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The Spring Ball Report

Updated: 3 days ago

BJ Media founder Brandon Jones went around the valley to different schools and showcases for photo & video content as well as interviews for the following story throughout spring football. The most recent sections of the story are all at the top.


Hamilton

2023 Record: 7-4, lost in Open Quarterfinals

Key Returners: '25 QB Rich Lucero, '25 RB Jeremiah Huckaby, '25 WR Sabriam Torres, '25 DB Jason De la torre, '25 DL Ben Jones, '26 ATH Niko Jandreau, '26 ATH Beau Jandreau, '26 OL Rex Waterman, '26 DB Marquis Richardson, '26 DB Kingston Spivey

Key Transfers: '25 DB Fred Parsons (Saguaro), '25 WR Reiss Rinaldi (Saguaro), '25 DB Jeyvon "Tui" Tuipulotu (Highland), '26 RB Jacob Brown (Saguaro), '26 WR Terrance White III (Basha)

Key Departures: '24 QB Beckham Pellant (Illinois St.), '24 ATH Avery Knight (Western Illinois), '24 RB Breylon Blount (Augustana Univ.), '24 WR Dylan Lord (Illinois St.), '24 WR Legend Bernard (Georgetown), '24 ATH Jaylen Jones (Army West Point), '24 LB Naji Sherrod (Northwood), '24 DB Jackson Finefrock (Northern Arizona)

Playoff Seed Prediction: 5-8 seed in the Open Division


After falling to eventual champion Liberty in the Open Quarterfinals, Hamilton decided to move on from head coach Michael Zdebski after the season. For most programs, an Open Division appearance is a big-time accomplishment.


For Hamilton, an open championship is the standard as they look to win their first state title since winning 6A in 2012. The Huskies came up one win short in 2013, 2014, and 2020.


Taking over for Zdebski is former Hamilton player and state champion Travis Dixon, who led Eastmark to a 9-3 record in their first year in 4A. I asked Dixon about what it's been like in his first few months back at his alma mater.


"I think the biggest thing is, [while] yeah I'm at my alma mater, I'm here to elevate young men," Dixon said. "I think that's the biggest thing. It doesn't matter where it's at. I have a chance to impact lives and I have a chance to come back [and help] to my own community."


Dixon takes over a roster that is losing a lot of seniors but also has a good group coming back in addition to five key transfers.


For their returners on offense, the Huskies bring back QB Rich Lucero, who threw for 1,298 yards, 11 TDs, and 1 interception while rushing for 4 more TDs while filling in for Rich Lucero. They also bring back '25 WR Sabriam Torres and '25 RB Jeremiah Huckaby, who could have breakout seasons after playing behind several seniors last season. '26 OL Rex Waterman's recruitment has started to heat up this offseason as he most recently picked up an offer from Arizona State.


While the offense should be fine and pick up where they started after being prolific last season, the defense that was young last year has to improve. The Huskies allowed 28.6 points per game last season and 32.7 points per game against top 20 teams in 6A.


On defense, they bring back the Jandreau twins, '26 utility players who both have received multiple D-I offers after being key players of a young Husky defense last season. They also bring back Ben Jones and DBs Marquis Richardson and Kingston Spivey. Richardson was second on the team with 13 pass breakups last season while Spivey recorded 6 pass breakups as a sophomore.


Spivey is the younger brother of Kansas State WR Tre Spivey and the son of former D-Backs second baseman Junior Spivey, so athleticism runs in the family and he is another Hamilton '26 who could have a big breakout season this fall.


In addition to the guys that the Huskies bring back, Saguaro DB Fred Parsons has transferred in and former Highland DB Jeyvon "Tui" Tuipulotu has transferred in after taking a year off from football for personal reasons. Both players are a big boost to their secondary.


Offensively, '26 RB Jacob Brown and '26 WR Terrance White III transferred in before spring ball and '25 WR Reiss Rinaldi transferred in earlier this week to give Lucero three more weapons this fall.


Brown holds D-I offers from Arizona State and Northern Arizona and will likely be the lead back whether he is eligible Week 1 or 6. White is a 6'4" outside receiver with a solid speed that could be a big target for Lucero with so many guys graduating. Finally, Rinaldi is one of the fastest receivers in the state. He qualified for the D-III state meet in the 100M and 200M and the open state meet in the 400M this spring and was the third-leading receiver at Saguaro last fall.


The expectations for Hamilton are high like usual. Talking with other media members, I've heard guys say they have them as high as in their preseason top 3. I'm not sure I'm ready to put them that high, but I do think they are a lock to make the Open.


I think they'll fall into the 5-8 seed range in the Open, depending on how many wonky things happen with the power-point rankings. If their defense can improve enough to hold teams to less than 20 PPG, I think they could be as high as a 3 or 4 seed with how many good players they have on offense.


Higley

2023 Record: 12-2, won 5A title

Key Returners: '25 QB Luke Huago, '25 WR JD Decausmaker, '25 WR Jaden Taylor, '25 WR Taveon Sueing, '25 DB/WR Ezy Brown, '25 LB Boston Tilton, '25 LB Kooper Woolf, '25 DL Jonathan Shively, '26 DB Justice Brathwaite, '26 QB Gunner Fagrell, '26 DL Jayden Rhodes

Key Transfers: None

Key Departures: '24 RB Daxen Hall (Air Force), '24 DB Nijrell Eason II (UNLV), '24 DB Donovan Aidoo (Weber State), '24 LB Jacob Pitts, '24 DB/LS Andrew Zubey (Northern Arizona), ‘24 WR Kaden Millner

2024 Playoff Seed Prediction: 5-7 seed in the Open Division


The biggest thing stopping Higley from three-peating as 5A champions? The Open Division. After looking through the Knights' schedule for next season, I have a hard time seeing them finish any worse than 9-1 in the regular season. For the past 4-5 seasons, typically the top team in 5A has been 10-0 or 9-1 and gets into the Open as a 5-7 seed.


The Knights do lose a good amount of talent, especially in their secondary. Three of their DBs graduated and are going to D-I schools as Nijrell Eason heads to UNLV, Donovan Aidoo heads to Weber State, and Andrew Zubey heads to Northern Arizona to play long snapper. Star RB Daxen Hall, who totaled over 2,800 scrimmage yards and 36 total TDs, is headed to Air Force. WR Kaden Millner, who finished second on the team with 684 receiving yards, is headed to Western New Mexico.


The defending 5A champs bring back both QBs, ‘25 three-star Luke Huago and ‘26 Gunner Fagrell, who threw for over 3,000 yards, 33 TDs and 9 interceptions last season. They also bring back their trio of ‘25 wide receivers: three-star JD Decausmaker, Jaden Taylor, and Taveon Sueing, who combined for 190.4 receiving yards per game and 30 total TDs last season. 


On defense, the Knights bring back ‘25 OLB Boston Tilton, who finished with 113 total tackles, 25 TFLs, 14 sacks, and 8 QB hurries last season. They also bring back ‘26 CB Justice Brathwaite, who was also recently named a three-star recruit and the 12th-ranked player in the Arizona 2026 class after 4 interceptions and 13 pass breakups last season as a sophomore. He holds D-I offers from Arizona State, BYU, Iowa State, Kansas, and San Diego State. 


Also on defense, the Knights bring back two defensive linemen, ‘25 Jonathan Shively and ‘26 Jayden Rhodes. Rhodes finished with 40 tackles and 8 TFLs last season while Shively finished with 37 tackles and 3 TFLs. 


I did not get a chance to chat with head coach Eddy Zubey about lower level players after their May 14 spring practice due to personal time constraints, but I believe the Knights’ freshman team either went 7-2 or 8-1 last season so there should be at least a few ‘27’s to come up and make an impact. 


As I stated at the beginning of this section, my expectations for the Knights this fall is for them to go 9-1 or 10-0 and make the Open Division. Decausmaker took it a step further when I asked him about his expectations for himself and his team this season.

“[I’m looking forward to] getting into the Open [Division playoffs], winning that big [championship], [and having] a 1,000 [receiving] yard season with [at least] 45 catches.”


Perry

2023 Record: 8-4, lost in 6A quarterfinals

Key Returners: ‘25 QB Diesel Taylor, ‘25 WR LJ Walker, ‘25 WR Hayden Moon, ‘25 OLB Maddox Ford, ‘25 LB Jackson Sands, ‘25 LB Nate Lauritzen, ‘25 DB Jayden Kimling, ‘26 DB Devin Sarpy

Lower Level Players to Watch: ‘26 WR Max Wendelschafer, ‘27 RB Talen Frazier, ‘27 QB Kael Snyder, ‘28 WR/DB Amos Augustine

Key Departures: ‘24 RB Don Tinsley, ‘24 WR Kolton Coleman, ‘24 OLB Gage Hatch, ‘24 DL Chris Kalu

2024 Playoff Seed Prediction: 1-5 seed in 6A bracket


Year two of the Joseph Ortiz era at Perry was a huge success as the Pumas improved from 4-7 in 2022 to 8-4 in 2023 (both including playoffs), defeating #11 Mountain Pointe in the 6A Round of 16 before falling to eventual 6A champion Saguaro in the quarterfinals.


This fall, the Pumas are a very serious threat for the 6A title. If they pull off an upset over Hamilton, Chandler, or Basha and also beat Casteel for a second straight year in region play, they could squeak into the Open. However, I think being a top 5 seed in the 6A bracket is a more likely scenario for them.


Key graduating seniors for Perry include leading rusher Don Tinsley, leading receiver Kolton Coleman, leading tackler Gage Hatch, and defensive lineman Chris Kalu. Ortiz also said that four of the five starting offensive linemen were also seniors.


The first key returner for the Pumas is ‘25 QB Diesel Taylor, who threw for 2,296 yards, 29 TDs, 8 interceptions, and rushed for two more TDs. He’ll also have two of his top 3 receivers back in ‘25’s LJ Walker and Hayden Moon, who combined for 835 yards and 9 TDs last season.


On defense, the biggest returner for the Pumas is ‘25 OLB Maddox Ford, who led the team with 11 sacks and 18 TFLs and finished second on the team with 90 total tackles last season. They also bring back ‘25 LBs Jackson Sands & Nate Lauritzen, ‘25 DB Jayden Kimling, and ‘26 DB Devin Sarpy.


From the lower levels, ‘26 WR Max Wendelschafer could have a big season at WR3 after torching defenses at the JV level last season. 


He had multiple games with 200+ receiving yards and 4+ receiving TDs and was also a dangerous kick and punt returner. It is very possible we could see him get into the mix as varsity kick & punt returner this season as seniors Kolton Coleman and Colin Berger handled the majority of returns last season.


