Your neighborhood football team (stocked with neighborhood kids or not) gets started today (Monday Aug.5) preparing for the 2013 campaign.
There was plenty of pigskin success from the area as usual in 2012 if championships are your barometer. State titles were won by Hamilton, Queen Creek and Seton Catholic -- the latter two a breath of fresh air to detour (if only for a year the dominance of the likes of Saguaro or Blue Ridge.
With some new coaches, schedules lightened or loaded more than the last two-year block allowed due to the geographical bent of 2011 and 2012, perhaps there will be more interesting/surprising developments. Here are a few questions to consider for 2013. The answers unfold on the first universal game-night Friday Aug. 30:
Will Hamilton be at the top of the heap from start to finish or will the Huskies have to dig deep and actually be an underdog at some point in the postseason as they were last year? Hamilton has plenty of experience and depth returning on defense and that generally guides their title fortunes. Two solid foes to open the year Eastlake (Chula Vista, Calif). on the road Aug. 31 and Brophy will set the tone. Eastlake won the San Diego section CIF D-I title last year.
Can Queen Creek go unbeaten again and repeat as D-III champ? I'd say no and yes. However, winning a second title won't be easy. Teams all season will be gunning for the Bulldogs and they have to rebuild a strong, talented offensive line. Then again, sometimes it didn't seem that running back Matt Guida needed many blocks to break off a 40-, 50- or 60- yard run, Still, Queen Creek's schedule has a few more challengers than pushovers compared to 2012. The slate includes Saguaro, Highland and Show Low rather than Combs, Catalina Foothills and Casa Grande.
Does Seton Catholic have the wherewithal given graduation losses to push the White Mountain schools again? Probably not. The Sentinels outstanding quarterback and receiving play was out of this world in delivering a punishing defeat to Blue Ridge in the D-IV title game. Of note will be how competitive Seton can be with an inexperienced cast taking over.
Will more than one of Mesa's six high schools qualify for postseason? Will one qualify? Don't think so and maybe. Red Mountain and Mountain View qualified last year. It was a sigh of relief for Mountain View, which missed postseason the year prior for the first time in almost three decades. Red Mountain has a heftier schedule than last year, particularly its five freedom games to open the year -- Pinnacle, Westlake, Calif., Westview, Brophy and Chaparral. The Mountain Lions will be challenged in at least three section games (Desert Ridge, Desert Mountain and Mountain View). Mountain View faces a lighter freedom sked in its first five games (Boulder Creek, Valley Vista, Highland, Perry and Pinnace) andl needs to make hay during that stretch before section games with Desert Ridge, Desert Mountain and Red Mountain. Who knows? Maybe the winner of Red Mountain-Mountain View clash in late October will decide who makes postseason and who doesn't.
How will Campo Verde, Poston Butte, Mesquite and Westwood fare in their first year in D-II? Campo Verde and Poston Butte have moved up from D-III; Westwood and Mesquite down from D-I. An appropriate move for each (Skyline should have followed sister school Westwood's lead in dropping a division). Campo Verde qualified for postseason in D-III the last two years, giving a solid account of itself in last year's opening round vs. Williams Field. Poston Butte qualified in 2011, but not last year. More is expected of Westwood and Mesquite dropping down rather than moving up a notch. All four plus D-II football staple Marcos de Niza reside in the same section so its a good test for all.
How will new coaches find the going at Gilbert, Mesquite, Combs, Apache Junction and Valley Christian high schools? For the most part-- as it usually is for new guys -- kind of rocky. Longtime assistant at several venues, Tim Rutt, has the task of boosting the Tigers to their first plus-.500 record since Jess Parker's departure after the 2008 season. Gilbert's schedule is the toughest of the bunch. AJ, Combs and Valley Christian have struggledthe past three years with Combs only coming on board in 2010. Dave Aoyagi is AJ's third coach in four years; Jesse Hart is Combs third coach in three years and Jeff Rutledge is Valley Christian's third coach since 2009. With Mesquite moving down from D-I to D-II veteran coach Jim Jones seemingly has the best shot at increasing the Wildcats' win total in year one. Jones is Mesquite's third coach in four years.