Slideshow: 22 HS football players to watch in 2014

August 22, 2014 8:45 am  • 

Ongoing series looks at 22 standout high school football players.

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  • Izzy Calvillo

    The rundown: Izzy Calvillo, FB/LB, 5-10, 200, Walden Grove, senior

    Who he is: “A 25-year-old man in an 18-year-old’s body,” Red Wolves coach Chris Sargent says. Calvillo is gearing up for his first full season with Walden Grove after playing in seven games a year ago. Calvillo started his high school career at Sunnyside, and led the Blue Devils in tackles as a sophomore. He has transitioned seamlessly with Walden Grove as he was named the Division IV, Section II defensive player of the year in 2013. Calvillo is a “downhill” player with a deep understanding of the game. What he may lack in straight-line speed, he makes up for with instincts and intensity. As the anchor of the defense last season, Calvillo averaged more than 18 tackles per game, including 22 tackles and four sacks in his first game, a

    27-10 win at Douglas. Calvillo will also be the centerpiece of the offense as a blocking back.

    Proof he’s good: Sargent calls Calvillo the best player he has ever coached or coached against in his six years in the area. Walden Grove went 5-2 with Calvillo in the lineup after starting 0-3 without him. Walden Grove has gone 5-5 in each of its first two seasons but Sargent is hoping Calvillo finally gets them over the hump. He increased his bench and squat maximums above 300 and 400 pounds, respectively. He is hoping a full year and another strong showing will help make his dream of playing in college a reality. Over the summer, Calvillo attended prospect camps at Western New Mexico and Arizona Christian University. He has also received interest from Division III Grinnell College in Iowa and the University of Redlands in California.

    He said it: “When nobody is watching, he’s working. He continues to get stronger and faster.

    So basically you’re getting

    a better version of the defensive player from last year. That’s exciting for us and probably really sucks for a lot of other people.”

    – Sargent

  • Terrence Johnson

    The rundown: Terrence Johnson, WR/SS, 6-3, 190, Cienega, senior

    Who he is: Johnson fits the mold of what coaches want from a safety. He’s big, has been clocked at 4.4 seconds in the 40-yard dash and sets the tone for an entire defense with thunderous hits. After a summer of playing basketball, the two-sport star has transitioned from the non-stop, change-of-pace movement in hoops, to more sprints and weight training needed for the gridiron season. Cienega coach Nemer Hassey remembers meeting Johnson at a football camp when he was an eighth-grader in the Vail School District. Although Johnson had played football since age 9, he wasn’t playing at the time, but Hassey noticed his natural athleticism and knew he had potential. Johnson’s speed makes him a threat to score any time he touches the ball. Last season, he wasn’t the main option on offense but scored four TDs, all of which were at least 33 yards and as long as 69. Cienega quarterback Adriell Alvarado said Johnson’s large frame gives him a much bigger window, and his athleticism allows him to get the football, wherever it is. This season, Hassey will move Johnson from running back to slot to the outside receiver. Meanwhile, Johnson said he hopes to be more of a ballhawk at safety. Entering his third season on varsity and second as a starter, Johnson has been working on his route running in order to make more catches than the 17 he had in 2013 as the second option behind Christian Poe, now a freshman at Army.

    Proof he’s good: The attention. Johnson has received scholarship offers from the UA, San Diego State, UC-Davis and Montana. He also has sparked interest from Stanford, Oregon State and UCLA. As a guard on the Cienega basketball team, Johnson averaged 13.9 points and 5.7 rebounds per game on a team that reached the state semifinals. Though Johnson has always had basketball to hold onto, he kept working at football. During his sophomore season he played sparingly at safety. Toward the end of the season, coaches put Johnson in at safety for three plays against Douglas and realized what he was capable of doing. He also displayed another capability when he once threw a football 60 yards in practice.

    He said it: “Believe it or not, he can throw the football, too. He can play quarterback if he wanted to. He’s a kid you throw it to, hand it to, you want to get him the ball every way you can get him the ball, and be creative with it. He’s explosive, he’s fast, he’s big, he’s tall. He’s a Pac-12 football prospect.” — Hassey

  • Anthony Peralta

    The rundown: ATH/OLB/SS, 5-6, 145, Sunnyside, senior

    • Who he is: The epitome of what it means to be a member of the Sunnyside football team. Peralta is tough, undersized and the heartbeat of the Blue Devils. He can remember roaming the sidelines on Friday nights back when he was a child, as his uncle Richard Sanchez regularly led Sunnyside to victory, and his cousin, Philo Sanchez, rushed for nearly 2,500 yards and led the Blue Devils to a state championship in 2001. Fourth-year coach Glenn Posey, who has known Peralta since birth, joked he’ll only get to see the senior at halftime and at the end of the game since he will be on the field at all times. Posey plans on having Peralta at running back, slot receiver, linebacker and safety. The only positions ruled out for Peralta are offensive and defensive line. Peralta’s heart and determination outweigh his size. Though he’s just 145 pounds, Peralta is an absolute animal in the weight room and can push more weight than some of the lineman. He recently maxed his squat at 500
    • pounds, and power-cleaned 330.
    • Despite his small frame, Peralta has a shot at playing in college. He has received some attention from some Division II and III schools, with NAIA schools in the mix as well. Posey has some coaching ties in the Tennessee area, and Austin Peay is one school on his radar.
    • Proof he’s good:
    • Tradition. Peralta does things exactly how his relatives did during Sunnyside’s prime, and he always goes to them when he has questions. This summer, Philo Sanchez helped Peralta getting in and out of his cuts and heading up the field quicker with ladder and cone drills. Though he thrives on the run support, Peralta has been working on his man coverage skills, trying to become a better reactionary player. Peralta showed flashes of what he’s capable of doing in a larger role in a game early in 2013 against Glendale Ironwood. He finished the night with four carries for 86 yards, two catches for 49 yards and 12 total tackles. Last season, Peralta played safety and finished the year with a team-high 95 total tackles. He added three forced fumbles and two sacks. Peralta also ended up being the team’s punter out of necessity. It was a skill he learned long ago from his father, Tony, a longtime special teams coach for the Blue Devils.
    • He said it: “He’s someone who has bought into the program. He’s made a full commitment and, as a coach, I couldn’t ask for much more of him. He’s got that family pressure with Richard being his uncle, but he wants that pressure, too. There were no signs he was going to be a superstar player, but when Philo was at this stage in his career, it wasn’t there either. You didn’t know he was going to break out.” — Posey
  • Walker Padilla