Also from the lower levels, ‘27 RB Talen Frazier has a good chance to be the starting running back after shredding defenses on the ground at the freshman level last season. I’ll never forget tuning into JustChilly’s first “Freshman 15” twitter spaces of the 2023 season and immediately hearing him say “Talen Frazier from Perry rushed for five touchdowns today to start his high school career.” He even got a handful of varsity carries last season.


Lastly from the lower levels, ‘27 QB Kael Snyder is the future at quarterback for the Pumas. He’ll likely sit behind Diesel Taylor this season, but he could see a decent amount of reps in blowouts as he prepares to be the guy in his junior season in 2025. He looked sharp during spring practice and he’s the son of former 49ers, Cardinals, and Giants offensive guard Adam Snyder, who runs the local VDYL Performance Training in Chandler.


My expectations for the Pumas is to contend for a 6A title. I asked Coach Ortiz during their May 14 spring practice what his expectations were for his team.


“After our 6A quarterfinal run [last season], we’re hoping to [do better than that],” Ortiz said. “Whether it’s being in the open or making a deeper run in the 6A playoffs. We’re hoping to make a lot more noise this year.”


Mountain Pointe

2023 Record: 6-5, lost in 6A Round of 16

Key Returners: '25 ATH Rylon Dillard-Allen, '25 ATH Jacob Carter, '25 ATH John Rose, '25 ATH Chase Shumate, '25 DL/OL Kaleb Jones, '25 OL Devin Johnson, '25 QB Robert Knorr, '26 LB Jaylyn Colter, '26 OL/DL Aaron Thomas, '26 LB Ray Pruitt

Lower Level Players to Watch: '27 WR Michael Porter, '27 CB Chris McCorkle

Key Transfers:  '25 RB Jamarlon Otis (Captain Shreve {LA}), '26 OL Tyrique Washington (Saguaro), '26 QB Camar Lee (Sierra Linda)

Key Departures: '25 ATH Zeke Rodriguez (Casteel), '24 RB Christian Clark (Texas), '24 RB Randle Parker, (North Dakota), '24 ATH Javier Jones (Indepence CC), '24 DB Jojo Washington (Arizona), '24 LB Demetric Johnson (North Park Univ.), '24 EDGE Santino Montano

2024 Playoff Seed Prediction: 3-7 seed in 6A bracket


Mountain Pointe is loaded with guys that can play at the next level, especially in their secondary. They also have two D-I recruits in the trenches in Kaleb Jones and Aaron Thomas.


Starting with their '25 class, the Pride have Rylon Dillard-Allen, John Rose, Chase Shumate, Louisiana transfer Jamarlon Otis, and Kaleb Jones who all have D-I offers.


Dillard-Allen is the most coveted prospect for the Pride. He transferred in during spring of 2023 from Desert Vista after they parted ways with former HC Nate Gill. Dillard-Allen is the #5 prospect and #2 in the Arizona 2025 class (247 sports) and has over a dozen D-I offers.


He recently de-committed from Arizona State and it appears that Washington, Alabama, Texas A&M, and UCLA are making hard pushes to land his commitment later this summer. He has official visits scheduled to all four schools throughout the first half of June.


The other ranked prospect in their 2025 class is Kaleb Jones, who has been a starter for the Pride since his freshman year. The 6'1 275 pound nose guard is the 20th prospect in the Arizona 2024 class by 247 sports and holds offers from Arizona, Arizona State, Oregon, Oregon State, Iowa State, San Diego State, and New Mexico State. His only currently scheduled visit is to Arizona on June 14th.


After D-I running backs Christian Clark and Randle Parker graduated, '25 RB Jamarlon Otis moved from Shreveport, Louisiana to the valley and will take over as RB1 for the Pride. Otis holds D-I offers from Houston, Lousiana Tech, Louisiana Monroe, Sam Houston State, Lamar, and Grambling State.


Two other '25 prospects for the Pride that have started to garner D-I interest are John Rose and Chase Shumate. Rose picked up an offer from Southern Illinois at the May 15 Tempe Union Showcase while Shumate has picked up offers from Central Michigan, San Diego State, and Idaho this offseason. It is unclear whether he's being recruited to play wide receiver or defensive back, but I wouldn't be surprised either way with his speed and technique at both positions.


The most underrated prospect in the Pride's 2025 class is Jacob Carter. He recently picked up his first offer from Minot State, a D-II school in North Dakota.


Carter has been impressive this spring at DB after recording 41 tackles and four pass breakups in 6 games last season after transferring in from Desert Vista. He has also been taking reps at running back as he prepares to take backup running back reps to give Otis some relief this season.


For their 2026 class, LB Jaylyn Colter and OL/DL Aaron Thomas have both been gaining a lot of D-I interest this offseason.


Colter is the 7th ranked prospect in the Arizona 2026 class and the #34 linebacker in the country by 247sports. He holds offers from Arizona State, Oregon, Duke, Oregon State, UNLV, Nevada, and Central Michigan.


Thomas is not yet ranked on 247sports but picked up recent offers from Arizona State, Iowa State, Minnesota, Central Michigan, and Northern Arizona.


The Pride also have a pair of 2027 players that head coach Eric Lauer believes will have an immediate impact on varsity.


"Chris McCorckle is a cornerback who [grew] about 3 inches this offseason. He's one that I feel can really make an impact for us early. Michael Porter at receiver is another that I think will work his way onto the field."


Mountain Pointe may have the D-I talent to match a lot of Open Division teams, but they are going to have to be better in the passing game to be able to make the Open or make a run in the 6A playoffs. The Pride averaged just 98 passing yards per game last season with 9 TDs and 9 INTs.


As for my prediction for them this season, I think their passing game will get significantly better, but I don't think it will improve enough to get them into the Open. I think they will be one of the top seeds in the 6A bracket.


Heritage Academy (Laveen)

2023 Record: 5-5, missed playoffs

Key Returners: '25 QB Kaleb "Bubba" Burras, '25 ATH PJ Soltero, '25 OL Sebastian Penuelas, '25 OL Malik Sneed

Lower Level Players to Watch: '25 WR Jayden Forbes, '27 ATH Preston Miller, '27 ATH Gabe Terrell, '27 OL/DL Marvin Manley

Key Departures: '24 WR/DB Carlos Garcia, '24 S Goy Ruach, '24 LB Nicholas Rockel, '24 LB/TE Raymond Grayson, '24 OL/DL Diego Vizcarra

2024 Playoff Seed Prediction: 12-16 seed in 2A bracket


It's a new era at Heritage Academy Laveen this spring. Anthony Johns left the program in a much better place than it was when he was first hired as he departed for 5A North Canyon and former Saguaro assistant Nick Offenberger takes over as head coach. During their May 10th spring practice, I spoke with Offenberger on what factored into his decision to take the job.


"I've been getting a lot of slack, [people were saying] 'Coach O how do you go down from 6A to 2A?' and it wasn't about that for me," Offenberger said. "It was about finding the right school and the right administration that had the vision. I personally feel that the future of competitive [high school] sports is in that private/charter school model."


"If you look at some of the [schools in other states] like California, Texas, and out east, that's kind of where it's migrated to. I anticipate Arizona following that same pathway. In addition, I believe in the school and the education that comes along with it."


"The majority of the students graduating from here have the ability to graduate with their associate's degree along with their high school diploma. We're a no-nonsense school, discipline is very high-end here and it trickles down to the football program."


In addition to students graduating with their associate's degrees, another unique thing about Heritage is their 4-day school weeks. Students do not have classes on Fridays, which is similar to the schedules of a large percentage of college students.


As for the talent returning for the Heroes, the biggest is QB Bubba Burras. He rushed for 1,491 yards and 23 TDs in 10 games last season while passing for 609 yards, 12 TDs and 3 INTs in a run-heavy offense. Not only is he the best returning player, but he is one of the best returning players in small-school football and a likely candidate for the new 2024 BJ Media Small Ball Player of the Year Award.


Another key returner is ATH Paul "PJ" Soltero, who rushed for 449 yards and 5 TDs and caught 33 passes for 321 yards and 6 TDs while also being the team's second leading tackler with 51 tackles at strong safety.


The Heroes also return the majority of their offensive line including key 25's Sebastian Penuelas and Malik Sneed.


Some '27's that Coach Offenberger is high on includes ATH Gabe Terrell, who will start at receiver while also being the team's backup QB, as well as ATH Preston Miller and lineman Diego Vizcarra.


Just based on how they looked during spring ball and what they're returning, I think they are a relatively safe bet to make it back into the 2A playoffs this fall. My prediction is around a 13 or 14 seed, depending on region auto-bids and how strength of schedule turns out.


Vista Grande

2023 Record: 7-3, missed playoffs

Key Returners: '25 RB/DB Fernando Moya, '25 QB Brendan Hunt, '25 RB/DB Teyon Green, '25 LB Jason Villegas, '25 DL Joey Alderete, '25 LB Blayne Abercrombie, '25 DB Braedon Brown, '25 EDGE Athiuan Arol, '25 DB Quentin Martinez, '25 OL Ceazar Gonzales-Duarte

Lower Level Players to Watch: '27 WR Levi Taveres, '27 LB Jeremiah Wesselman, '27 OL Blaze Ferguson

Key Transfers: '25 QB Eltorna Grant (Casa Grande), '27 OL/DL Brayden Mendoza (ALA Ironwood)

Key Departures: '24 ATH Darnell Castro, '24 ATH Darius Brown, '24 DL Angel Chaydez (Manchester Univ.), '24 DB Isaiah Talbo-Herrera (Manchester Univ.)

2024 Playoff Seed Prediction: 6-12 seed in 4A bracket


2024 will be the first season since head coach Jon Roberts took over that Vista Grande will have more than 10 seniors in their football program. Their 2025 class will have between 29 and 32 players. Roberts also mentioned how experience their '25 group is.


"Out of those 29 to 32 [players], about 70% of those guys have 30 varsity games under their belt as starters," Roberts said. "When I got here, we only had about 13 kids, so I had to start kids [fresh] out of eighth grade. This is a very seasoned group... the expectations are high."


"We definitely have to take this one game at a time. We're still developing as a culture and as a program. Part of the reason that we've been pushing them so hard is because we know sooner or later we're going to have to [increase] the level of competition and our schedule is pretty loaded this year."


The Spartans open their season at home against Coconino, who took 4A semifinalist Arcadia to double overtime. They added a road trip to Central Coast California to face St. Joseph in Week 3 and then follow up with a trip up to Prescott in a much stronger freedom game schedule than last season.


In place of the Coconino and St. Joseph games last year, the Spartans had Rio Rico and Crismon on their schedule, who they beat by a combined 87-0, which likely hurt their powerpoints and their chances at making the playoffs despite going 7-3.


