There’s plenty of excitement surrounding the Desert Vista High School football program as it heads into a new season, and for good reason.
The Thunder will return several starters from last year’s team that went 10-2 and made it to the quarterfinals of the 6A Conference playoffs.
They’re a tight-knit group that recognizes they could be on the brink of something special in 2019. Now it all comes down to execution in the regular-season opener against Palm Springs High School on Friday.
“I can’t wait,” Desert Vista quarterback Parker Navarro said. “Senior season, it’s my last chance to go ball out before college. I’m just excited.”
Navarro returns under center for the second year in a row to lead Desert Vista’s offense. As a junior, he threw for 1,568 yards and 17 touchdowns. In 170 attempts last season, Navarro only threw 5 interceptions.
He is arguably one of the most improved players on Desert Vista’s roster heading into the new season both physically and mentally. He tore apart opposing defenses in spring and summer 7-on-7 passing tournaments and has become a natural leader for the Thunder football program.
“Parker brings a ton of maturity and leadership,” Desert Vista coach Dan Hinds said. “We are really fortunate as a team to have a quarterback with his traits. He’s a kid that runs the team, he runs our (Fellowship Christian Athletes), he holds the team accountable.
“All of those things you want your quarterback to have, he has them.”
Navarro will benefit from a slew of talent around him this season, starting in the backfield with senior running back Tyson Grubbs and his brother, sophomore Devon Grubbs.
Tyson broke out during the first four weeks of the 2018 season before he was derailed by a broken bone in his foot he suffered in Week 5 against Highland. No surgery was required to fix, but he was sidelined for the rest of the season.
Now healthy, he heads into the new season with a chip on his shoulder.
“It’s time to get back to work and start grinding,” Tyson said. “I just want to prove myself. I know the expectations we have, so I expect a lot out of myself.”
Devon stepped up and played a vital role in the Thunder’s success after Tyson’s injury. The two finished with a combined 1,446 yards rushing and 25 touchdowns.
While Tyson aims to prove himself, Devon hopes to expand on what was an impressive showing as a freshman.
“I never thought I would be in this position,” Devon said. “Especially being with (Tyson), I didn’t really think I would be able to play with him until maybe this season in the playoffs. I think it makes our connection stronger.”
The brothers will also be used at slot receiver next to seniors Braeden Belnap and Elijah Ervin.
Colby Humphrey, who is an all-around playmaker for the Thunder, will also see time at nearly every skill position on offense and defense, which has become custom for several of the Thunder players.
Seniors Eddie Weigl and Miles LeBlanc return to anchor the offensive line. On defense, the two join senior Jaylen Johnson on defense in an effort to replace Brett Johnson, Thomas Jackson and Tyler Roberts, who were all part of a dominant 2019 lineman class. The defensive line will have help from an athletic group of linebackers, led by senior Zack McGinnis, who made the switch from safety this offseason.
“We are going to make plays on both sides of the ball,” Navarro said. “That’s my expectation and I know it is theirs, too. We can’t sell ourselves short.
Desert Vista caught some off-guard last season with the type of success they had after losing several seniors. But that won’t be the case this season.
The Thunder are a favorite to land in the new Open Division playoff, which will put the top eight teams from the 6A, 5A and 4A conferences into one playoff bracket to play for a true state championship.
Desert Vista’s players know the type of expectations surrounding the program with the talent they return and the overall chemistry they share on the field. They have a chance to make something special out of the 2019 season, one that goes beyond possibly winning a championship.
They could very well be the best team in program history.
“Each day we go out to practice this team understand their concepts a lot better and it’s getting sharper,” Hinds said. “We still have a way to go, but they know that. But the good part about this group is they always come ready to work.
“If their progression can continue, it’s going to be fun.”