Desert Vista is taking a hands on approach to turning things around in 2014.

[David Jolkovski/AFN]

All of the things that were missing — execution, focus and wins — that defined 2013 aren’t usually associated with Desert Vista football.

But there it was nearly every Friday night.

The thing to remember through about the 4-6 campaign, and what gives hopes to this season, is the fact that the effort, respect and desire never wavered.

It’s why it wouldn’t be surprising to see Desert Vista return to the upper echelon in 2014.

“We all grew up watching Desert Vista football and some of us had brothers play here,” said senior Cade van Raaphorst, who is moving from quarterback to linebacker. “No one was happy about last year. We look forward to restoring what Desert Vista is about.”

There are plenty of questions surrounding the program this season as most of the lineup is littered with first-time varsity players.

The ground work to turn things are has been in place for months and training camp has been about fine tuning and preparing, but no one really knows what a team has until game jerseys are pulled over the pads and the bright lights are shining.

“We are a hungry team that is going to go out every Friday and play hard,” senior running back T.J. Roberts said. “We are going to play for each other and be physical.

“The guys who played last year are real mature and we know what to expect. It’s going to be fun.”

The Thunder has been a quality program under Dan Hinds during his 12 years and it shouldn’t be any different in lucky No. 13. There have been teams with higher outside expectations, but he feels like this team can be better than others believe.

“We actually prefer that and the kids are fine with it,” Hinds said of the lack of preseason hype. “We can sneak up on people and by midseason people are going to know what this team is about.”

The offense never found its collective rhythm last year and Hinds is determined to get that changed from the start in 2014.

It helps when the offensive line, anchored by center Andrew McNair and tackle Adrian Perez, has gelled early so it can lead the way for junior quarterback Alex Farina and running back T.J. Roberts.

They’ll all be better after getting a taste of varsity action a year ago.

“Speaking for myself, I know I am going to be a more confident and a different player this year because I got a chance to play last year,” said Farina, who played in the final five games including four starts. “That experience gives you confidence and the character to play at this level. Being up here and feeling like you’ve been here before is a big game changer.”

The defense feels like it has the personnel to make a difference this year behind a linebacker unit that includes Saxon McDonald, Drew McIntire and van Raaphorst.

“We are hungry after last year,” McDonald said. “We are going to do our part on defense. We are going to get to the ball and make plays.”

The schedule is the same as last year other than opening up at home against Basha rather than a trip to California. The Thunder make back-to-back trips to Tucson for games against Marana Mountain View (Sept. 19) and Cienega (Sept. 26) before the Ahwatukee Bowl at Mountain Pointe on Oct. 2.

After that Desert Vista has three straight home games before ending the regular season at Brophy.

“The Brophy game (34-7 loss) was the hardest point last year,” van Raaphorst said. “I think we had a chance to maybe make the playoffs if we won and we didn’t play well. I remember being in the locker room afterward and watching the seniors. It was tough. I don’t want to see that happen my senior year.”

• Contact writer: (480) 898-7915 or Follow him on Twitter @JSkodaAFN.

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