SAN DIEGO - Mission Hills coach Chris Hauser likes to start the season with a big game against a tough opponent.
He feels he got just that with Saturday’s matchup against Desert Vista in the nationwide Brothers in Arms showcase. The game at 11 a.m. at Cathedral Catholic kicks off four straight games at the field including games featuring Hamilton and Desert Ridge.
“We really wanted to be part of this event and were excited to matched up with Desert Vista,” he said. “We've had tough games the last few years and this is no different. That’s a great program they have going over there. They beat Hamilton two years ago and have gone deep in the playoffs before and after that season.
“We know we are going to have to come out and get after it.”
The Grizzlies are humming now, averaging nine wins over the last seven years, and Hauser is the only coach the program has known after he was convinced to come over from nearby Vista, where he won a CIF 3A champions in 1981 as a player and later coached the program to a Division I title, in 2001.
“I’d never want to do it again, but glad I had chance to start a program and put my stamp on everything,” he said. “I am proud of what we’ve become. I’m a community guy. I live near the school and it has been a great fit.”
Hauser’s concern heading into the season is the inexperience in the trenches.
“We have athletes at the skills positions but we have to see where we stand up front,” he said. “I’m sure the Desert Vista coaching staff has picked up on that. We will have to make sure they are ready with players like big No. 77 (Jalen Jelks) on their side.”
Hauser said the reputation of Arizona football has really peaked in recent years.
“We talk to college coaches all of the time and they’ve said the last few years how much better the level of football in Arizona has become,” Hauser said. “It used to be there were a few good players and it was top heavy, but now there a lot of four and even some five star prospects with some very good teams."
The top players for Mission Hills are junior defensive back Dechaun Holiday, senior linebacker Ricky Liuchan, senior guard Brad Sochowski, senior linebacker and tight end Fred Warner and senior quarterback Connor Wynn.
The man behind the event
Every team playing in the Brothers in Arms event will adorn the No. 40 on their helmets LT Brendan Looney, a US Navy SEAL and 2004 United States Naval Academy graduate, who was killed in southern Afghanistan when his Black Hawk helicopter crashed during combat operations in 2010.
While in high school and at the U.S. Naval Academy, LT Looney was an active member of the football and lacrosse teams. He recognized the value amateur athletics could play in the lives of young men and women and the unifying effect of amateur athletics among diverse groups of people.
The new scoreboard at Desert Vista is expected to be delivered early next week and put up in time for the Thunder’s home opener on Friday against North. The hope is to have it ready for the freshmen game on Wednesday as long as there are no setbacks.
But until it is up and working athletic director TJ Snyder will worry, but it is far from the top of concerns.
The gym floor is still unusable by the fall sports like badminton and girls volleyball after one of the air vents was ripped off during the micro burst and flooded the floor. Many of the boards, especially in the center of the court by the logo, warped after some flooding due to the storm in mid-July.
“My wife and I went out for a bite and when I saw all the trees down I figured we’d better go take a look,” Snyder said. “We got here and I couldn’t believe it. It looked like a war zone.”
The softball scoreboard, the tennis courts, the baseball outfield fence, the football scoreboard, the fence surrounding fence around the football field and the gym floor have brought a hefty price tag in insurance costs.
Thunder quarterback coach Don Rezac spent most of the month of June working with the Edmonton Eskimos of the Canadian Football League working with their QBs.
It was the first time Rezac took the time to help out after turning it down in previous summers because he didn’t want it to cut into time during 7-on-7s with the Thunder. Rezac said he loved the experience and plans on going back next year and staying a little longer into the Eskimos, considered the top CFL franchise, preseason.
“It’s a first class organization and I’ve been wanting to do it for years,” he said. “I didn’t want to miss out on anything here, but figured I had to give it a shot.”
Van Raaphorst returns ‘home’
Desert Vista quarterback Cade van Raaphorst has spent a lot of time in the San Diego area and his grandfather still coaches and works with quarterbacks. Cade’s dad, Jeff, played at Grossmont High, which is inland toward El Cajon, before signing with Arizona State and helping the Sun Devils to the 1987 Rose Bowl.
The young van Raaphorst said it is a special opportunity to play in his dad’s backyard.
“It’s pretty cool,” he said. “I basically grew up in San Diego. Getting a chance to play in this area is something I’d never get a chance to do.”
With Tim Thies taking a break from coaching this season, Desert Vista great Brent Miller has taken over coaching the offensive line.
“Brent Miller has them working,” Thunder coach Dan Hinds said. “They look sharp and ready to go.”
Miller has instituted a rotation system to keep the players fresh and get the competition flowing.
The starting line includes Jalen Jelks, Adam Ortega, Derek Hicks and Elijah Marotta.
One of the buses, the one all of the first-teamers were on, didn’t have air conditioning once it got to the school Friday morning so it delayed the start of the trip for about 40 minutes and then once the bus got west of Maricopa there were road closed signs due to flooding, but the roads ended up being clear.
The Thunder will be without Isaiah Kilby (hamstring), Jordan Rezac (hip) and Anthony Abbadessa (shoulder).
Kilby could be back next week, Rezac is out until at least November and Abbadessa is out of the year.
"The first stop (on the ride over) is when it really hit me I wasn't playing," Rezac said. "It's one thing to watch practice, but this really made it set it in."
Put me in coach
Because of the late arrival and the 5 p.m. start to the first game of the Brothers in Arms game, the Thunder practiced in the outfield of the Cathedral Catholic’s baseball diamond. It was a gorgeous setting and the players were loose.
“These guys deserve to be loose and enjoy every minute of this,” Hinds said. “They’ve worked hard for a long time now and this is the payoff. After our scrimmage (against Chandler) these are confident and ready to go.”
The 11 a.m. kickoff doesn’t worry Hinds after the team has played well in the afternoon – 2011 state title game and 2012 Sollenberger Classic – in previous years.
“We tried to prepare the players for it mentally,” he said. “If we were in on Saturday we’d tell, this is game time. Get ready. I don’t think it changes anything in our preparation.”
Well, there is that 6:45 a.m. wakeup call.
“Hopefully they are not up all night talking,” Hinds said. “But you know they will be because that’s what I did. They’re young. They can handle it.”
Contact writer: (480) 898-7915 or JSkoda@ahwatukee.com. Follow him on Twitter @JSkodaAFN.