Headlining their experienced 2025 class is RB Fernando Moya (the team's leading rusher), QB Brendan Hunt (team's leading passer and second leading rusher), LB Jason Villegas (team's leading tackler), and edge rushers Athiaun Arol and Joey Alderete, who both finished second on the team in sacks with 9.0. Arol did so in just six games.


The Spartans' 2025 core is also joined by Casa Grande transfer QB Eltorna Grant, who threw for 2,190 yards in 10 games with a 25-6 TD-INT ratio. Grant also rushed for 507 yards and 7 more TDs and was a 5A All-State honorable mention.


Assuming he has to sit five games due to transfer rules, he is going to be huge for the Spartans in region play as they have ACP, Mesquite, & Arcadia down the stretch of the season, which were the three teams that they lost to last year.


Grant and Hunt will compete for the QB1 job, but I have a hard time believing a top 5 if not top 3 QB in 5A will be sitting on the bench in 4A.


The Spartans also have some 2027s (rising sophomores) that should do damage this fall, especially on the offensive line. ALA Ironwood transfer Brayden Mendoza is an absolute unit at 6'6 and just shy of 300 pounds. Blake Ferguson is also expected to compete for a starting offensive guard or center position.


Also in their 2027 class is WR Levi Taveres, who was a varsity starter last season as a freshman and LB Jeremiah Wesselman, who Roberts believes will compete for a starting linebacker spot this fall.


When you factor in the majority of the Spartans' production being back, a strong 2027 class, and two transfers that will make an immediate difference as soon as they are eligible, it is safe to say that Vista Grande will be a playoff threat.


I think they will fall into the 6-12 seed range. With their increased strength of schedule, I think a repeated 7-3 record would comfortably get them into playoffs this year. That 7-3 record is where I have their floor at right now. Coconino, ACP, & Arcadia are all very losable games for them. My ceiling for them would be 9-1, which would probably get them around a 6 or 7 seed just behind elite 4A teams like Yuma Catholic, Thunderbird, Arcadia, Mica Mountain, and Canyon Del Oro.


But what factors went into the sudden rise of Vista Grande football? Obviously the biggest factor has been the culture change the Jon Roberts has made since taking over. Before he arrived, the biggest reason the Spartans struggled to get kids out was because of academic issues.


Several players would be academically ineligible and Roberts has emphasized the importance of players getting their grades up not only to be eligible but to also be able to get recruited to play college football. School is no longer a hurdle for the vast majority of his program.


Another huge factor is the population growth of Casa Grande. Vista Grande and Casa Grande Union High School are the only public schools in the mid-size Pinal County town. Over the last few years, however, the population has skyrocketed due to astronomical inflation in the valley pricing many families out of areas closer to their jobs and forcing them to move to Pinal County towns like Maricopa, Casa Grande, San Tan Valley, etc.


In 2020, the town's population was 54,119. In 2024, it is already estimated to be nearly 66,000. Projections are predicting Casa Grande's population will surpass 127,000 by 2045. With the town's rapid growth, the school's enrollment has skyrocketed. In 2023-24, the enrollment was just over 1,700, and some think it could eclipse 2,000 next school year.


In the 5 seasons prior to Roberts' arrival, Vista Grande never eclipsed 2 wins. Each of the last three seasons, they have finished above .500. Now, Roberts hopes to lead the Spartans to their first playoff appearance since 2015 and their first playoff win in school. history.


Dobson

2023 Record: 1-9, missed playoffs

Key Returners: '25 WR/DB David (Abdul) Chase, '25 WR/DB Noah Ahmed, '25 LB/RB Tyler Paczesny, '25 LB/RB Javion Alston, '26 QB Tomas Montemayor, '26 WR/DB Tremaine Turner

Lower Level Players to Watch: '27 WR Kaimir Tyler

Key Departures: '24 RB Allen Wallace, '24 WR Elias Murray

2024 Playoff Seed Prediction: Miss playoffs


Dobson hasn't won more than 2 games since 2018 and hasn't made the playoffs since 2007. After finally getting moved down to 5A last season, it was still a struggle for the Mustangs last season. They opened the season with a 43-2 win over fellow 1-9 Cibola and then it went downhill after that.


The good news for the Mustangs is that they bring back nearly their entire roster, as leading rusher Allen Wallace and leading receiver Elias Murray are the only big losses.


They'll have continuity at QB as Tomas Montemayor returns after throwing for 1,162 yards, 9 TDs, 5 INTs, and adding 3 rushing TDs as a sophomore starter. They'll also bring back their WR room besides Murray and pretty much their entire defense.


Head coach Bill Godsil briefly spoke about the talent the Mustangs have returning during the May 8th showcase that the school hosted.


"We return about 95% of our team. At quarterback [we return] Tomas Montemayor, we bring back [WR/DBs] Noah Ahmed, David Chase, [and LB] Tyler Paczesny. All three ['25s were] big contributors last season and will continue to be their senior season, so I'm pretty excited about that as well."


Godsil also had high praise for '27 WR Kaimir Tyler, who will be coming up from the freshman team to play varsity as a sophomore.


"[Tyler] has had a great spring. He's going to play a little slot receiver for us. Expect a lot of good things out of him this fall."


I think Dobson should improve significantly this fall with the continuity that they have going for them. I was impressed with the guys that Godsil mentioned but was also impressed by '26 WR Tremaine Turner at the showcase.


He finished second on the team with 328 receiving yards and led the team with 4 receiving TDs as a sophomore. I think he should be able to double those numbers this fall with ease.


Another interesting move that Dobson has made was bringing in Bryson Lanza as their offensive coordinator. He is the head coach of Valley's Finest 7v7, one of the top 7s programs in Arizona. Their 15U and 17U teams both were in the top 20 of the Zorts National Rankings all spring. He was previously the JV head coach at Casteel and will bring a lot of different concepts to the Mustangs offense.


With that being said, if there schedule is the same as last year with home and away games flipped, I think the floor for the Mustangs is 2-8 and the ceiling is 4-6. Playoffs likely won't be a discussion, but I think they will improve significantly from last year.


Saguaro

2023 Record: 9-5, won 6A championship

Key Returners: '25 ATH Dajon Hinton, '25 EDGE Garrett Martin, '25 WR Mason Whitaker, '25 OL Bryce Pollard, '25 EDGE Brady Cochran, '25 RB/LB Elias Johnson, '25 K/P Bo Hampton

Lower Level Players to Watch: '27 ATH Elijah Carothers , '27 TE Tyler Overstreet, '27 WR/DB Aidan Whitaker

Key Transfers: '26 WR Tristan Armstrong (Chaparral), '26 QB Marcel Jones (Chaparral), '27 OL Phoenix Jenkins (Chaparral)

Key Departures: '25 LB Owen Pimbert (Pinnacle), '25 WR Reiss Rinaldi (Hamilton), '25 QB Elijah Sherbin-Fox (Desert Edge), '25 DB Fred Parsons (Hamilton), '25 OL Peyton Clemens (Deer Valley) '26 DB Zeth Thues (Liberty), '26 RB Jacob Brown (Hamilton), '26 TE Kamden Seagall (Liberty), '27 QB Will Mencl (Chandler), '24 QB Mason Bray, '24 RB Jaedon Matthews (Cal Poly), '24 ATH Jojo Clark (Lake Forest), '24 WR Jaci Dickerson, '24 OL Amare Ta'ase (UNLV), '24 LB Trey Morrison, '24 DB Omar Lazcano (Central Washington), '24 EDGE Christian Nunnally (Western New Mexico), '24 WR/DB Jakobi Spence

2024 Playoff Seed Prediction: 4-9 seed in 6A bracket


It has been quite a tumultuous offseason for defending 6A champion Saguaro, which I talked about alot in the transfer portal story. While Saguaro still has a talented roster left, it is very difficult to ignore the large amount of departures they have between their elite 2024 class and guys that transferred.


For their seniors, the core of that group is RB Jaedon Matthews, ATH Jojo Clark, WR Jaci Dickerson, and OL Amare Ta'ase. All four of those guys were key contributors on their 2021 Open Division title team as sophomores and obviously were leaders on this past season's team that won the 6A title.


Matthews is already at Cal Poly, Ta'ase signed with UNLV, and Clark will head to Lake Forest in the fall. I have not heard anything about where Dickerson plans to play his college football.


The 2024 class will leave a major legacy on this program as they were a part of an Open title, 6A title, Open runner-up, and a third Open Division appearance their freshman years that ended before the quarterfinals due to COVID-19 issues.


As for the guys transferring out, the QB room has been gutted. Projected starter Marcel Jones stays, but there are questions about if he'll be available before Week 6. But '27 Will Mencl departed for Chandler and '25 Elijah Sherbin-Fox departed for Desert Edge this offseason, leaving the Sabercats with no clear-cut QB to back up Jones or fill in for Jones during the first five games.


In addition to the QB transfers, the Sabercats lose second-leading tackler Owen Pimbert to Pinnacle, second-leading rusher Jacob Brown, third-leading receiver Reiss Rinaldi, and starting safety Fred Parsons all to Hamilton, other starting safety Zeth Thues and starting tight end Kamden Seagall to Liberty, and starting offensive lineman Peyton Clemons to Deer Valley.


Despite all the talent they lose from last year's team, they still have a solid core led by the trio of Chaparral transfers: '26 WR Tristan Armstrong, '26 QB Marcel Jones, and '27 OL Phoenix Jenkins. All three guys have D-I offers and all three will be important to the teams success whenever they are eligible, whether it's Week 1 or Week 6.


Talent that the Sabercats return that were already on last season's varsity roster is a plethora of 25's including three-star ASU commit Dajon Hinton (ATH), three-star EDGE Garrett Martin, WR Mason Whitaker, offensive lineman Bryce Pollard, EDGEs Brady Cochran and Elias Johnson (who will also play RB), and kicker Bo Hampton.


Hinton and Martin are ranked 6th and 7th in the Arizona '25 recruiting class by 247sports with numerous P4 offers.


New HC Darius Kelly is excited about the talent in his '27 class, which include ATH Elijah Carothers, TE Tyler Overstreet, and WR/DB Aidan Whitaker.


"That '27 class I think is going to be a force to be reckoned with," Kelly said. "They're probably the top guys in the state. They've shown a lot of growth. I think the biggest thing [as] I look back at my years playing, being able to step on the field as a sophomore changes the total game."


"We're just excited about that young group and excited about where we're going. The future is certainly super bright here and I'm excited about it."


As for my expectations for the Sabercats this season it's going to be an uphill climb. They're likely without three of their top players for the first five weeks unless they win their transfer hardships and the toughest schedule in the state awaits them.


Their schedule includes: 4 Open Division teams (Liberty, Centennial, Basha, & ALA Queen Creek), three top 5 seeds in the 6A bracket (Salpointe, Mountain View, & Pinnacle), and a top team in California. Liberty, Centennial, and Pinnacle are the only ones of those games where they are guaranteed to have Jones, Armstrong, and Jenkins available.