    The rundown: OLB/RB, 6-0, 205, Canyon del Oro, senior

    Who he is: Whether he’s on offense or defense, Padilla is a bulldog. He’s been hitting ever since he decided to quit hockey for football at age 5. Last season, Padilla was second on the CDO defense with 85 tackles, including a team-high 13 tackles-for-loss. He also forced two fumbles and blocked a field goal.

    Entering his third season as a starter on defense, Padilla receives raves from coach Dusty Peace for quickness. While Padilla has run a 4.7 second 40-yard dash, the sixth-year coach noted Padilla’s ability to read and react in a 10-yard span, which separates him from some of the linebackers Peace has coached in the past.

    Used mainly as a decoy and blocking back last season, Padilla will see a larger role on offense. His toughness and hands make Padilla a threat to score in the red zone. He was one of nine players to score at least one rushing touchdown a year ago and also pulled in two touchdown passes. Peace really took note of Padilla’s offensive abilities in the second week of the season in 2013 when the junior caught a dart out of the backfield and hurdled a defender on his way to a 31-yard touchdown. Padilla compares football to life, realizing you struggle in the real world, but just like leg cramps flaring up in the fourth quarter, you just have to push through it and deal with what you have.

    He has been in contact with the University of Hawaii, but said he has wanted to be a Navy SEAL since he was 3.

    Proof he’s good: Padilla’s knowledge allows him to play fast. Peace said outside linebacker is the most complex position to play in their system, and the spot requires “thinkers.” Padilla is able to contain and stuff the run so well because of his understanding of what the offense is trying to do. More than research and film studying, Padilla is reliant on his instincts.

    When approaching the line of scrimmage as a linebacker, he watches the opponents’ offensive linemen. By observing their mannerism and eye placement, Padilla can tell whether a team is running or passing.

    Against Catalina Foothills last year, Padilla made a season-high 14 tackles, including seven for-loss. In CDO’s two playoff games, Padilla recorded 14 total tackles and scored a touchdown.

    He said it: “One of Walker’s goals is to become a Navy SEAL, which would be perfect for him because he’s one of those guys who would run through a wall for his teammates. That’s been his mold since he’s been here.” — Peace

  • Matt Solverson

    The rundown: TE/OLB, 6-2, 195, Ironwood Ridge, senior

    Who he is: A heady athlete, who will do anything for his team. Voted one of three team captains this season, Solverson knows his team is relying on him to help the Nighthawks get deep into the state playoffs after a first-round exit last year. His athletic prowess allows coaches to flex him out in space and line him up in different spots as a tight end. This season Solverson will also line up at outside linebacker, despite accumulating just one tackle in all of 2013. To better prepare for the rigors of defense, he has been working on his footwork and aggressiveness to cut out wasted steps and make more tackles. While Solverson doesn’t appear imposing, coaches called him a second lineman when he’s bulldozing defensive ends in the run game. Kenny Don, an I-Ridge assistant who coaches tight ends, said Solverson is perfect for their system and his techniques are correct. “He’s very reliable,” Don added. “We can put him anywhere and I can trust him to get the job done.” In his senior year, Solverson still plans on also playing basketball and volleyball, as he has throughout high school. He hasn’t decided what he’d like to do in college, but hopes to play either volleyball or football at the next level. He’s received some interest from some Division II football squads but he wants to keep his options open and play out both seasons.

    Proof he’s good: Solverson’s ability to adjust routes based on what the defense shows, his soft hands and ability to shield his body from defenders to catch a pass make him a top target in the Nighthawks’ passing game. Though the Nighthawks’ offense was focused primarily on the running game last season, Solverson still managed to score touchdowns in seven games. As a junior, Solverson lead I-Ridge in receptions (35), receiving yards (535) and receiving touchdowns (8). He also hauled in at least two receptions in all but one game. This fall Solverson hopes to become a better threat with the ball in his hands after the catch.

    He said it: “He’s very intelligent. He picks things up very quickly and I never have to get on him for his effort or things like that. He’s a details kind of guy, a great leader who makes our group stronger.” — Don

  • Grant Hubble

    The rundown: Grant Hubble, K/DB, 5-10, 160, Catalina Foothills, senior

    Who he is: The top kicker in the state with the on-field athleticism to make an impact at strong safety. When coach Jeff Scurran arrived at Foothills, he started off by asking the team if there were any players on junior varsity or elsewhere that should be a part of the team. Hubble’s name was the first to come up. Hubble, a starting defender on the soccer team as well, didn’t exactly begin his varsity career on the right foot. At Desert View in Week 1, Hubble slipped on the opening kickoff, shanked his first field goal attempt wide right and missed his second as well. Yet each time he returned to the sidelines, Hubble remained positive, Scurran said. His unwavering confidence proved justifiable, as Hubble “got rid of the bad juju,” as he described it, and nailed the final seven kicks of the season, including two crucial 40-plus-yard kicks in narrow losses to Cienega and Canyon del Oro. Scurran called him the ultimate team player, but added he has a comedic sense for the room. Before the Falcons’ season finale against Maricopa, a must-win game for Foothills’ playoff hopes, Hubble helped break the tension and set the tone for the eventual victory by performing the best Scurran imitation the legendary coach had ever seen. The kicker came out in a visor and a Florida jersey, with Scurran’s old number taped to the back.

