As another football season gets underway, local teams are aimed at playoff berths and improved play as realignment makes for some intense competition between area teams.
Peoria Liberty moves to 6A, joining Mountain Ridge among the top division in the Arizona Interscholastic Association. As the only two teams in the top division, they will face each other in week six for the first time.
Apollo and Ironwood join the Northwest Section while Independence remains in the Desert West Section this year. Deer Valley (West Valley), which drops down from 5A this year, and Glendale (Black Canyon) could each surprise in 4A with realignment helping both.
Here are capsules on the local teams:
Coach: Santiago Maldonado (sixth year as Independence head coach)
2017 record: 3-7-0 (3-2-0 in Union Section, DNQ)
2018 section: Desert West Section 5A
Key losses: Adrian Talbo (QB) and Alfredo Beltre (RB/MLB)
Key returning players: Simmon Torres (RB/FS), Isaac Mack-Alston (RB/CB), Victor Frenes (FS/OLB) and Robbie Colunga (DB).
Outlook: The Patriots opened last season losing their first five games, before winning three of their sections games, but missing the playoffs for the eighth straight season. They return with a strong defense, but have a tough schedule.
Prediction: They open with crosstown rivals Ironwood and Glendale, before tough matchups with Sierra Linda, Camelback and Kellis before opening Desert West play. If the Patriots can gain experience in their preseason game, they can be a sleeper team in the Desert West.
Coach: Rob York (third year as Glendale head coach)
2017 record: 8-2-0 (4-1-0 in Union Section, DNQ)
2018 section: Black Canyon Section 4A
Key losses: Isaiah Briggs (RB), Diego Mavy (DE/OLB) and Augie Rodriguez (OL/DL)
Key returning players: Kevin Daniels (RB), TJ Owens (QB/FS), Andre Neal (OLB) and Johnny Apodaca (FS/WR).
Outlook: Entering his third season as head coach of the Glendale Cardinals, York has put attention on a team that has not been considered a winner for years.
But that may have changed last year as the Cardinals won eight games, the most in 37 years since the team won 10 games in 1980 and York said he aims toward more than just football.
“I have been coaching for 13 years and this is going to be my third at Glendale,” York said. “My purpose is to teach life lessons, form lifetime relationships and lifetime memories.”
The Cardinals, who finished over .500 for only the third time over the past 14 seasons, are primed to become one of the favorites in the Black Canyon Section this season. They return their entire offense and defense from last season, when the team won eight games and just missed making the playoffs for the first time since 2006.
Offensively, the Cardinals will be led by senior quarterback Owens, who completed 58 percent of his passes last year for 1,552 yards and 16 touchdown passes.
Daniels takes over at running back after Briggs, who rushed for over 1,600 yards, graduated last year. Daniels played in six games last year and rushed for 473 yards and seven touchdowns backing up Briggs. Neal will move from receiver to running back, pairing with Daniels, as the Cardinals will run a flex offense to focus on the team’s speed.
Prediction: Glendale is considered the favorite in the Black Canyon section and has a chance to go undefeated and make the playoffs this season.
Coach: Zach Threadgill (13th year as Apollo head coach).
2017 record: 8-2-0 (4-1-0 in Metro Section, Lost first round 5A playoffs)
2018 conference: Northwest Section 5A
Key losses: Trevor Clark (Util), Jontae Garland (WR, CB) and Adam Pieri (WR/S)
Key returning players: Frank Sanchez (QB), Ali Mohamed (RB/CB), Baudin Johnson (WR/RB), Ian Delgado (MLB/FB), Jamaury Jimenez (OLB/RB).
Outlook: After losing their opening game last year by 41 points, the Hawks recovered to win eight of their final nine games.
Threadgill plans to focus on the front line saying, “We run a pistol offense and multiple front defense. We want to be great on special teams this year because it is an important part of the game.”
Newcomer junior Jacob Lee (6’5’’, 330 pounds) will be key to the Hawks’ offensive line along with Elias Guerrero III (6’2’’, 265).
“At Apollo, we use football to help develop young men with strong character,” Threadgill said. “Our goal is to prepare them for the choices and challenges they will face once they leave high school and our hope is to develop mentally tough young men.”
Prediction: Moving from the 5A Metro to the Northwest will be a tough move for the Hawks. They will now have to play Peoria Centennial, Ironwood, Kellis, Sunrise Mountain and Phoenix Sunnyslope in one of the toughest sections in the state. They may struggle early, but should have the talent to battle for a playoff spot.
Next week: Deer Valley, Ironwood and Mountain Ridge