Are you ready for some football? It’s about that time, as Desert Vista kicks off the season in the Sollenberger Classic on Saturday, and almost everyone else begins on Aug. 24. Here are the Tribune’s preseason rankings for every division:
1. Brophy: The Broncos were upset by Basha in the state quarterfinals last season, but were otherwise unblemished. The bulk of the talent returns, including quarterback Tyler Bruggman, wide receiver Devon Allen, running back D’Amani Grayer and linebackers Andrew Curtis and Robert Relf. Brophy also welcomes back Marche Dennard from injury to add to its list of weapons. Rarely is Hamilton not ranked as the preseason No. 1, but Brophy is deep, balanced and the favorite to win the state title.
2. Hamilton: The Huskies, of course, are not far behind. Hamilton’s defense could again be the state’s best, led by defensive back Cole Luke, linebacker Santana Sterling and defensive lineman Qualen Cunningham. The biggest question mark is the offense. The Huskies weren’t very explosive beyond wide receiver Kendyl Taylor in 2011, and he graduated. Running back Frankie Felix and wide receiver Israel Simpson should be focal points and Desert Ridge transfer Kevin Walters should add some punch, but it remains to be seen how good Hamilton’s offense becomes.
3. Desert Vista: The Thunder shocked the high school football landscape by dismantling Hamilton in last season’s championship game. Key players like running back/linebacker Mike Arredondo, quarterback Hunter Rodriguez and lineman J.J. Dielman have graduated, but there is still a lot of talent returning. The athletic Matt Young takes over at quarterback, and he has a pair of dangerous weapons to get the ball to in Kaleb Germinaro and Jarek Hilgers. The defense should be good, led by safety Nick Farina and defensive lineman Lorenzo Melvin.
4. Chandler: The Wolves have reloaded once again, but talent has never been this team’s shortcoming. Coach Shaun Aguano is in his second season now, as he hopes to elevate Chandler to perennial contender. Quarterback Darell Garretson recently committed to San Jose State, and he will have weapons galore on offense, including wideouts Dionte Sykes, Bryce Perkins and Patrick Baldenegro. Myles Smith transferred in from Basha and should get carries in the backfield.
5. Mountain Pointe: The Pride had a bit of a down year in 2011, but has some good pieces returning. Natrell Curtis and Kenny Lacy lead a talented line, while Jalen Brown is a big-play threat on both sides of the ball. Quarterback Caleb Buck transferred to Maricopa, and it’s imperative for junior Antonio Hinojosa to give the team enough of a passing threat to keep defenses honest.
6. Desert Ridge: It’s a crucial year for the Jaguars. Most believe the team has enough momentum and the right personnel to stay among the Division I elite despite the graduations of Jordan Becerra, Parker Rasmussen, Joey Counts, Damani Mosby and Alex Barrett. Basha transfer J.J. Husar should give the running game a lift, while Anthony Hovorka and Nathaniel Rodriguez lead a talented defense.
7. Red Mountain: Coach Ron Wisniewski thinks the Mountain Lions are more prepared this year than any in his three-year tenure to compete for a championship. The team lost its best player in Marcus Brantley, but quarterback Mason Thorman and wide receiver Aeron Carr return to lead the offense. Red Mountain has good depth and should be solid in most areas, but does it have a breakout star to lead the way?
8. Basha: The Bears have gotten little respect despite knocking off Brophy in last year’s second round and making the Division I semifinals. Wide receiver Nate Phillips and running back Rajhan Meriwether are two key parts in a solid offense, although much depends on incoming quarterback Zach Werlinger, who must replace Kyle Duran. Wide receiver Dionte Sykes and running backs J.J. Husar and Myles Smith were among the transfers out of Basha since last season, sapping the team of play makers and depth. It will be interesting to see how that affects the Bears in 2012.
9. Westview: While East Valley teams dominate the D-I rankings, this longtime West Valley power makes the list. Seivion Morris is primed to be one of the state’s best running backs, and the program always executes at a high level. Westview went toe-to-toe with Red Mountain, Brophy and Chandler a year ago.
10. Pinnacle: The Pioneers jumped out to an 8-0 start last season but dropped three of their final four as the competition improved. Pinnacle returns eight starters on offense, including running back Evan Tompkins and much of the offensive line. The Pioneers couldn’t quite contend with the elite teams a season ago, but are looking to make that jump in 2012.
Staff writer Jason P. Skoda contributed to this article. Check out the rankings for the rest of the divisions in the state online at www.ahwatukee.com/sports.