    Proof he’s good: His focus. Hubble converted all 46 of his extra-point attempts last season, a luxury every coach craves. Hubble takes it one kick at a time, allowing everything to leave his mind after he takes his steps to be in position. For the physical aspect of the position, he attended several kicking camps over the offseason to improve his accuracy and technique. The biggest change for Hubble this season comes with his additional duty at strong safety, bucking the stereotype of unathletic kickers. In fact, Scurran said he could have seen Hubble as a running back if Foothills had needed help at the position.

    He said it: “He communicates like an adult. Actually, I wish most of the adults I know would communicate like he does.” — Scurran

  • Austin Perkins

    The rundown: Austin Perkins, WR/DB, 5-10, 160, Tucson, senior

    Who he is: Coach Justin Argraves is hoping Perkins can emerge as one of his top players this fall. Entering his second year at Tucson, Perkins is poised for a breakout campaign as the Badgers look to replace 85 percent of their offense after losing six of their top seven most-productive players to graduation or transfer. As a junior, Perkins had a strong “behind the scenes” season, as Argraves put it, pulling in 11 catches, tied for second on the team, for 127 yards and a score. But now Perkins will need to be the star of the show if the Badgers hope to win seven games for the fourth straight season. The three-sport athlete made more of an impact defensively a year ago, finishing with 37 tackles and two interceptions. Perkins, who transferred from Desert View after his sophomore year, credits basketball and track and field for his quick reaction times and ability to get up for jump balls. Chances are pretty good Perkins will hardly be spending any time on the sidelines as he will also handle punting duties, be an occasional holder on extra-point attempts and will take an expanded role returning kicks.

    Proof he’s good: His renewed mindset. Perkins said he feels “100 times better” coming into this season and is everything you want in a slot receiver. He has a great understanding of the playbook, is good at finding open spaces and can get up field in a hurry when the ball is in his hands. Over the summer, at an ASU camp, Perkins had his 40-yard dash clocked at 4.51 seconds. Perkins has an offer from NCAA Division II Western New Mexico, where his brother, Brandon Perkins, is a senior defensive back. Austin also has received interest from Arizona and Navy. While getting faster, he managed to add at least 30 pounds to all his lifts and still find time to improve his route running over the summer.

    He said it: “He came in blind to how we operate and he fit right in. He’s the kind of kid you tell him once, and — boom! — he gets it. This year more so he’s taken control of the team and taken grasp of what’s at hand, and what we want to accomplish this year and how we want to springboard off what we did last year.” — Argraves

  • Taylor Powell

    The rundown: Taylor Powell, MLB/RB, 6-1, 220, Salpointe Catholic, senior

    Who he is: The leader of the Salpointe defense, with the athletic gifts to excel at running back and the ability to make plays, big and small. With the majority of the Lancers’ history-making defense gone, and a good chunk of the offense, too, more responsibility than ever falls on Powell’s broad shoulders. Yet, the senior is more than ready for the challenge of being captain, and coach Dennis Bene said it’s the final element for the quiet linebacker to master. He has the tangibles — field vision, athleticism, intelligence — but Bene said figuring out the remaining “intangibles” could push the All-Southern Arizona defender to the next level.

    After last season, he doesn’t have far to go. Powell recorded 161 tackles a year ago, the third-most in school history, despite the Salpointe starters usually being substituted midway through the third quarter of each blowout. Powell’s goal is to break the school’s single-season tackle record (172), but he’s also focused on his new role in a three-man running back platoon. Bene said he has the physical tools to be the starting tailback at any school in town, and Powell’s adjustment will be made even easier with top-tier talent such as Justin Holt opening holes for him. Holt, a junior two-way lineman, already has an offer to UA and has attended several elite football camps over the summer, and Powell attributed a lot of his success at linebacker in 2013 to the play of the defensive line.

    Proof he’s good: Powell has proven it against the best. At last year’s San Diego State Passing Tournament, Powell and six other Lancers faced La Mesa (California) Helix High in a 7-on-7 minimal contact game. The Southern California football factory has produced big names such as Reggie Bush and Alex Smith, to name a couple, yet a then-junior Powell held his own with both his Lancers teammates and the Highlanders. It was a turning point for Powell, Bene said, as Powell grew in confidence and “swagger” and started acting like a middle linebacker. During the season, Powell didn’t back away from competition either. All of Powell’s five sacks and two interceptions came against playoff opponents, and so did four of his five forced fumbles. After this season, he’ll continue testing his abilities as a middle linebacker at Nevada.

