Saguaro running back D.J. Foster and Chaparral wide receiver Davonte Neal ran wild on opposing defenses last year, putting up eye-popping numbers and leading their teams to state championships.
It’s doubtful that any skill player will accumulate statistics approaching those marks this year, but Friday nights certainly won’t lack in star power. A host of offensive standouts return to their teams for another year of high school football.
Here are five players who will be worth the price of admission this season:
Devon Allen, Sr., WR, Brophy
This past spring, Allen set the track and field world into a tizzy with his mastery of the hurdle events, setting state records and earning the Tribune’s Track Athlete of the Year award. He mixes that speed with elusiveness on the gridiron, as Allen’s unique abilities will make him one of the best players in the East Valley. Allen had 44 catches for 844 yards and 14 touchdowns a season ago at receiver, and should improve on those numbers this year. He also may be the most dangerous kick and punt returner in the state, affecting the game in a variety of ways. Brophy’s schedule is soft so Allen may take a lot of fourth quarters off this season, but when he is in the game, expect him to make a big-time impact.
Nate Phillips, Sr., WR, Basha
The jitter bug was on the receiving end of many Kyle Duran passes last season, as the Bears’ aerial attack played a big role in getting the team to the state semifinals. Phillips finished the year with 72 catches for 1,265 yards and seven touchdowns and committed to Arizona in the offseason. Phillips will have a new quarterback throwing to him this year but should once again be a focal point of the offense. The Bears lost several players to transfer in the offseason but will try to make another deep playoff run, and Phillips is expected to lead that charge.
Tyler Bruggman, Sr., QB, Brophy
Next year, Brophy’s strong-armed signal caller will be whizzing throws in Mike Leach’s pass-heavy offense at Washington State. Before then, he will be finding Allen and other Brophy receivers as the Broncos take aim at a state championship. Bruggman was 156-of-259 for 2,497 yards with 37 touchdowns and just two interceptions a year ago. Brophy will dominate most of its games, but there should be a few tight ones when Bruggman’s arm will be needed. He is a very intelligent player at a position that values it, and should have a banner senior season.
Sean Schweichler, Sr., RB/KR, Williams Field
While Alex Howard received the bulk of the carries for the Black Hawks a year ago, it was hard not to notice Schweichler. When he did get a rushing attempt, he usually made the most of it, carrying the ball 42 times for 499 yards, an average of 11.9 yards per attempt. He also excelled at wide receiver, averaging a team-best 23.29 yards per reception. Schweichler was arguably most dangerous as a kick returner, bringing back three kickoffs or punts for touchdowns. He was slowed by a knee injury near the end of last season, but should put up impressive numbers as the go-to guy on offense for Williams Field.
Mark Andrews, Jr., WR, Desert Mountain
With possibly the top junior quarterback in the state in Kyle Allen throwing to him, expect Andrews to have a big year. He has scholarship offers from many teams all across the country, including Michigan, Ohio State, Nebraska and Oklahoma. Andrews had 58 catches for 1,058 yards and 10 touchdowns a year ago. Some believe he will eventually move to tight end, but Andrews will dominate at whatever position he plays in high school.
Locally, there should be some standouts with old pros coming into their own and others getting a more enhanced role.
Jalen Brown, Jr., WR, Mountain Pointe
Brown has been making plays for two years already and he is only going to be a junior.
The thing that seems to separate him is his body control along with a great pair of hands. He can do things in mid-air to corral a ball that others can’t even think of doing.
Brown, who is 6-foot-2 and 175 pounds, has added some size and if junior quarterback Antonio Hinojosa plays like he did in 7-on-7 tournaments, Brown just might match his career numbers (62 catches, 903 yards and 11 touchdowns) this season alone.
Jarek Hilgers, Sr., RB, Desert Vista
He has the thighs of a college fullback if such a thing still existed. Hilgers ran for 622 yards and eight touchdowns last season despite receiving 10 carries once in 14 games. The Thunder’s offensive style — many ballcarriers instead of featured back — might be the only thing keeping him from a huge season.
He still becomes one of main offensive threats in the SEV as he continues to be one of the hardest runners to bring down.
Matt Young, Sr., QB, Desert Vista
Thunder coach Dan Hinds swears that very little separated Young and two-year starter Hunter Rodriguez when they had a QB battle in 2010 that eventually went to Rodrigiuez.
Young is smaller (5-11, 180) but brings an athletic ability to the position. There were glimpses of his big-play ability last year on kick returns and of course when he returned an interception for a touchdown in the state title game.
Others to watch
Kyle Allen, Jr., QB, Desert Mountain; Ryan Finley, Sr., QB, Paradise Valley; Christian Kirk, So., WR, Saguaro; Ryan Bresnahan, Sr., QB, Seton Catholic; Darell Garretson, Sr., QB, Chandler; Conner Helvig, Sr., WR, Gilbert; Rajhan Meriwether, Jr., RB, Basha; Mauriece Lee, Sr., RB, Marcos de Niza; Grant Martinez, Sr., TE, Notre Dame; Luke Rubenzer, Jr., QB, Saguaro; Jake Roh, Sr., WR, Chaparral.
Contact writer: (480) 898-6834 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow his blog at http://blogs.evtrib.com/varsityxtra, or find him on Twitter @Kyle_Odegard. Staff writer Jason P. Skoda contributed to this article: (480) 898-7915 or JSkoda@ahwatukee.com.