Because of their strength of schedule, the Sabercats are pretty much a lock to make the playoffs. I think even a 2-8 season can get them a 10-13 seed in the 6A bracket with how the AIA powerpoint system is designed. A 3-7 season will likely get them a home first round game and a 4-6 season will likely get them two home games.


I think 3-7 or 4-6 is a likely outcome for Saguaro for the regular season, which could make them a dangerous and battle-tested low seed that nobody wants to play in the first couple rounds of the playoffs.


Let's not forget that Red Mountain made it to the championship as a 12 seed, so this isn't me writing off Saguaro as a contender in the 6A bracket by any means. It is more of a testament to how rough their schedule is and the growing pains they will have early on with a young roster. However, I think the Open is out of the question in 2024 unless they can somehow find a way to win 7+ games.


Buena

2023 Record: 7-4, lost in 5A Round of 16

Key Returners: '25 WR/DB Aliaz Dyson, '25 RB Andres Bonilla, '25 QB Nash Moore, '25 LB Bryson Harris, '25 OL/DL Shawn Bookman, '25 RB/LB Charlie Price, '26 RB/LB Michael Lujan, '26 LB Cooper Kraus, '26 ATH TJ Walker, '26 DE/TE Trenton Williams, '26 WR Jayden Thomas, '26 OL/DL Landon Esquivel-willis, '26 OL Xavier Carr

Lower Level Players to Watch: '26 WR/DB Gabriel Rodriguez, '27 RB/LB Aydan Fregoso

Key Departures: '24 WR/S Adrian Bonilla (New Mexico Highlands Univ.), '24 DE/TE Dallin Coronado, '24 OLB Brayden Hall, '24 WR/DB Simon-Peter Johnson

2024: Playoff Seed Prediction: 9-15 seed in 5A bracket


Buena is a very unique football team in a unique small town. It's rare that a small rural town team is playing in the 5A conference, but Sierra Vista's youth population is just high enough for the town's one public high school to have a 5A enrollment. The majority of the population is military families with Fort Huachaca being located there.


Buena is probably the school that hurts the most from the removal of junior college football at the community colleges in Arizona, as the Colts were a big pipeline to Pima CC and local Cochise County CC. Most notably, Saguaro HC Darius Kelly graduated from Buena before going on to play at Pima CC and eventually reach the D-I level at Syracuse.


Location is probably the biggest barrier for why Buena probably struggles the most out of anyone in 5A to get college coaches on campus. Sierra Vista is about 80 miles from the heart of Tucson and 50-60 miles southeast of the Easternmost Tucson suburb of Vail (home to Mica Mountain and Cienega HS).


When the recruiting focus is already centered around Phoenix and Maricopa County, where approximately 62% of Arizona's population resides, it's already difficult enough to get recruiters to make the 2-hour drive down to Tucson with pit stops in Pinal County and Marana & Oro Valley. By the time you get from Central Phoenix to Vail, you've probably already been on the road for about 2 and a half hours.


Another hurdle that the Colts deal with is that they're never going to get any players transferring in like they do in Tucson and the valley. The next closest town of sustainable size is probably Benson, which is about 30-40 miles North.


However, one thing that they don't have to worry about is players leaving outside of their parents getting moved to a different military base. They know what guys they have and will have in their locker room year in year out. There's a sense of continuity, pride of playing for their town, and there's very few surprises when it comes to roster outlook.


For this fall, the Colts bring back almost the entirety of their roster after going 7-4 last season and making their first playoff appearance since 2019.


The Colts bring back their QB1, all three RBs, three of their top 4 receiving yards leaders, 4 of their top 5 leading tacklers, 2 of their top 4 sack leaders, and their team leader in interceptions (Aliaz Dyson). They also bring back three crucial starters on the offensive line.


I spoke with HC Joe Thomas about the talent they have coming back and he had plenty to say about all his guys that will return in the interview below.



Given their regular season success last year, I expect that experience from their 25's and 26's to carry over into this fall and the Colts could rise at least 4-5 spots from last year's 15 seed.


With their weak strength of schedule that only has three playoff teams from last season (Marana, Casa Grande, & Ironwood Ridge), the Colts don't have much margin for error. I think a 7-3 record puts them on the playoff bubble, an 8-2 record puts them in the 10-13 seed range, and a 9-1 record puts them in contention for a home playoff game. I guarantee you nobody wants to play in that cold weather and altitude in Sierra Vista in November.


As for record prediction, I would say 8-2 or 9-1 is probably the most likely result for them. I think Marana is just too deep and Dezmen Roebuck is going to be too difficult for them to stop. I think they handle Ironwood Ridge pretty comfortably and get revenge on Cienega. They played Casa Grande very close in their season finale last year, but the Cougars also have a lot of guys back. That game could have HUGE playoff seeding implications even though it's in the middle of the season.


Ironwood

2023 Record: 2-8, missed playoffs

Key Returners: ‘25 DB Mohammad Salman, ‘25 LB Ethen Quail, ‘26 RB KhaVontae Paul

Lower Level Players to Watch: '27 WR Ramsey Pyne

Key Departures: '24 WR Nathan Darley (Ottawa U AZ), '24 WR Adian Jones, '24 LB Maddox Rich

2024: Playoff Seed Prediction: Miss playoffs


Just three seasons ago in 2020, Ironwood was the 5A state runner-up and had temporarily put the label on being a "basketball school" away. However, things quickly fell apart for the Eagles the following two seasons as they had a combined 4-15 record in 2021 and 2022.


They decided to go a different direction at head coach after the 2022 season and hired Tony Stillings to lead the program last spring. In his first season there were some growing pains as the Eagles went 2-8 again, but there was more hope as three of their eight losses were by five points or less. Stillings hopes to keep laying that foundation this fall.


"Obviously, the goal is to win the region and make playoffs," Stillings said. "That's always what you want out of [your] team. But [with this] being my second year as [the] head coach, we're just hoping to build on the foundation that was set last year [and] come out with a united, improved effort and put a good, fun product on the field."


The Eagles bring back DB Mohammad Salman, LB Ethen Quail, and RB KhaVontae Paul, each of whom have the talent to play at the next level. They also have a freshman receiver in the name of Ramsey Pine and a couple other guys that Stillings think will come up from the lower levels and make an impact.



I think the team's floor is probably another 2-8 season and their ceiling is a 5-5 season, which with the powerpoint system is not going to be enough to get into the playoffs.


I think the Eagles will handle South Mountain and Agua Fria, but the games that will shape their season are against Barry Goldwater, Willow Canyon, and an Apollo team that graduated a lot of guys after their 11-2 campaign last year. How they fair in those three games will likely shape their season and momentum going into 2025.


Cesar Chavez

2023 Record: 3-7, missed playoffs

Key Returners: '25 WR Peyton Stokes, '25 WR Nevin Reed, '25 DB MJ Woodberry, '25 DB Marcus Newman

Lower Level Players to Watch: '27 TE/DE Mekhi Hodge, '27 WR/DB Tyvous Spencer

Key Transfers: '26 ATH Nevin McClain (Camelback), '27 QB Mason Penrod (Camelback), '27 RB/DB Pharis Jenkins (Camelback), '27 WR Austin Ferguson (Camelback)

Key Departures: '24 ATH Phil Braxton (Maricopa Mustangs), '24 RB/DB Thomon Milligan (Southwest Minnesota State), '24 DB Prince Roberson (Montana Tech), '24 OL Anthony Peeples (Ottawa U AZ), '24 LB Keivon Davis (Papago Pumas)

2024 Playoff Seed Prediction: 14-16 seed in 6A bracket OR miss playoffs


After a season of heartbreak, uncertainty, and major changes at Cesar Chavez this past season, there is a new era in Laveen. Former Central HC Chandler Hovik accepted the offer to become the new head coach at his alma mater.


Hovik went 17-4 in his last two seasons at Central, including a playoff appearance against Desert Edge in 2022. The Bobcats missed the playoffs last season despite going 8-2.


I caught up with Hovik during the May 6th Phoenix Union Showcase hosted by the school and asked him about the culture he will build for the Champions.


"Our mindset right now [is what we call] being Chavez-made. We talk about toughness, we talk about the grit, we talk about being extremely physical," Hovik said.


"We want go into every game having a chance to win. We're gonna be nasty, we're gonna be physical, we're gonna get up in you and punch you in the mouth."


The latter half of that quote really resonates with the type of players he has in his locker room and former Chavez assistant Clifford Mann, who is now at Montana Tech, said he sounded like Detroit Lions head coach Dan Campbell on twitter.


Hovik did not come alone when he made the move over to 43rd Ave & Baseline. Many media members were speculating about '27 QB Cam Allen possibly transferring over, especially if Hovik brought Allen's father Matt over to Chavez to be his offensive coordinator again like he was at Central.


However, Allen decided to go to Chaparral and fellow '27 QB Mason Penrod (from Camelback) is the underclassman gunslinger who is expected to take the reigns as QB1 in Week 6.


Hovik is very high on Penrod and said he expects him to "do big things these next three years." Joining Penrod as transfers from Camelback are '26 ATH Nevin McClain, '27 RB/DB Pharis Jenkins, and '27 WR Austin Ferguson.


As far as crucial returners, the Champions bring back their top two receivers - '25s Peyton Stokes and Nevin Reed - as well as starting '25 DBs MJ Woodberry and Marcus Newman. Another player that Hovik is excited about is '27 TE/DE Mekhi Hodge, who recently received his first D-I offer from Arizona State.


It won't be long before Cesar Chavez is back to being a contender again, but as for the 2024 season, I have them right on that playoff bubble. If they do get into the 6A bracket, I don't see them getting higher than a 14 seed due to strength of schedule. Missing the playoffs again is also a possibility for such a young team, however it will be a different story in a year or two.


Camelback

2023 Record: 5-5, missed playoffs

Key Returners: '25 DE/TE Da'jieon Carter, '25 DB Dontre Gammage, '25 WR/DB Khamon "KK" Knight, '25 ATH Aken Logan, '25 LB Tyler Warchol, '25 RB Murray Crump, '25 LB Siope Pulu

Lower Level Players to Watch: '27 DB Dae'ziar Roper, '25 DT Remi Adrier, '26 OL/DL Dylan Sims

Key Departures: '26 ATH Nevin McClain (Cesar Chavez), '27 QB Mason Penrod (Cesar Chavez), '27 RB/DB Pharis Jenkins (Cesar Chavez), '27 WR Austin Ferguson (Cesar Chavez), '27 DB Hassan Smith (Desert Mountain), '24 WR Jaylen Gillis, '24 LB Tali Maafu, '24 TE Nate Wingfield

2024 Playoff Seed Prediction: Miss playoffs


Camelback brings back a good amount of talent from last year's team. Murray Crump was the team's leading rusher last season, Siope Pulu led the team in tackles and TFLs and was second in sacks, Da'jieon Carter second in TFLs and third in tackles as a nose tackle last season, and Dontre Gammage and KK Knight were the top players in interceptions.