    He said it: “When I was young, I started playing on the defensive side of the ball, so it just grew as a part of me. I’ve always wanted to be a linebacker.” — Powell

  • Omar Lloyd

    The rundown: Omar Lloyd, CB/WR, 6-1, 175, Sahuaro, senior

    Who he is: An astute defensive back with enough size and athleticism to cause nightmares for opposing offenses. After earning a spot on varsity last season, the coaches penciled Lloyd in at cornerback, a position he had never played. Eleven games later, Lloyd was one of the top defensive backs in Southern Arizona. For his first in-game assignment, the lengthy and sure-footed corner was matched up against UA commit Demetrius Flannigan, then at Tucson High. Although Flannigan’s specialty also resides on defense, Lloyd still held the elite athlete to two receptions for 24 yards. From there, the inexperienced corner improved every week, coach Scott McKee said, slowly becoming a reactionary player rather than a thinker. Lloyd’s inquisitive nature created a film buff, as he studied not only opponent tapes but also YouTube videos and NFL game replays. He specifically focused on the footwork of NFC West stars Richard Sherman, Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu. Lloyd, fellow All-Southern Arizona player Cole Sterns and the rest of the Sahuaro secondary held opponents to 150.3 passing yards on average in the eight local games the Cougars played last season. Now the senior has the role of shutdown corner all to himself, but Lloyd said he’s ready — he’s aiming to be the top corner in the state. He received an offer from FCS South Dakota State but has seen strong interest from UTEP, San Diego State and NAU.

    Proof he’s good: He’s a complete player. Lloyd didn’t shy away from the physicality of his new position — in fact, he embraced it. Along with his three interceptions, Lloyd also caused two fumbles and had the second-most tackles (27) of any defensive back on Sahuaro last season. Lloyd described himself as a sure tackler, rather than a big hitter, and his 20 solo tackles, third-best on the team, can attest to that. Additionally, Lloyd said he’d rather hit than be hit — one of the reasons why he considers himself a defensive player first — but he’s ready to become an impact player at wide receiver as well. Lloyd had three catches for 55 yards in Week 2 against Sabino but hauled in only three more balls the rest of the way. Still, McKee wants to give Lloyd the ball frequently this season to take advantage of his explosive nature, especially now that Lloyd is more comfortable at the position. A right foot fracture in the middle of summer slowed down his training and growth on offense, but Lloyd still put on five pounds of muscle.

    He said it: “He’s a good athlete, a highly intelligent, high-IQ kid, and he’s got great range. He’s got good length and good initial burst. Those are things he does well, and he has a lot of natural tools.” — McKee

  • Coy Colgate

    The rundown: Coy Colgate, RB/FB/MLB, 5-9, 215, Nogales, junior

    Who he is: Colgate’s uniform should be draped in warning signs. Entering his third season as the Apaches’ middle linebacker, Colgate is on a seek-and-destroy mission to hit someone on every play, whether they have the ball or not. As Nogales’ lead blocker at fullback, Colgate would rather deliver a bone-crushing blow than score a touchdown. Then, when lining up as the tailback in the Apaches’ heavy formation, Colgate has a nose for the end zone: He rushed for 635 yards and 13 touchdowns a year ago. After Nogales failed to make the state playoffs for the first time in five seasons last year, Colgate grew tired by the lack of chemistry and effort his teammates showed in practices. Colgate was voted as a captain by his teammates and is like another coach on the team. In the weight room, he brings an accountability and intensity matched by few. Colgate first knew he could play with the varsity squad as a freshman, before they even hit the field, because he was matching or surpassing seniors in the weight room. This summer he has upped his bench max to 315 pound and squats 500. He also has been trying to add more speed to his game in order to outrun defenders and make more tackles. Colgate, who runs a 4.72 40-yard dash, finished his freshman season with 123 total tackles, 8.5 sacks and two fumble recoveries. Over the last two seasons, in 23 games, he has amassed 235 total tackles, and 11ƒ sacks. Colgate can’t receive official scholarship offers until Sept. 1, though the opportunities to play at the next level may come soon enough. Colgate has piqued the interest of Texas A&M, Nebraska, Hawaii and Azusa Pacific.

    Proof he’s good: Football is in his blood and has always been a big part of Colgate’s life. His father, Tim, is Nogales’ athletic director and previously coached in high school. Coy spent his freshman season playing alongside his older brother, Nick, as Nogales reached the state semifinals for the first time in program history. Coy said his brother, now a defensive back at Chadron State in Nebraska, always pushed him to be better, whether it was in gym or just teasing him at home. Nick also helped Coy get ready for the season while home for the summer. In the days leading up to a game, Coy watches about half a game of film a night. He watches every play and breaks down what the opposing offense likes to run in every situation. He figures out percentages for what that offense does on first, second and third downs, when the ball is on the left hash and the right. Then he tops it off by watching special teams film.

    He said it: “He’s got a very high football IQ, and he’s got great instincts. I’ve never met a player who hits as hard as Coy. I’ll put it this way, he’s the best football player I’ve ever coached. He reminds me a lot of Jake Fischer when he was at Ironwood Ridge. He’s not very tall, but he’s extremely smart, extremely strong, and he gives 100 percent effort at all times.” — Nogales coach Kevin Kuhm

  • Dionte Flores

    The rundown: Dionte Flores, RB/S, 5-10, 180, Flowing Wells, junior

    Who he is: One of the top returning rushers in the state. Entering his third season as a varsity player, Flores is hoping to double his numbers and get the Caballeros back to their winning ways after a 1-9 season – even if defenses will be keying on him more than ever. After seeing some touches as a freshman, Flores exploded onto the scene in his sophomore season, finishing the year with 1,278 yards and 14 touchdowns on 212 carries. He finished 11th in Division III with nearly 128 rushing yards a game and also has the hands to make things happen. Flores hauled in 20 receptions for 266 yards and two scores. With a contagious will to win and a passion for getting physical, it’s no surprise Flores also excels at safety, where last season he recorded 52 tackles and a pair of interceptions. He had a season-high 12 tackles against Marana in the final game of the seasons and had 10 tackles against Catalina Foothills three weeks before that. Despite this only being the tip of the iceberg for Flores, the UA has shown some interest in the junior, inviting him as a preferred guest to a home game last year.

