The mass exodus the last two seasons has people wondering about the level of talent remaining in the Desert Vista football program.

The Thunder has lost large classes in successive seasons.

All those two groups did was win a state title (2011), combined for a total of 22 wins and a state quarterfinal appearance (2012).

“I can say this: Come watch us play and you’ll see what we are about,” junior lineman Jalen Jelks said. “We learned from those guys, we watched them as we came up through the program and now they’ve left it up to us to keep it rolling.”

The coaching staff had three weeks to evaluate what is in place — although with the baseball, volleyball, track and lacrosse teams going deep in the postseason several key players were away for the first two — during the spring ball session, which ended last week.

“This is going to be a good group,” Thunder coach Dan Hinds said. “We have lost a good number of leaders and big name players recently, but we have a belief in our players and our system. They’ve shown a willingness to work.”

That was clear at the end of a recent practice when the players were hustling in a running drill.

“We’ve had a great spring,” junior running back Cullen Van Gosen said. “The commitment is there and we are ready to make it our team. The seniors have been great the last couple of years and it led to a lot of success. We aren’t going to let what they worked so hard for go to waste. These three weeks showed us that we are going to keep it going.”

The holes — a new quarterback, nearly the entire offensive line, leadership in the defensive backfield — are glaring simply because the new players haven’t taken many, or any, official snaps at the varsity level. There was a time when Michael Arredondo, Hunter Rodriguez, Nick Farina and Dylan Fischer were in a similar position but stepped in and performed at a high level.

The rapport and trust began in the weight room in January, leaders began taking charge and the spring session brought the camaraderie to the forefront.

This summer’s 7-on-7 schedule will start bringing the quarterback situation — Cade van Raaphorst and Desert Ridge transfer Brendon Smith are among the front runners — while the line, led by the massive Jelks, looks to show off during the big man contests.

All of it leads to the start of the August camp before the Thunder open the year in California over Labor Day weekend playing in the newly formed Brothers in Arms event where 23 games take place across the nation.

By then this team will be ready to display its new identity and it is clear they are very comfortable with how it is going to come together.

“We don’t have a lot of big names like before, but let people under estimate us,” Jelks said. “We know what we have and how good we can be.”

There is plenty of time between now and then in order to make sure it happens.

“We are evaluating all of the time,” Hinds said. “We might tweak some things and see how things progress. This has been a great start and now we have a feel for what’s ahead of us, and we are excited.”

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

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