing for the Huskies.
The Pride counter with six starters back on offense and five on defense.
Mountain Pointe's quarterback situation will be a mix of junior Caleb Buck, who is expected to get the start, and senior converted running back Dillan Johnson. Junior running back Thomas Warren and sophomore wide receiver Jalen Brown should be in line for breakout seasons as the offensive line develops into one of the best in the state.
Defensively, lineman Raynon Blackshire, linebacker Jordan Leal and Brown, a safety, will be counted on to make sure there are no breakdowns within their units.
It's a premier matchup in the first week of the season. Everyone will draw conclusions from the first 60 minutes of the year, but by the time November rolls around both teams will be completely different should they meet again.
"If we can get through the first part of our schedule and remain healthy, we can be pretty good," Vaughan said. "This is our first game and it is probably the toughest one. We'll see where we are at right away. We will have some growing up to do.
"By the end (of the season) we want to be ready to take on the world."
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