    Proof he’s good: He has a nose for the end zone. Flores had five multiscore games last season, including four-touchdown performances against Apache Junction and Catalina. An elusive runner with a burst when he needs it, Flores made Apache Junction and Catalina defenders miss left and right on way to a combined 567 yards. His most important stat, however, is the fact that he has never fumbled through 250 carries and 27 catches. Flores credits the high-and-tight hold he learned early on as well as his ability to switch hands. Flowing Wells coach Mark Brunenkant is planning on getting Flores even more touches, including expanded return duties, after he accounted for 55 percent of the team’s rushing attempts last fall.

    He said it: “I’m not comparing apples and oranges, but like Ka’Deem Carey, they said he wasn’t a 40-yard guy. Dionte’s not ‘fast’ — he runs a legit 4.6 — but just instinctively he’s got that ‘whoop, whoop’ factor, that makes that guy miss, and he’s tough. It’s hard to take him off the field. He’s just as good if not better on the defensive side of the ball. If he has a chance to play at the next level it might be as a defensive player.” - Brunenkant

  • Deonte Williams

    The rundown: Deonte Williams, WR/FS, 6-4, 190, Sierra Vista Buena, senior

    Who he is: A devastating deep-threat receiver with elite size and speed. After seeing some time on the field as a sophomore, including in the Colts’ first-round loss to Mesa Red Mountain, Williams wasted no time making an impact once his name rose to the top of the depth chart in 2013. The junior surpassed 125 yards in five of his first six games, including a season-high 182 in a blowout win against Douglas. By season’s end, the prototypical wideout ranked in the top 10 of Division II in both receptions (58) and yards (1,103). The only area in need of improving for Williams was scoring, as the majority of his five touchdowns came from more than 50 yards out. With Buena’s other top receiver Ben Sims graduated, Williams said he’s worked on improving his red zone routes to become a more reliable scoring threat. Co-interim coach Brice Bernbeck, who was an assistant last year, said that in addition to his wide-ranging skillset, Williams also has a strong football I.Q. and a high work ethic. One way he proved his dedication was by hanging up his basketball sneakers before last season. Williams said the decision was tough because the sport had been a part of his life for as long as he could remember. He had talent too, appearing in 29 of 31 games on varsity as a sophomore. But his concentration on football helped Williams bring his name into the forefront last season — now he’s ready to take the next step. Williams’ only official offer has come from NAIA’s Arizona Christian, but he’s been in touch with Division I schools and attended the Los Angeles Nike Football training camp in March as well as camps at UA and San Diego State.

    Why he’s good: His willingness to do the dirty work. Williams will be the first to tell you he was too lanky last season. Yet that didn’t stop him from being one of the best blocking receivers in the state, according to Bernbeck. Every play Williams looked to make an impact, and if the ball didn’t come his way, he was just as happy to set a block in the secondary to open a hole for a teammate. After hitting the weight room all summer, Williams said he can already see the results in practice. He’ll also have a chance to show his increased physicality on defense, as he’s added safety to his responsibilities.

    He said it: “I’m becoming more of a vocal leader and a leader with my actions. Last year we didn’t really have that vocal leader role, it was kind of shaky — nobody wanted to step up. I’m embracing the role this year, making sure the younger guys can look up to somebody so they can do the right thing. So they can one day lead Buena.” – Williams

  • Max Smith

    The rundown: Max Smith, RB/OLB, 6-0, 185, Canyon del Oro, senior

    Who he is: A confident athlete who gets an equal amount of pleasure from lowering his shoulder on wimpy tacklers, as he does when he’s on the opposite side of the ball, running sideline-to-sideline, pouncing on ball carriers.

    Smith said if he can break down a defense as a running back and then when he’s lined up at outside linebacker, opponents will be scared of coming his way. “They won’t want to hit back,” Smith said. “They’re going to take it, and they’re not going to be ready for it.”

    Entering his third season as a starting outside linebacker, Smith earned most of his attention on the gridiron as the Dorados’ primary running back last season. Though Smith has played football since the fifth grade, his first passion has always been baseball. He recently accepted a baseball scholarship to play outfield for UNLV. Smith hopes to pitch for the Rebels down the road.

    There aren’t too many skills that translate from baseball to the football field, but CDO coach Dusty Peace learned quickly he had more than just “a pretty boy spitting seeds from the dugout” on his squad. The Dorados hold a “Superman” event in which the players compete in 10 weight-lifting competitions. To Peace’s surprise, Smith won this summer’s version. Smith has raised his bench max to 255 pounds and is squatting 365.

    As a junior, Smith finished just shy of 1,000 rushing yards (976) with 16 touchdowns. This season, Peace plans to split Smith out on the wing.

    As one of the outside linebackers in the Dorados’ 3-4 scheme, Smith collected 60 tackles, two fumble recoveries and one interception. He added a blocked punt on special teams.

    Proof he’s good: In Peace’s 13 seasons on the Dorados’ coaching staff there haven’t been many junior captains. Last season, Smith became just the third junior to be named a captain in that span.

    To show his teammates and coaches he earned the right to be called a captain, Smith, in his first start at tailback, rushed for 149 yards on 22 carries for three touchdowns against Nogales in Week 1. In CDO’s last four games of the season Smith rushed for 504 yards, including 231 yards and three TDs in the postseason.

