Everybody is looking good right now, because the pads have yet to go on.
Optimism is high in July.
But there are those in the weeds, waiting to burst onto the scene, ready to turn their fortunes around.
Here are my top 10 teams ready to crash the party:
No. 1 Chandler Basha
The Bears went 3-8 last season during a tumultuous season that saw coach Gerald Todd replace his offensive coordinator and the defense fall apart. The Bears gave up 490 points. Granted, they played in arguably the toughest region (6A Premier) in the state, and their schedule was among the state’s most difficult. But Rich Wellbrock, replacing Todd, won’t allow his defense to be embarrassed. And he’s got enough solid talent on offense, led by QB Collin Collins and WRs Ty Sifferman and Jaylyn Goodman, to make a statement.
No. 2 Phoenix Pinnacle
The Pioneers might have the state’s top-ranked quarterback in junior Spencer Rattler, who has committed to Oklahoma and has been the starter since his freshman year. But the team has muddled through two mediocre seasons, going 5-6 two years ago and 6-6 last season. It’s time for Rattler to show this team can be great and string a bunch of wins together.
No. 3 Scottsdale Notre Dame Prep
Going 8-2 last year, people might wonder what they have to do to say they’ve arrived. Well, the Saints were shut out from the party because of a June 2016 football course in which the players were suited up in armor for class credit – a no-no in the AIA’s books. With the AIA probation behind them, a new coach (George Prelock) who knows the Scot Bemis way of doing things, and a boatload of talent, these guys are driven to not only crash this year’s party, but to take it to the championship in 5A.
No. 4 Glendale Deer Valley
The Skyhawks went 6-4 last year, but they were disappointed they didn’t make the playoffs. They are back to being a playoff team with maybe as good an offensive line (Joey Ramos is ranked No. 1 among offensive linemen by azcentral sports) as there is in Arizona and big, athletic freak of nature Dez Melton running the ball. They will be waiting for Centennial in 5A.
No. 5 Glendale Cactus
It’s disappointing any time coach Larry Fetkenhier’s teams loses five games. But that won’t happen this year. Not with 2,200-yard rusher Damaria Norris back, along with quarterback Mahal Lee, who started 12 games. Scott Jones is one of the best defensive tackles in the state. Don’t sleep on the Cobras in 4A.
No. 6 Phoenix Horizon
Ty Wisdom did a great job in his first year as head coach, getting the Huskies to go 6-4. But they didn’t make the 6A playoffs. This is a playoff team. A team that thrives under Wisdom’s leadership. He has a bunch of talented high school players willing to go through a brick wall for him.
No. 7 Scottsdale Chaparral
It’s rare to see the Firebirds on this kind of list, but after their first losing season (5-6) in 20 years, everybody is waiting to see if they can bounce back. It looked like a big bounce-back season was in the making with heralded quarterback Jack Miller transferring in from Scottsdale Christian, former Horizon coach Kris Heavner hired to coach the offense and Conrad Hamilton returning as defensive coordinator after a year at Arizona State. But some of the momentum slowed in early June when Heavner decided to leave. And who knows whether Miller will be eligible for the first five games? Much of their success will hinge on the Arizona Interscholastic Association’s decision during his hardship appeals hearing.
No. 8 Glendale Ironwood
This could be a turnaround season after going 2-8. Coach Ian Curtis is excited about this team, believing it could win the 5A Metro Region. He has size and experience up front and, he says, his team’s strength is overall speed. There are 13 starters back, seven on defense. “They’re better equipped to compete on Friday nights,” Curtis says.
No. 9 Glendale
Yes, the Cardinals are on the move in 5A and should be better than a .500 team. What they did last year, under coach Rob York, was remarkable. But now he returns seven starters on offense, including sophomore mobile quarterback Kevin Daniels, who ran for 1,001 yards as a freshman.
No. 10 Glendale Copper Canyon
Is this finally the year? It won’t lack experience, and it returns one of the top quarterbacks in the state in Chase Pope. He is among nine offensive starters back. Seven starters are back on defense. Coach Shawn Kemmer showed improvement last year with three wins, after going 1-19 in his first two seasons. It’s a tough grind in 6A but a winning record would be enough to say the Aztecs have arrived.
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To suggest human-interest story ideas and other news, reach Obert at [email protected] or 602-316-8827. Follow him at twitter.com/azc_obert.