However, the Spartans do lose a good amount of talent, especially in their youngest classes. With the head coaching change, they lost four players to Cesar Chavez, Hassan Smith to Desert Mountain, and a few others to various schools in addition to players that graduated.


Coming in from Interlake High School in Bellevue, WA (which happens to be my alma mater), new HC Dante Foster likes the guys he still has in his locker room and is optimistic about what his team can accomplish this season.


"[I want to] bring back that culture of winning, [being a] family/brotherhood, and our kids are so focused and determined to do better," Foster said. "That's going to be our biggest thing."


'25 DB Dontre Gammage also set some expectations for himself and his team.


"Some goals for me [and my team] this season [are] to help my team get better, make playoffs, and win [the 5A Metro] region this year. We got a long way ahead of us... we got [three] months before the season comes and we just [have to] work."


It is going to be an uphill battle to try to make playoffs for the Spartans. They only face two playoff teams from last season: 5A runner-up Desert Edge and 4A semifinalist Arcadia. If Cesar Chavez (a 6A opponent) improves, that game can help them powerpoint wise and an improving Cactus Shadows team could give a slight boost if they ascend into the playoffs.


It will likely take an 8-2 campaign to get the Spartans into the postseason due to weak strength of schedule, especially within the region. If both Cesar Chavez and Cactus Shadows make the playoffs, a 7-3 season with a win over one of those two teams or Arcadia could be enough to squeak in as well. But even a 6-4 season with a region title would be a success for the first year of the Dante Foster era in my opinion.


Trevor Browne

2023 Record: 3-7, missed playoffs

Key Returners: '25 DL Raevonta Hill, '25 DB Mannie Campos, '25 WR Miguel Fierro, '25 WR Carlos Quinonez, '25 LB Damion Gallegos, '25 DB Oswaldo Martinez, '25 OL Adrian Zarate

Lower Level Players to Watch: '26 DL Elijah May, '26 OL Mario Barajas, '26 WR/CB Jeremiah Fisher

Key Departures: '24 WR/DB Eric Washington, '24 LB Jose Ramirez, '24 DB RJ Strickland, '24 QB Nico Alvarez, '24 QB Andrew Romero

2024 Playoff Seed Prediction: Miss playoffs


2023 was a struggle for Trevor Browne with a wide range of ups and downs. Despite their 3-7 record, they were not that far from being 6-4. They lost to #9 Kellis and Camelback by one point each and they lost to North by 4 points, giving them an 0-3 record in one-score games and 3-4 record in all other games.


However, with most of their key players back, including all-5A Metro Region players headlined by region Defensive Player of the Year Raevonta Hill, the Bruins have a lot of promise for this upcoming season.


Hill had an absolutely monster season last year for the Bruins, recording 12 sacks, 21.5 TFLs, 76 total tackles, and 3 fumble forces. During the May 6th Phoenix Union Showcase, I caught up with 5A Metro Region Defensive Player of the Year.


"This season as a team I really want to improve upon our record overall," Hill said. "I really want us to improve [with] us getting down on ourselves easily, which I feel like we've [already] been improving on alot [this offseason]."


He also talked about some of his personal goals.


"I would like to improve my leadership [skills]. I feel like I could excel in my leadership a little bit more. On the field, I want to get faster."


Hill has switched from an edge rusher to a linebacker this offseason and talked about what he's been doing to prepare for the change.


"Since I switched to 'backer, I've been running hills, training speed and resistance two times a day, I've been getting a feel for footwork and pass coverage, and [I've just been] overall trying to perfect my technique."


As one of the most under-the-radar players in the state, becoming an All-5A conference selection is a reasonable benchmark for Hill.


HC Francisco Rangel also talked about some his goals for the Bruins this season. One of them was getting more players in the program, which has been successful thus far. They had roughly 70 players at the Phoenix Union Showcase on May 6th, which obviously doesn't even include incoming freshman (Class of 2028).


"We've made a lot of changes in our weight room. I thought we were not at the strength we needed to be at to be competitive. That's been a huge part. The commitment's been there. We're going to be competing in 7on7s and big man [challenges]."


"I think the next thing for my program in the offseason is I [need to] start getting those incoming freshman in the weight room. Once we get these guys in there, they enjoy it, they like being with each other, and they like to see that fact that they're growing physically and that bond [with their teammates] is growing... even after a 3-7 season, the commitment has never been higher."


Assuming their schedule will be the same as last season with home & away games flipped, I think it is reasonable to say that the Bruins will win a minimum of 4 games. With their strength of schedule, it's probably going to take 8 wins to get into the playoffs and I just don't see that happening. I think 5-5 or 6-4 is vast improvement and reasonable prediction.


Pinnacle

2023 Record: 7-5, lost in 6A quarterfinals

Key Returners: '25 QB Wyatt Horton, '25 WR Jace Pina, '25 LB Dean Vincent, '25 DB Xavier Sanders, '25 DB Dom Polito, '26 WR Josh Pinder

Lower Level Players to Watch: None

Key Transfers: '25 LB Owen Pimbert (Saguaro)

Key Departures: '24 RB Mason Hughes, '24 WR Maclane Richards, '24 LB Cooper King, '24 DB Spencer Halvorson, '24 DB Dylan Fricke

2024 Playoff Seed Prediction: 7-8 seed in Open OR 1-3 seed in 6A


Last season was somewhat of a disappointment for Pinnacle. They came up short against #12 Red Mountain in the 6A quarterfinals after playing in the 6A title game with Wyatt Horton as QB1 as just a sophomore in 2022.


The three-star QB threw for over 2,000 yards, 18 passing TDs, 7 rushing TDs, and just two interceptions as a junior last season. He holds D-I offers from Utah State, Washington State, Eastern Washington, Idaho State, Army, Navy, and San Diego. I asked Horton about his recruitment and if any specific schools stuck out to him.


"To be 100% transparent, all 9 teams that have offered are different in their own way," Horton said. "Which is why I like them all. But I do love Utah State and Coach Anderson. Washington State, Eastern Washington, and Idaho State recently have also been some to stick out these past few weeks."


I also asked him about the goals for himself and for his team this season.


"A state championship. All the offers and attention and recognition is great, but I came to Pinnacle to win a championship and have yet to do that. So as the leader of this team, I will do anything to get that, and as seen, the individual stuff gets swept under that."


Horton also expressed his excitement for close his team is, calling it the closest team he's been a part of in his three years at Pinnacle.


"It’s really exciting stuff. To see the week [of spring practice] we had and know what we are doing that the people don’t see, it gives me the upmost belief in the guys in our room and what we are going to accomplish."


Other key returners for the Pioneers include '25 WR Jace Pina, '26 WR Josh Pinder, '25 LB Dean Vincent, and '25 DBs Xavier Sanders and Dom Polito.


Pina is a three-star recruit and the 29th-ranked player in the Arizona 2025 class by 247sports. He caught 29 passes for 459 yards and three TDs in his junior season.


Vincent was one of the best edge rushers in Arizona last season, as he recorded 18 TFLs, 15.5 sacks, 71 total tackles, and 22 QB hurries as a junior.


A huge addition for the Pioneers was former Saguaro LB Owen Pimbert transferring over this semester, making him and Vincent arguably the best LB duo in the state.


Pimbert recorded 106 total tackles, 4.5 TFLs, and six pass breakups last season to help lead the Sabercats to the 6A title.


I am expecting a big year for the Pioneers, and likely a 7-3 or 8-2 record, which would put them on the bubble of the Open. Should they land in the 6A bracket, I expect them to not only be a strong contender to win it, but possibly be the frontrunner.


Desert Vista

2023 Record: 2-8, missed playoffs

Key Returners: '25 OL Carlos Gutierrez, '25 DT Offi Okon, '25 LB/RB Lucas Schiermeyer, '25 WR/DB Isaac Price, '25 WR/DB/QB Aeneas Redmond, '26 OL Cole Graber, '26 RB Kyler Drunasky, '27 WR/DB Maxwell Sprott

Lower Level Players to Watch: '26 LB/FB Andrew Hoyt, '26 DB Andrew Shaw, '26 WR/DB Curtis Johnson

Key Departures: '24 ATH Victor Sosa, '24 CB/WR Mekhi Toms, '24 DB Stewart Gibson, '24 OL/LS Owen Lee

2024 Playoff Seed Prediction: Miss playoffs


After the sudden departure of HC Scooter Molander after just one season with the program, Desert Vista is now on their fifth head football coach in 5 years after naming assistant Jake McSpadden as the new HC to replace Molander.


The Thunder are now 4-16 in the last two seasons and have won a playoff game since beating Perry 70-63 in the 6A quarterfinals in 2019 after being one of the state's premiere programs throughout the 2010s.


After former HC Nate Gill stepped down after the 2022 season, the program saw nearly two dozen players transfer, with 12 of them going to Mountain Pointe. Of those transferring to Mountain Pointe is '25 three-star ASU commit Rylon Dillard-Allen, who is a top-five prospect in the state across all major recruiting sites.


Despite all the changes the program has seen and the negativity surrounding it, McSpadden hopes to give the kids some continuity and to start to turn the program around.


"One of the things that's been constant here is myself," McSpadden said. "I've been here for the past two years, I've gone through the coaching changes with them. It's a struggle. It's something you just have to get through and get over, but one thing I've tried to my best about is to bring those kids who were on the fence about playing [football] to [keep playing]... [the players] trust in me and trust in this program."


The Thunder had a relatively young team last season and only had a few key players graduate, primarily on the defensive side of the ball.


Some top key returners include '26 RB Kyler Drunasky, '27 WR/DB Maxwell Sprott, and '25 LB Lucas Shiermeyer. Drunasky was the team's leading rusher as a sophomore, Sprott was the team's second-leading receiver on varsity as a freshman, and Shiermeyer logged in 36 tackles as a junior last season.


Their biggest departure will definitely be OLB Victor Sosa, who recorded over 100 tackles, 6 TFLs, 3 sacks, 2 interceptions, and blocked three kicks last season.


The biggest question marks going into the season are going to be offensive line depth and who is the next quarterback. Their passing game struggled last season, only putting 135 YPG and scoring 10 times through the air the entire season.


With a brutal schedule last season that slightly eases up this year, I think an improvement from 2-8 to either 3-7 or 4-6 is realistic for the Thunder. I don't think either record will be enough to get them into the playoffs.