    He said it: “Max is always attentive. He’s very competitive. His greatest trait is that he may not be the fastest, strongest or biggest guy on the field, but there’s just that piece of him that is unmeasurable. That’s his competitiveness, that drive. Ka’Deem (Carey) was very similar.” — Peace

  • Justice Summerset

    The rundown: Justice Summerset, ATH/S, 6-3, 155, Mountain View, junior

    Who he is: Although just a junior, Summerset is one of the most experienced players on Mountain View’s roster. He is heading into his third season as a starter and figures to be a big help as the Mountain Lions attempt to replace both cornerbacks. A rangy, explosive athlete, Summerset has the height, skills and head to shut down opposing offenses from sideline to sideline. With significant growth as a leader over the offseason, Summerset could also see time at quarterback; he’s currently in the mix with two others in hopes of replacing the graduated Cody Rochon. Summerset saw limited action on offense last season, and rushed for 40 yards and a touchdown on three carries against Rincon/University.

    Proof he’s good: Summerset recently won the USATF National Junior Olympic Track & Field high jump title, clearing 6 feet 8 inches. Weeks prior, he cleared 6-11 at regionals after playing in a passing league tournament at Pima College that same day. Even before beating the best of the best in the high jump, Summerset had begun receiving college interest for both football and track and field, including invites to football camps at Colorado, Washington and UCLA. Summerset, who is also on the radar for the Arizona Wildcats and NAU, had four interceptions in 7-on-7 play during his trip to Los Angeles and has also drawn interest from the Bruins for track.

    He said it: “(High jump) gives him an edge. It’s teaching him to be an elite athlete. Anytime you can cross over and go to another sport and compete at a high level, competitive-wise you grow as an athlete. I watch him compete in track and field and watch some of the things he’s doing, and he’s able to bring that same intensity and same focus back to the football field and become a better football player.” – Mountain View football coach Clarence McRae

  • Dante Anderson

    The rundown: Dante Anderson, RB/OLB, 5-9, 206, Amphitheater, senior

    Who he is: A well-balanced running back, capable of following up an elusive juke with a thundering hit, who burst onto the scene over the final half of his junior season last fall. Through his first 16 games on varsity, Anderson compiled a modest 788 rushing yards (1,034 total), showing flashes of potential as a secondary option in the Panthers offense.

    With Anderson finally at full strength after an early season leg injury and Amphi fighting for a playoff spot, the junior took his game to another level over the final four games. His mix of unbelievable feet, great vision and physicality, as Mendivil describes his running style, helped the dual-threat back average nearly 222 yards of total offense per game over the stretch.

    Now, Anderson will be the featured athlete of Amphi’s new Wing-T offense, and the soft-handed athlete is embracing the responsibility. “I’ve been ready since the first time I stepped out onto the field,” he said.

    Proof he’s good: His nose for the end zone. Even more impressive than the yardage, Anderson scored 11 touchdowns over the final four games last year, including five in a season-finale victory against Santa Rita. He said he wanted to send the seniors off on the right note, but now has to continue the momentum into 2014. Of course, the modest Anderson set his base expectations low, hoping to achieve 1,000 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns. Mendivil’s joking response when Anderson told him the goals: By midseason? “I think he’s going to be one of the top players in Tucson, definitely, and one of the guys that’s really going to pop out when you look at him on film,” the first-year coach said. In addition to learning the intricacies of a new position as an outside linebacker, Anderson has concentrated on improving his burst and put on 10 pounds of muscle. His plan after high school is to study marketing, but he wants his collegiate life to include football as well. He has talked with Brown as well as several other schools.

    He said it: “I don’t know a guy on the team that doesn’t like him, or anybody that I’ve talked to that doesn’t like him. He’s an outgoing personality, one of those Type-A guys that has that infectious personality. You look at him and you smile because he has that type of character. It’s exciting when a player not only has that athletic ability but has that personality to go with it.” — Mendivil

  • Taylor Fitzgerald

    The rundown: Taylor Fitzgerald, RB/KR/DB, 5-8, 165, Pusch Ridge Christian, senior

    Who he is: An elusive, undersized running back entering his third season on varsity. Fitzgerald set the school’s single-season rushing record during his sophomore year with 842 yards, and then reset the record last season with 1,334 yards. Fitzgerald also helped the Lions reach the postseason for the first time since 2010 last fall. Barring injury, he should set school records for career touchdowns, rushing yards and all-purpose yards. Pusch Ridge coach Troy Cropp, who has coached the senior since the seventh grade, said Fitzgerald’s vision and football I.Q. make him the perfect back for the Lions’ zone-read system. Cropp plans to use Fitzgerald as a pass catcher out of the backfield and as a returner. While the plan is to save his energy, Cropp said Fitzgerald’s knowledge of their system allows the flexibility to play him anywhere in the secondary.

    Proof he’s good: Fitzgerald attended junior days at USC and the UA. The plan is to play Division I ball, but he’s open to being a preferred walk-on for his hometown Wildcats. A few FCS and NAIA schools have shown interest, too. Before college, however, Fitzgerald is focused on two goals: Reaching 2,000 yards rushing and scoring 25 touchdowns. As a junior, Fitzgerald accounted for 2,127 all-purpose yards, with 18 rushing touchdowns, three receiving and one on a return. He scored at least one touchdown in all but one game last year while averaging 121 yards a game and nine yards per carry.

