When the Mountain Pointe and Desert Vista football teams report Monday for the first football practice, leaders and star players will have their place within the hierarchy.

They have a level of expectation placed on them and history of performance to go by.

Those types of players - and there are plenty of them in both programs - are the reason this might very well be the preseason with the highest combined expectations in the 15 seasons there have been two programs in Ahwatukee Foothills.

But here's the thing:

There is a player or two currently at the back of the huddle or on the sidelines during first-team reps this week that will come to the forefront. He might not directly affect the outcome of the game, but maybe step in admirably for a series to trip up a punt returner when there seemed to be a clear path to the end zone.

It's one of the great aspects of the preseason - the unknown.

Coaches can have meetings and draw up two-deep depth charts all they want at this time of the year. But over the course of the next 13 weeks or so, there will be changes and switches predicated on injuries, performance and need.

"You don't know what you really have until you get the pads on and start hitting other teams," Mountain Pointe coach Norris Vaughan said. "Each team is different. We are coming off a couple of good seasons, and we think we can be an excellent team, but you don't truly know until you get into the meat of the season."

For the first time in their combined history, Mountain Pointe and Desert Vista are coming off of semifinal appearances. The thought of an Ahwatukee Bowl state title game was just one week away from happening.

Imagine the battle lines that would have been drawn up leading to the game. There is some tension between the programs already, let alone playing for the gold ball. The community would have had to have separate seating sections at local restaurants.

If all goes well, it is a possibility again this season.

Both squads bring back plenty of talent on both sides of the ball to make another run to the semifinals. There are changes this year - regions become sections, Class 5A Division I is now Division I - to how things are done, but 16 teams still make the postseason.

The Thunder and Pride both have difficult schedules, but tough opponents bring plenty of power points so the postseason is well within reach.

Each team has its own set of wrinkles that need to cleaned and pressed before the season starts.

Here is a quick look at what should be wrinkle free and what is crumpled and stained heading into camp.

Desert Vista

Wrinkle free: The progression of tackle Jeff Dielman and guard Zach Tamburo on the right side give the Thunder some punch on the offensive line. The tandem work well together and will be one formidable combo. .... Every coach loves to have a returning QB, especially one with the size and leadership ability of Hunter Rodriguez. ... The defense had a lot of young players - defensive backs Nick Farina and Mike Smith, for example - contribute a year ago.

They come back with a chip on their shoulder. ... A healthy Mike Arredondo at linebacker gives the defense experience, leadership and some thump after he missed the first five games in 2010. After his return, the team went 8-1.

Crumpled: Replacing Mike Ingrassia's leadership and big-play ability. "Mickey" was everything for the offense (1,900 total yards and 14 touchdowns) and possibly even more in the locker room and huddle. ... The team lost a couple of defensive contributors - AJ Williamson and Detorrion Harvey - to Mountain Pointe.

Losing two projected starters to the rival not only hurts depth but there might be a lingering psychological effect as well.

Mountain Pointe

Wrinkle free: The offensive line, anchored by RJ Hollis and Bryce Hurd, is expected to be one of the best in the state, which fits perfect into the type of offense Vaughan loves to use - pound the defense into submission. ... Wide receiver and running back are full of offensive threats as Jalen Brown and Thair Blakes have been collecting awards from combines and camps all summer, while Thomas Warren should lead a stable of running backs. .... The defensive line, solidified by Raynon Blackshire and Mark Fraboni, and linebacker corps (Jordan Leal) give the Pride a solid front seven. ... The defensive backfield has a ball hawk in Brown, and Luis Sharpe is a steady performer.

Crumpled: The Pride lost their quarterback when Kyle Faunce, a hard worker with a quality arm, moved back to Indiana just before spring ball. Vaughan converted running back Dillan Johnson and put him in competition with Caleb Buck.

Johnson will see most of the time with the starters as the team went away from the passing offense - Vaughan said he expected Faunce to throw for 2,500 yards - and back to his more traditional run-oriented attack. .... Loss of kicker/punter Kevin Kadisak can't be forgotten. He made some critical kicks, some from a long distance (45 yards) and pinned a lot of teams inside their own 20.

• Contact writer: (480) 898-7915 or jskoda@ahwatukee.com

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