North Canyon

2023 Record: 1-9

Key Returners: '25 OL Zion Carillo, '25 RB/LB Javon Hearod, '26 WR/DB Dominic Dampier, '27 RB AJ Garcia

Lower Level Players to Watch: None

Key Departures: '24 RB/DE Adrian Montgomery, '24 DB/WR Alex Serrano, '24 OLB Diego Parra, '24 DT/TE Joshua Jaffe

2024 Playoff Seed Prediction: Miss playoffs


After leaving 2A Heritage Academy-Laveen, new North Canyon HC Anthony Johns will be taking on the rebuilding of another program.


At Heritage, Johns led the Heroes to their first-ever playoff appearance and an 8-2 record in just his second year at the helm in 2022. The program had won a combined 2 games in three seasons prior to his arrival. The Heroes took a step back in 2023 but still finished with a respectable 5-5 record and just two spots shy of another playoff appearance.


For North Canyon, they are coming off a 1-9 season where they were the 4th worst team in 5A and they are in serious danger of being demoted to 4A.


All six of their wins in the past three seasons combined have been against teams that are now in 4A or lower. Their last win over a current 5A team was a 16-0 win over Kellis on Oct. 16, 2020. They have not eclipsed 3 wins since 2017, have not had a winning record since 2016, and have not made the postseason since 2011. To put those numbers into perspective, next year's senior class was all four or five years old the last time the Rattlers made the postseason.


However, back in the 2000s, when Coach Johns was in high school, the Rattlers were one of the teams to beat and won a state title in 2005. The AIA archives don't go far back enough for me to talk more about those teams, but Johns is looking to get North Canyon back to where it was two decades ago.


Doing our conversation before the interview, one of the things he was ecstatic about was having a young team without a ton of seniors so that he could have a lot of continuity in the 2025 season after laying the ground work for the rebuild this fall.


One of the cornerstones of the young core of this team is '26 WR/DB Dominic Dampier. He is the younger brother of New Mexico QB Devon Dampier and Utah WR Dorian Singer. I asked Dampier what it was like growing up with not one but two brothers that are now doing big things at the D-I FBS level.


"They put in the extra work," Dampier said. "Out of practice, they'd go to camps. Sometimes, they'd take me with them and make me throw and catch with them for a little bit... since I'm youngest one they'd bully me a little bit."


As a sophomore last season, Dampier caught 12 passes for 232 yards and three TDs while recording 17 tackles, an interception, and five pass breakups in the Rattlers' first four games before going down with a season-ending injury. He will definitely be looking to make up for lost time this fall.


Three other key returners for the Rattlers will be '25 RB/OLB Javon Hearod, '25 OL Zion Carillo, and '27 RB AJ Garcia, who appeared in eight varsity games as a freshman last season.


As for how I would expect the Rattlers to perform next season, I would say being better than last year should be the goal for them in 2024. It will probably be a season of a lot of growing pains, similar to Heritage's first season under Coach Johns, where they went 2-8 but matched their entire 2020 season point total in the first two games.


Playoffs are going to be highly unlikely for the Rattlers in year one of the Anthony Johns era.


Desert Edge


2023 Record: 11-3, lost in 5A championship

Key Returners: '25 DB Jamar Beal-Goines, '25 WR David Cabrera, '25 RB Aryon Thomas, '25 LB Joshua Hopphaus, '25 DL I'yod Selph, '25 S Tony Brydie, '25 DB Will Rodgers, '25 OL Josh Campbell, '26 OL Jalayne Miller, '26 LB Antonio Para

Lower Level Players to Watch: '27 DB Mikyal Davis, '27 WR Zerek Sidney

Key Transfers: '25 QB Elijah Sherbin-Fox (Saguaro), '27 QB Blake Roskopf (Liberty), '25 ATH AJ Burnette (Canyon View), '25 EDGE Jerry Washington (Independence), '26 DB Camren Hamiel (Northrop {IN}), '27 WR/DB Aiden Honeywood (Shadow Ridge)

Key Departures: '25 QB Hezekiah Millender (Clarke Central {GA}), '25 QB/WR Tyrell Husband (Clarke Central {GA}), '26 WR/DB Julian Moncivaiz (Cactus), '24 EDGE Deshawn Warner (Kansas Univ.), '24 LB Jonathan Kamara (Kansas Univ.), '24 DB Aundre Gibson (Kansas Univ.), '24 WR Kez Dia-Johnson (UMass), '24 LB Jaylen Dawson (Fordham Univ.), Shaun Aletor (Univ. of San Diego), '24 RB Markhi McKinnon (Univ. of Idaho), '24 Darius Luvera (Snow College), '24 DB Julian Gregory (Feather River College), '24 DB Mikey Bryant (Feather River College), '24 LB Dreylan Dobbin (Southwestern College), '24 WR Jaqua Anderson (Southwest Baptist Univ.), '24 WR Johnny Arvallo (Western New Mexico Univ.), '24 OL Duncan Igbokwe (Western Colorado Univ.), '24 OL Johnny Blue (Ottawa U AZ), '24 EDGE I'Zion Holland (Ottawa U AZ), '24 OL/DL Dylan Ambrosio (Ottawa U AZ), '24 DB Brody Willis (Southwestern Minnesota St)

2024 Playoff Seed Prediction: 1-3 seed in 5A bracket


There's plenty to talk about when it comes to Desert Edge this offseason. Their season came to a controversial ending as their game-winning two-point conversion run was negated by a holding call that much of the community did not agree with. The Scorpions elected to go for two again and the 11-yard pass was batted down by Higley to give the Knights a second straight 5A title.


Despite the heartbreak in the 5A Championship, the Scorpions began their offseason with some good news as 18 players from their '24 class signed to play college football with several signing in December's early period.


Then, just a few weeks ago, co-head coach Mark Carter was suspended for the 2024-25 season by the school for alleged "recruiting" violations in a Facebook post comment section. The AIA then handed Desert Edge football and track a 2024-25 postseason ban the following Monday. A day after that, Mark and his brother Marcus stepped down as co-head coaches of Desert Edge football and track & field and later in the week the AIA lifted the postseason bans.


Since then, DBs coach Henri MacArthur has been named the new head coach for the Scorpions football program and a new track & field coach should be announced soon after the Open State Meet on May 10-11.


MacArthur told me about what this offseason has been like for him, his staff, and the players.


"It's definitely been a whirlwind, it's definitely [had] adversity for the team as a whole, but I think we're doing a great job of trying to push through it. That's what we always preach here, about fighting through adversity and coming out on the other side on top of it."


MacArthur added that the "uncertainty" may have been the biggest challenge. However, it appears that the situation has been resolved and the case is closed with the AIA.


"I think we're in a place now where the AIA has made its decision, everything is now kinda settled, and now we just have to move forward and keep this thing going. Mark and Marcus have both been great to me during the transition, which I really feel blessed about."


"They were there for me when we coached together and they helped me grow. I'm really grateful for those guys and the four years that I got to grow under them. Our relationship hasn't changed with everything going on. That's been a blessing to me as well."


The Carter twins are unapologetically themselves. They allow their players to do the same. They brought in boomboxes for pregame warmups. The culture that they built was loved by their players and families, but hated on by a lot of outsiders. MacArthur talked about the components of the culture at Desert Edge that he wanted to continue.


"We're going to be continuing alot of the same things. Desert Edge is Desert Edge and this is a unique place. It works when the kids are happy and when the kids are allowed to be themselves. That's a really important component. I just think we need to find that balance... we're [going to work on] not ruffling too many feathers along the way."


As to what to expect from the Scorpions on the field this fall, there is still a lot of talent in the building. Losing 18 seniors that will be playing college football is obviously big as well as starting QB Hezekiah Millender moving to Georgia.


However, there is plenty of talent returning to this team and there's a talented group of guys that transferred in as well as guys that may not have seen a lot of time that will be key contributors this season.


The key returners for the Scorpions is headlined by '25 three-star Texas A&M DB commit Jamar Beal-Goines. He is ranked fifth in the Arizona Class of 2025 recruiting rankings by 247sports. He is this year's Division II State Champion in the 100M and a member of the Division II State Champion 4x100M relay team alongside '25 WR David Cabrera, '24 Kansas LB commit Jonathan Kamara, & '26 LB Antonio Para.


There has also been six other players that have received at least one D-I offer. For the '25 class, Cabrera holds an offer from San Diego State and Independence EDGE transfer Jerry Washington holds offers from Navy, Cornell, Air Force, and Army West Point.


For the '26 class, Northrop (IN) DB transfer Camren Hamiel holds offers from UNLV and Kansas and OL Jalayne Miller holds offers from Kansas, Wisconsin, Iowa State, Arizona State, Boston College, UNLV, Georgia Tech, & Nevada.


For the '27 class, DB Mikyal Davis has an offer from UNLV and WR Zerek Sidney has offers from Arizona, Colorado State, and UMass.


At the QB position it will be difficult to replace Hezekiah "Buddha" Millender, but HC Henri MacArthur is confident about the abilities of '25 QB Elijah Sherbin-Fox and '27 QB Blake Roskopf. First, he started off by wishing the best for Millender and Husband.


"I got a lot of love for Buddha [Millender] and a lot of love for Ty[rell Husband] and I wish those guys the best. I hope that everthing works out for them the right way. Those guys are both really good kids, were good teammates, did the right thing here, left a legacy at Desert Edge, and had a big part in the success that we've had. I wanted to give those guys their credit because they did a heck of a job for us."


MacArthur then shifted the focus of the conversation to the QBs that are currently on campus.


"I'm really excited about the quarterback room that we have. I think that EJ [Sherbin-Fox] is primed to have a really big year. He's got a quick release, he's mobile, he can make all the throws, he's got a great personality that's infectious, and his teammates love him."


"And then [for] Blake [Roskopf], he checks all the boxes. He's got elite arm talent, elite size, and he's going to be a really special player for us. We're really excited about not only the current state of the [QB] room, but also the future of the room."


With many of the top teams in 5A graduating and/or losing most of their talent and some also losing their coaches, I think it will be Higley and Desert Edge once again at the top of 5A. I also think there is a very possible scenario where we're looking at Higley playing in the Open and Desert Edge being the top team in the 5A bracket and the 5A title favorite.


Tolleson


2023 Record: 3-7, missed playoffs

Key Returners: '25 RB Tyeshon Howard, '25 LB Xavier Moreno, '25 ATH Amari Mitchell, '25 WR/DB Johnny Rogers, '25 EDGE Zion Lancaster, '26 WR Rico Blassingame, '26 DB Clarence Tucker, '27 TE/DE Judah Lancaster, '27 QB Kristian Escebedo

Lower Level Players to Watch: '27 RB Anthony Scott Jr

Key Transfers: None

Key Departures: '26 WR/DB Hamisi Juma (Chandler), '26 WR Asad Ali (Centennial), '25 QB Tagg Harrison (Simi Valley {CA}), '24 LB Misael Gamez, '24 WR/DB Auggie McCabe

2024 Playoff Seed Prediction: 13-16 seed in 6A bracket


The 2023 Tolleson team was very young and it showed. The Wolverines got off to a very rough start, going 1-4 in the first five games that included losses to Agua Fria and Shadow Ridge, both teams that did not make the playoffs. They were also Shadow Ridge's only win.