    He said it: “I remember watching him his freshman year playing on JV. The team wasn’t having a very good game. He snapped this interception and runs 95 yards. He outran everyone. I’m not sure he was the fastest guy out the field that game, but he just decided with 60 yards to the end zone to just go for it and it was over. The look in his eyes, you knew it was going to be a touchdown. That’s when I knew, all right, this kid’s got something.” — Cropp

  • Rhett Rodriguez

    The rundown: Rhett Rodriguez, QB, 6-0, 175, Catalina Foothills, sophomore

    Who he is: A wise-beyond-his-years quarterback developing into a deadly accurate passer and commanding leader. For Jeff Scurran, last season’s turnaround at Catalina Foothills played out like any other during his historic 19 years of coaching prep football — except for the play of Rodriguez. Scurran had never trusted a freshman to play the most crucial offensive position, and not only did Rodriguez survive, he started to thrive by season’s end as the Falcons improved from winless to a playoff team. Rodriguez’s 2013 numbers weren’t eye-popping; he compiled 1,451 yards and 12 touchdowns while Foothills kept the ball on the ground nearly 70 percent of the time. Still, the freshman completed 68.8 percent of his throws, with just four interceptions, and proved he could consistently move the sticks. With several offensive weapons gone, Rodriguez transitions to a more focal role in the offense, but with some experience under his belt, he said he’s much more confident in the system.

    Proof he’s good: His upbringing. As the son of Rich Rodriguez, in this third season as UA coach, Rhett knew from the first time he saw football he wanted to be a quarterback. He had the opportunity to study elite collegiate quarterbacks from up close, and even developed a relationship with an idol, former West Virginia great Pat White.

    “RhettRod” proved his love of football last year when on his first play of his first Foothills’ camp, he got “killed” by a much bigger defender but stood up with a smile on his face because it wasn’t as bad as he thought. Scurran said his young QB has the desire and work ethic of an underdog, yet the mechanics and competitive size of a gifted athlete.

    Even while on vacation, Rodriguez continued to improve his game, as he and his father played catch in the driveway of their Georgia vacation home, tossing the ball over trees to practice his deep throws.

    He said it: “He earned it; he earned the shot. His knowledge of football is amazing for a kid his age. His poise is already well known all over the town. He just got better and better as the year went on. Three more years from now, people are going to be real sick of hearing that name.” — Scurran

  • Marcus Edwards

    The rundown: Marcus Edwards, OL/DL, 6-3, 275, Sabino, Sr.

    Who he is: A running back trapped in a lineman’s body, according to Sabino coach Jay Campos. Edwards is an explosive talent in the trenches and will help fill the void left by Andrew Mike, who is now a freshman at Florida. Unfortunately for the Sabercats, the all-state defensive tackle isn’t expected back in the lineup until late in the regular season after tearing his ACL during the spring. Edwards should begin running again in September. Upon his return, Sabino plans to slowly work the third-year varsity lineman back into the defensive rotation. Edwards recorded 52 tackles, five sacks and two forced fumbles a year ago. Once he finds his footing, the Sabercats hope to also use Edwards on the offensive line, where last year he saw time at center, guard and tackle. This year, he will most likely be playing tackle or center.

    Proof he’s good: Edwards carries a 4.0 GPA and is still garnering offers since tearing his ACL. Yale, Cornell and Navy have all shown interest, as has Arizona and many schools from the Ivy League and Big Sky Conference. Edwards isn’t currently able to lead by example because of his injury, but Campos said the senior acts almost like another coach. Edwards, who can squat 540 pounds and bench 415, should be back in time for the playoffs, which Sabino has qualified for in 12 straight seasons under Campos. Also, since others will have to develop in his place during the season, it could make Sabino a dangerous opponent heading into the postseason as Edwards should make an immediate impact on both sides of the ball.

    He said it: “He’s an all-state player. A guy like that, you can’t just replace him. He’s always been a very humble and hard-working man. He’s the kind of kid that can help us no matter what he’s doing, in terms of his leadership and what he brings to the table with his experience level, guys really respect him.” – Campos

  • Travis Howard

    The rundown: Travis Howard, TE/DE, 6-4, 225, Marana, senior

    Who he is: Arguably the top tight end in Tucson heading into this season. Howard hauled in 32 receptions, including four scores, a year ago when he lead the Tigers with 413 yards through the air. Too fast for linebackers and too big for corners, don’t expect him to leave the field if the Tigers decide to spread it out. From slot to isolation, Howard will once again be the passing game’s focal point. Bigger, faster and stronger after another offseason, the walking mismatch should be a big help to a team replacing its quarterback. As a blocker, Marana coach Andy Litten referred to Howard as a sixth lineman. Defensively, the third-year lineman is being asked to play as a seven-technique end, which requires a versatile player with the blend of strength, vision and athleticism. A high-motor defender with a nose for the ball, Howard recorded 4½ sacks to go along with 37 tackles and four recovered fumbles. He turned two of the recoveries into touchdowns, including a 68-yard return against Mountain View last season.

    Proof he’s good: Howard, a three-sport athlete, has an offer for football from NAU and has received various levels of interest from UC Davis, San Jose State, San Diego and San Diego State. But at least for now, Howard has verbally committed to play baseball at Santa Clara. He was recruited as a pitcher, and went 4-0, with a 1.68 ERA, striking out 32 batters in 25 innings last season. At the plate, he led the Tigers in doubles, home runs and RBIs. Howard has also finished third at the Division I wrestling state championships in each of the last two years and has his sights set on first place this year. But before he gets on the mat, he’ll have a chance to make some noise on the football field for a Marana side coming off a 5-5 season - its best since 2007.

    He said it: “Our goal since I’ve been out here is to turn the program around. He’s the best team leader I’ve ever had. He does everything right. He leads by example and by getting things done. A tough kid, a mean kid on the field, but one of the best kids around campus and well liked. He’s the anchor of our football team.” – Litten

  • Adriell Alvarado

    The rundown: Adriell Alvarado, QB, 6-1, 185, Cienega, senior

    Who he is: Dr. Seuss’s book “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” tells a similar tale of what football could do for Alvarado. He knew the game could take him somewhere when he led the Tucson Rams to four city and state championships, quarterbacking the youth squad to nationals twice and a third-place finish one year.

    Entering his third season as Cienega’s starting quarterback, Alvarado is poised for a big year and takes pride in perfecting his footwork and watching film.

    First-year assistant coach Pat Nugent, the former head coach at PIma College, tweaked Cienega’s playbook, adding the zone-read and tons of play-action looks designed to get Alvarado out of the pocket.

    After a disappointing 5-5 season last year, Alvarado is looking to send Cienega coach Nemer Hassey out as a winner. The QB is a quiet leader, but wants to be more vocal this season. Alvarado, who transferred from Salpointe Catholic after his freshman year, is also hoping to set himself apart from the rest of the quarterbacks in Cienega’s history.

    Besides winning a state title, Alvarado wants to break all the passing records at Cienega.

    As of now, ASU, Memphis, San Diego State, San Jose State and Wyoming have taken notice but none have offered a scholarship.

    Proof he’s good: In July, Alvarado attended the 19th annual Manning Passing Academy at Nicholls State in Louisiana, a camp for some of the top juniors and seniors in the country.

    Alvarado learned some new techniques in mechanics and fundamentals from the likes of brothers Peyton and Eli Manning, Oregon’s Marcus Mariota and Florida State’s Hesiman Trophy winner Jameis Winston.

    One reason Alvarado has been on scouts’ radars: In 401 passing attempts, he’s thrown 32 touchdowns and just six interceptions. Last season, 80 quarterbacks across the state of Arizona threw at least seven interceptions.

    He said it: “I just want to be known as that guy here at Cienega. As the transfer who wasn’t accepted at one school, but made a name for himself here, at Cienega.

    “I definitely have a chip on my shoulder, I can always go out there and get better.” — Alvarado

  • Derik Hall

    The rundown: Derik Hall, ATH, 6-1, 205, Sahuaro, senior

    Who he is: The de facto leader for the Cougars, Hall is capable of explosive plays on both sides of the ball. His athletic ability was evident from the first time he stepped onto the field as a sophomore. Maturity was a different story, as Hall said he used to think he knew everything when he was young, no matter what coaches said. Now the captain is listening to other players, along with the coaches.

    “I’ve always been a leader, but I didn’t really get it through my mind how to be one,” Hall said. “Now I know how to be one because I’ve watched other people throughout my whole life be captain.”

    Hall, who led Sahuaro with 792 yards rushing last season, also said he’s matured on the field as well, deciding to concentrate more on finesse and agility rather than power. Sometimes the allure of “trucking” the opponent would cause Hall to run at an opponent rather than past him for even more yardage.

    Proof he’s good: He’s adaptable. No matter where coach Scott McKee puts Hall on the field, the first team All-Southern Arizona player has excelled.

    Hall bounced between all three levels of defense throughout his career, finally landing at a more permanent role of strong safety for this year. To accompany the position switch, Hall concentrated on speed training over the summer, and he said he’s trimmed his 40-yard dash speed from 4.63 seconds to a flat 4.5 thanks to his work with Rincon/University’s new coach, Lucius Miller. On offense, Hall finished second on the team to All-Southern Arizona teammate Cole Sterns in receiving yards (274) and touchdowns (15 total) to accompany his role as the workhorse back.

    He said it: “Derik is able to do a lot of different things — blocking catching, running the football, being a ball tackler and covering. He’s able to be a complete football player.

    “The difference is he’s a year stronger, a year bigger and a year more explosive. He’s the best player in (the) state. I think he’s going to have a really spectacular year.” — McKee

  • Jake Ksiazek

    The rundown: Jake Ksiazek, TE/LB, 6-2, 220, Salpointe, junior

    Who he is: Ksiazek will be a team captain and two-way starter for the defending state champions, at tight end and outside linebacker. After spending last season as a defensive end, Ksiazek is looking forward to having space to move around in the backfield as he replaces the graduated Kevin Hamlett, who was third on the team with 5.2 tackles a game last fall. Salpointe coach Dennis Bene said the main focus of the position change will be making sure he gets comfortable in space and doesn’t fall out of position but Ksiazek doesn’t see that as an issue.

    He said he feels much quicker and stronger than last year thanks to cutting roughly 20 pounds of excess weight he put on to help play on the line.

    Additionally, Ksiazek said he put in time over the offseason running ladders and working on his routes to make him a force on the other side of the ball too, as he was when he was a two-way player on the freshman team three years ago. Bene said finding a true tight end at the high school level is tough so he’s eager to take advantage of all his skills.

    Proof he’s good: Bene said college coaches have already begun to notice Ksiazek for his size and athleticism and believes he’ll be highly sought after. As a sophomore, Ksiazek was sixth on the team with 3.5 tackles a game, seven tackles-for-loss and four sacks.

    Senior middle linebacker Taylor Powell, who verbally committed to Nevada, is the only returning player with more tackles on the team after he had averaged 11.5 in 2013.

    Ksiazek had some of his best performances on the biggest stages. When the Lancers hosted undefeated Tempe Marcos de Niza last September, he registered a season-high seven tackles and two sacks. Then, in the Division II state championship game at Arizona Stadium, Ksiazek returned a blocked punt for a 7-yard touchdown, Salpointe’s final score of its 14-0 season.

    He said it: “He’s very respected by his coaches and peers and, because he’s got a championship under his belt, he knows what it takes. He understands the grind, he understands the commitment and, at the end of the day, he has earned the respect of everybody in our program so he’s a perfect young player to put in a leadership role.” — Bene

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