Starting in Week 7, although they lost to Desert Ridge, it was a one-score game against a playoff team, which was something they hadn't done all season. Some coaches will tell you there's no "moral victories" but that game turned the tide on the Wolverines' season. They wrapped up 2023 with wins over Westwood and Cesar Chavez by a combined score of 64-15.


Tolleson returns the majority of their core, including three-star '26 recruits Rico Blassingame at WR and Clarence "CT" Tucker at DB. TE Judah Lancaster also may be the biggest recruit in the loaded Arizona 2027 class. At the very least, Lancaster is a top 3 prospect in that class.


Blassingame is ranked ninth in the Arizona 2026 class in the latest 247sports rankings. I expected him to be in at least the top five given how many offers he has. He acknowledged that he was surprise by the ranking:


"That was a big motivation for me going into my junior season. I try not to focus on that too much because I know what I can do and what I want to produce on the field and those rankings have nothing to do with that."


Blassingame holds offers from Texas A&M, Kansas, Northern Arizona, Arizona, Washington, Arizona State, UConn, Louisville, Colorado State, and UNLV. There are already a few in that group that stand out to him.


"I like Arizona a lot, Washington, Louisville, and Arizona State. I like those schools because of their coaches. I like to build strong relationships and they showed their interest as well as me."


Arizona State has been making a big local push recently, with three-star '25 DB Rylon Dillard-Allen (Mountain Pointe) and '25 ATH Dajon Hinton (Saguaro) making verbal commits as well as '22 three-star EDGE Zac Swanson (Brophy) transferring to the Sun Devils after two seasons with Texas. The Sun Devils are also in the top five remaining schools for '25 four-star OL Logan Powell (Brophy) and were in the top three for '25 four-star WR Cooper Perry (Notre Dame Prep).


Blassingame is liking what he sees from Dillingham's staff, which includes new WRs coach Hines Ward, who played with the Pittsburgh Steelers for 14 seasons.


"I'm seeing a big change in the receiver room. I'm just looking forward to this season and seeing how they do. Looking for some big adjustments for sure."


Blassingame comes from an athletic family, which includes his brother, Trevon, that plays basketball for the University of Idaho.


"He's one of the hardest workers I know. Just seeing him wake up every morning before school in high school [to] go work[out] [and] at night work[out], he was always the hardest worker. Just [him] showing me that really inspired me to be who I am too."


The Tolleson player that has more recently jumped onto the recruiting scene is '26 DB Clarence Tucker. He holds offers from Bowling Green, Western Kentucky, Maryland, Northern Arizona, Georgia State, Texas Southern, and UNLV. He is the #13 prospect in 247sports' Arizona rankings.


Meanwhile, Judah Lancaster has had P4 schools from all over calling his phones before he even starts his sophomore season. He received offers from Arizona State and Northern Arizona the summer before he began high school and received offers from Arizona, UNLV, Alabama, Texas A&M, and Kansas after his freshman season.


The Class of 2027 in Arizona has been considered by many to be the most talented class that the state has ever seen.


Lancaster and Basha's Jake Hildebrand are already national recruits approaching double digit offers, Chandler's Jai Jones and Basha's Noah Roberts also have several offers, and I've seen at least nine other '27 players receive at least one D-I offer before their sophomore season.


I asked Lancaster about his thoughts on being part of such a special group of talent in this state.


"It's a good feeling... I feel like I'm doing something that will impact the game of football."


In addition to their three big recruits, the Wolverines bring back '25 RB Tyeshon Howard, '25 LB Xavier Moreno, '25 ATH Amari Mitchell, '25 WR/DB Johnny Rogers, '25 EDGE Zion Lancaster (Judah's older brother), and '27 QB Kristian Escebedo, all guys who HC Rich Wellbrock described as "overlooked."


Wellbrock also had simple expectations for his team for the remainder of the offseason and into next season.


"They just need to get better every day, embrace the process, and come together as a football team. That's what's been the most impressive part so far these three days, you've just really seen them helping each other and being positive to each other."


"That's something that every football team needs. It's fun to watch and makes it a lot more fun to coach them as well."


Mountain View (Mesa)


2023 Record: 8-3, lost in 6A Round of 16

Key Returners: '25 LB Beckham Barney, '25 WR Mikey Sumko, '25 OL/DL Tavita Ta'ase, '26 QB Brady Goodman, '26 TE/EDGE Caleb Larson

Lower Level Players to Watch: None

Key Transfers: None

Key Departures: '24 QB Jack Germaine, '24 WR Hodden Marks, '24 WR Gunner Gornik, '24 DL Brigham Mckown

2024 Playoff Seed Prediction: 1-4 seed in 6A bracket


The Toros have a really good amount of talent returning. They will be losing their QB1, WR2, WR3, and a key defensive lineman and that's about it. New HC Andy Litten is very confident in '26 QB Brady Goodman, who will be the next gunslinger for the Toros.


"He's 6'6", he moves well, he's got a rocket arm, and he's super smart."


Litten recently took over the head coaching job for the Toros this offseason after previous HC Joe Germaine left the school for the head coaching job at the new ALA Mesa school opening in Fall 2024. Litten led Horizon to a 10-3 record last season, falling to Desert Edge in the 5A Semifinals.


The biggest returner for the Toros is '25 LB Beckham Barney, who was a first-team All-6A selection last season after recording 145 total tackles, 13 TFLs, 4 sacks, 6 QB hurries, and 5 pass breakups as a junior. He holds offers from Cal, Dartmouth, and CoIumbia.


I asked him about what the head coaching transition from Germaine to Litten has been like.


"There was a period of time without a coach where it took some of the leaders on the team to bring the team together. We spent those times in the weight room building a relationship [with each other] without a coach."


"Now, we're transitioning to spring ball with Coach Litten, it's been cool seeing the way he wants to run our team and we're all really liking the way that we're playing right now and the way that we're headed."


Another key returner for the Toros is '25 WR Mikey Sumko, who caught 43 passes for 812 yards and six touchdowns last season. He holds offers from Army, Air Force, and Dartmouth. Sumko agrees that it's been a transition for the team with the coaching change.


"It's a hard transition [just before] my senior year of course, [but] I'm excited. I think he's done a great job transitioning, we're getting the new playbook installed, and I'm just trying to learn through it. I'm excited for this season."


On the other side of the sudden coaching change for the Toros is Coach Litten, who made tough decision to move on from Horizon, where he had a lot of success at the 5A level.


"It wasn't easy, Horizon's a great school, a great community, and I really liked coaching those guys. My biggest influence is my family and I live in the East Valley, [so Mountain View] is much closer to home."


"Mountain View right away made me feel like I was a part of their community. Their excitement that they've had around football, the eight state championships, the legacy, the alumni, I'm just really blessed to be able to be the head coach."


Centennial


2023 Record: 11-2, lost in Open Championship

Key Returners: '25 OL Camren Durfee, '25 RB Levi Johnson, '25 LB Aaron Alvarez, '26 QB Kainan Manna, '26 RB Owen Reynoso

Lower Level Players to Watch: '27 RB Derrion Batholomew

Key Transfers: '25 WR Nikko Boncore (Cactus), '25 WR Shamar Berryhill (Sabino), '26 OL Jesus Diaz III (Cactus), '26 OL Drew Coronado (Shadow Ridge), '27 WR/DB Romeo Berryhill (Sabino)

Key Departures: '24 EDGE Noah Carter (Alabama), '24 DB Kenny Worthy (Washington St), '24 OL Brady Bakke (Northern Arizona), '24 DB Iverson Small (Livingstone College), '24 DB Hayden Allen (Hastings College), '24 WR/DB Damien Jenkins (Hastings College), '24 OL Caden Gabbard (Central College), '24 RB Tony Greer, '24 DB Marcus Logan, '24 LB Aaden Nguyen, '24 TE/DE Gage Galbreath, '24 WR Ricky Muñoz

2024 Playoff Seed Prediction: 1-4 seed in the Open


Yes, a lot of guys from last year's team have graduated and gone on to college. However, there is one thing that Centennial has that Open contenders like Liberty, Basha, Brophy, Chandler, Hamilton, and ALA Queen Creek don't have: continuity at quarterback, the most important position in football.


The Coyotes bring back '26 QB Kainan Manna, who threw for over 2,000 yards with a 21-1 TD-INT ratio as a sophomore in 2023. The Coyotes have also welcomed three new wide receivers and two new lineman to campus. Among those wide receivers is former Cactus star Nikko Boncore, who finished second in BJ Media WR of the Year voting last season, only behind Univ. of Arizona WR Brandon Phelps.


Boncore caught 92 passes for 1,214 yards and 15 TDs while also rushing for 2 TDs and passing for 2 TDs for the Cobras last season. He holds a D-I offer from Iowa State, but multiple media members and other local players and coaches have questioned why he hasn't received more offers and attention from college coaches.


In the most recent 247Sports Class of 2025 rankings, Boncore was given a three-star rating and ranked 16th in Arizona and fourth out of receivers in the state, only behind Oregon commit Cooper Perry, UNLV commit Cassidee Miles, & Marana three-star and Tucson Turf 7v7 teammate Dezmen Roebuck.


However, Boncore said a few colleges have shown increased interest in him. Among those are North Dakota State, Hawaii, and UNLV.


In an interview during the Coyotes' Apr. 30 practice, Boncore also outlined his reasoning for making the move from Cactus and sacrifice the first five games of his senior season.


"I just wanted to play the best of the best in AZ. I feel like to show that I'm one of the best receivers in AZ that I needed to compete in the 6A level. Centennial was the move, they just went to the Open State Championship, and I felt like it was a good fit for me."


Boncore said, however, having just one offer has been motivation for him.


"Coaches overlook me because of my size, weight, [and things] like that. This offseason I've put on a lot of weight [and gotten] bigger, faster, and stronger. I'm just trying to prove to everybody that I can compete at a high level."


Also among key transfers were the Berryhill brothers, the younger brothers of former University of Arizona star WR Stanley Berryhill. Shamar is a three-star '25 recruit with an offer from his brother's alma mater. He caught 75 passes for 1,392 yards and 19 TDs for 3A champion Sabino. Romeo is his younger brother that appeared in 13 games, mostly at DB, and recorded 31 tackles as a freshman on varsity at Sabino.


The Coyotes' transfer class also features former Cactus OL Jesus Diaz III, who has D-I measurables and was one of the best linemen in 5A as a sophomore and former Shadow Ridge OL Drew Coronado, who was under-utilized during his sophomore season with the Stallions.


Centennial HC Richard Taylor is also pleased with how his freshman and JV team performed last season.


"Our freshmen [team] went undefeated, our JV [team] lost one game. We expect five or six [rising sophomores] to come up and contribute [on varsity] this season."


"Now that Kenny [Worthy] and Noah [Carter] are gone, that leaves up space for other kids that have been very diligent, have worked very hard, have paid their dues, and now it's their time. I tell that every day. 'You did the right thing, you didn't complain, I wish you well and want you to do well.'"


Liberty


2023 Record: 12-1 (12-0 in AZ), won Open Championship

Key Returners: '25 OT Nick Spence, '25 OL Cam Uresti, '25 OL Jace Gardner, '25 DL Caden Branston, '25 QB Hayden Fletcher, '25 WR Drace Wadlington, '26 LB Hudson Dunn, '26 DL Paz St. John, '26 DB Cannon Garday

Key Transfers: '26 QB Jayden Pico (Shadow Ridge), '26 DB Zeth Angel Thues (Saguaro), '26 TE Kamden Seagall (Saguaro)

Key Departures: '27 QB Blake Roskopf (Desert Edge), '24 QB Navi Bruzon (Arizona St), '24 OL Kaden Haeckel (Arizona St), '24 TE Ryan Wolfer (San Diego St), '24 WR Ryan Jezioro (Idaho), '24 WR Braylon Gardner (Northwood), '24 RB Jon Wilson, '24 DB Daveed Umoren, '24 LB Zane Tallman (West Point), '24 LB Keaton Stam (Butte College)

2024 Playoff Seed Prediction: 1-3 seed in the Open


It is going to be a big reset button for the defending Open champs in 2024. They bring back a surplus of talent, but it would be silly to downplay the loss of the two-time Gatorade Player of the Year, arguably the best LB duo in the state, three D-I guys and other key players from that big 2024 class.


However, Liberty has become such a well-oiled machine that they make the "next man up" mentality look easy. The Lions return three starters from an OL unit that proved to be the best and most dominant in the state, they bring back the three most important players of last year's pass rush, and they bring back most of their secondary and have added to that secondary with Zeth Angel Thues transferring in from Saguaro.


For the returners, three guys have bursted on the recruiting scene. In the most recent 247Sports rankings, OT Nick Spence and DL Caden Branston have debuted at #10 and #22 in the Arizona Class of 2025. Spence has raked in seven offers this offseason while Branston has added four FBS offers this offseason to add to his Arizona State offer from last summer.


Meanwhile, LB Hudson Dunn checked in at #4 in the state for the Class of 2026. Dunn has received seven offers this offseason after a stellar sophomore campaign. '26 DL Paz St. John also received a D-I offer from San Diego State in January.


In addition to the returning talent from last year's roster, the Lions have brought in three key transfers.


Safety Zeth Angel Thues, who should have been in the initial 247Sports Class of 2026 rankings, comes in from Saguaro after being a 2-year starter for the Sabercats. Thues holds D-I offers from Arizona State, UNLV, Nevada, Wisconsin, Boston College, K-State, and Washington State.


Tight end Kamden Seagall also comes in from Saguaro. He caught 32 passes for 478 yards and 6 TDs in 13 games for the 6A champs.


The third key transfer is former Shadow Ridge QB Jayden Pico. Pico was a 2-year starter for the Stallions, throwing for over 2,000 yards, 740 rushing yards, and 26 total TDs to just four interceptions as a freshman on varsity in 2022. He won 2022 BJ Media Freshman of the Year honors.


Pico played through injuries in 2023 and couldn't find the same success through the air as his freshman season, however he did match his freshman year rushing yards totals with 763. With the departure of HC Sean Hegarty, Pico became the seventh player to leave the program before the school eventually hired former Hamilton HC Michael Zdebski to take over the program in a process that took far too long.


With Pico having to sit five games, '25 QB Hayden Fletcher having the opportunity to learn behind Navi Bruzon last season, and '26 QB Brady Stevens coming up from a full season of JV reps, it will be a very interesting QB battle throughout this offseason. Whether it's Fletcher or Stevens starting in Week 1, it'll be interesting to see if there is a change if the starter is playing well at the time Pico becomes eligible in Week 6.


When I asked head Coach Colin Thomas about key transfers, he said:


"Obviously, [Zeth] Angel [Thues] is a tremendous player, everyone knows that. He's really fit in well. I look forward to him getting out there [in week 6]."


"Kam[den Seagall] has done a good job for us [with] learning the system. When you do a lot in the pass game, it takes a little bit of time, but he's adapted really well."


"Jayden [Pico] got a lot of reps tonight and has done some really good things. I'm really excited for those guys to keep getting reps and keep getting better."


Brophy Prep


2023 Record: 10-3, lost 36-35 (OT) in 6A semifinals to Red Mtn

Key Returners: '25 OT Logan Powell, '25 OL Anderson Kopp, '25 OT Jorden Cunningham, '25 WR Christian Camarata, '25 WR Nathan Benzie, '25 DB Cree Thomas, '25 LB Dominic Mitchell, '25 RB Carlos Estrada, '26 WR Daylen Sharper, '26 WR Devin Fitzgerald, '26 RB Harrison Chambers, '26 LB Bastian Vanden Bosch, '26 QB Case Vanden Bosch '26 DL Joshua Finch-Logan

Lower Level Players to Watch: '27 ATH Ryder Noche, '27 LB Greg Riddell

Key Transfers: None

Key Departures: '24 EDGE Mardale Rowe (Fordham), '24 EDGE Devan Kennedy (Iowa), '24 S Billy Eastep (Yale), '24 QB Charlie McGinnis (Hofstra Lacrosse)

2024 Playoff Seed Prediction: 3-7 seed in the Open


This Brophy team improved mightily from the 2022 season after bringing nearly everyone back in 2023. Their 2024 class sent three players to the Division I level in addition to QB Charlie McGinnis signing with Hofstra to play lacrosse.


The Broncos' 2025 and 2026 classes are absolutely loaded. The '25 class features five players with at least one Division I offer. OT Logan Powell is the top-ranked '25 player in the state (247 Sports) while DB Cree Thomas is ranked third, Kansas OL commit Anderson Kopp is 15th, and Dominic Mitchell is 29th. OL Jorden Cunningham is unranked but does hold a D-I offer from Bowling Green as he transitions from TE. Cunningham has put on 60 pounds of muscle according to multiple sources in the program. He is also at the top of multiple weight lifting leaderboards for the program.


The '26 class features four players with at least one D-I offer. WR Daylen Sharper (son of former NFL star Darren Sharper) is the third-ranked '26 player in the state (247 sports) while WR Devin Fitzgerald (son of former Cardinals HOF WR Larry Fitzgerald) is ranked fifth and LB Bastian Vanden Bosch (son of former Cardinals/Titans/Lions DE Kyle Vanden Bosch) is ranked sixth. QB Case Vanden Bosch (Bastian's twin) is unranked but holds offers from Arizona State, Nebraska, and Iowa.


2023 also was the third straight season in which the Brophy freshman team finished 7-2 or better.


WR/DB/KR Ryder Noche, the cousin of 3-star Washington commit Raiden Vines-Bright, has received multiple Division I offers this offseason and got a chance to get some varsity reps during the Broncos' postseason run, primarily as a kick returner.


LB Greg Riddell turned heads all season and will likely be a varsity starter and was a guy that head coach Jason Jewell mentioned as a lower level player to watch.


OL/DL Shane Reiersgaard is a strong candidate to replace one of the graduating offensive guard positions. WR/DB/KR Donovan McNabb Jr and TE Jaylen Fitzgerald (Devin's cousin) have varsity potential as well as incoming sophomores.


Regarding the depth, head coach Jason Jewell said after an Apr. 23 practice:


"My philosophy as a coach is [that] you have to play football in order to get better at football, so I'm not going to bring up a freshman or sophomore unless they're going to start or play significant minutes."


The biggest and arguably the only question mark with this Brophy team is who will take over as QB1 after Charlie McGinnis graduated. My guess would be Case Vanden Bosch, but Coach Jewell acknowledged an open competition between Case, '25 QB Grant Guidry, and '26 QB Rylan Umphrey.


Cactus Shadows


2023 Record: 4-6, missed playoffs

Key Returners: '26 QB Donivan Dixon, '26 DB Kalen Conley, '26 C Payton Wales, '25 RB Nick Stifel, '25 DE Cole Mayse

Lower Level Players to Watch: '26 WR Dillon Aspiras, '27 DL Danny Davila, '26 WR Alex Dafnis

Key Transfers: None

Key Departures: '24 LS Sam Wolfenden (UNLV), '24 TE Torin Mayse (Western New Mexico), '24 OL Anthony Thomas (Rocky Mountain College), '24 LB/OL Gavin Braucht (Military), '24 WR Noah Brouse (graduation), '24 WR Tyler Hargett (graduation), '24 WR Billy Deatsch (graduation), '24 LB Ransom Ludlow (graduation)

2024 Playoff Seed Prediction: 13-16 seed in 5A bracket


A large portion of the Falcons' success in 2024 will ride on 2023 BJ Media Underclassman of the Year and '26 QB Donivan Dixon. He picked up his first D-I offer from Utah this offseason after passing for over 2,000 yards and rushing for over 1,100 yards while totaling 36 TDs with just 9 interceptions in 2023.


Dixon has been QB1 for the Falcons since his freshman season and he will have a completely new set of weapons as his entire WR core and his starting TE all graduated. '26 WR Dillon Aspiras has looked sharp all offseason and he'll count on some other lower level guys to step up. Despite the loss of receiving targets, the Falcons do return 4 out of 5 starting offensive linemen and their top two running backs including Payton Wales and Nick Stifel, who both received All-5A Northeast Valley region honors.


The biggest deciding factor of whether the Falcons can make the playoffs and make some noise is how much the defense improves. The Falcons allowed 35.6 PPG last season, including 45.2 PPG against the six playoff teams they faced.


Last year's team may have graduated a lot of seniors, but only a couple of them played defense. The Falcons are hoping some continuity along with the hiring of former Arizona State DB and local skills trainer Clint Floyd as their new DB coach will help with the improvement of the defense to make them contenders.


Head Coach Chris Dixon spoke about improvement he wanted to his from his guys during an Apr. 24 spring practice:


"Read a book 20 minutes a day and you'll improve your reading. Well getting out here and doing something football [related] 20 minutes a day and you'll improve your football [skills]... that's what I mean by growth. Expecting them to grow up and become the athletes that they need to be."



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