Football is finally back.
Four local teams will be in action tonight, kicking off an 11-week regular season followed by a month of playoffs. Here’s an A-to-Z list of what to look for in Southern Arizona this fall:
A is for Dante Anderson. The Amphitheater running back finished his junior season strong, scoring 11 touchdowns and averaging nearly 225 yards of total offense in the last four games. Anderson shouldn’t miss a beat under first-year coach Jorge Mendivil.
B is for back on the sidelines. After spending the last five seasons away from prep football, Pat Nugent is back on the sidelines as an assistant coach at Cienega. The former Pima College coach spent nine years at Canyon del Oro and will face his former team in Week 4.
C is for Cropp. Troy Cropp, Pusch Ridge Christian’s third-year coach has the Lions coming off a 10-2 season and trip to the Division V state quarterfinals. With star running back Taylor Fitzgerald hoping to rush for 2,000 yards, Pusch Ridge is in position to play deep into November.
D is for defensive Dorados. CDO returns all but three starters on defense, including linebacker Tristan Peterson, who averaged 7.9 tackles a game as a sophomore in 2013. He had eight tackles-for-loss and three sacks, and also scored five touchdowns on offense.
E is for Ethan Eagerton. As a sophomore in 2013, Eagerton led Empire with 10 catches for 168 yards and two touchdowns. He also pulled in two interceptions. He could have a breakout season.
F is for farewell. At the end of this season, we’ll say farewell to Cienega coach Nemer Hassey, who is hanging up his whistle to focus on being the school’s principal. It won’t be a permanent farewell, though; Hassey said he plans on returning to coaching down the road.
G is for gigantic. Bisbee senior Jason Linden, at 6 feet 6 inches and 331 pounds, may be the biggest player in Arizona. Linden recently bench-pressed 225 pounds 26 times, coach Chris Vertrees, said. Want some context? Former ASU star Will Sutton benched 225 pounds 24 times at the NFL combine.
H is for halftime show. Rincon/University is coming off a winless season, but first-year coach Lucius Miller has provided the Rangers with a reason to be excited. If that’s not enough to get you to Rincon on Friday nights, the schools’ award-winning marching band puts on a must-see halftime performance.
I is for invincible. Salpointe Catholic has won 14 straight games heading into tonight’s season opener, and Dennis Bene’s Lancers have also taken their last 42 games against Southern Arizona opponents. Their last loss to a local team came against Ironwood Ridge on Oct. 10, 2008. Lancers standout lineman Justin Holt was in fifth grade.
J is for Joiners. Former Amphitheater all-state player Tamoni Joiner is an assistant coach with the Panthers and his son, Jamarye, is a freshman playing on Salpointe’s varsity team. Jamarye Joiner could be the next
big thing for the Lancers, especially as they try to replace the dynamic Cam Denson, now a freshman at
K is for Kevin Kuhm, Nogales’ first-year coach. A year after leading Rio Rico’s football team to its best season ever, the 27-year-old Kuhm is now behind the wheel of a team that is two years removed from a state semifinal appearance. Keep an eye on the Apaches.
L is for local state champions. Southern Arizona has produced a state champion in each of the last two years. A local team has reached the state finals in each of the last eight seasons.
M is for Todd Mayfield. Todd Mayfield retired as Palo Verde’s head coach last winter but will still be in the game this fall. Mayfield will serve as an assistant under Tucson High coach Justin Argraves.
N is for Nevada-bound. Salpointe senior Taylor Powell, who verbally committed to the Wolf Pack last month, is my early pick for Southern Arizona’s defensive player of the year. Powell was remarkable in 2013, averaging 11.5 tackles a game while amassing 21 tackles-for-loss, five sacks, two interceptions and two forced fumbles.
O is for overdue. It has been more than a decade since Sahuaro has beat east-side rival Sabino. In fact, the Cougars have won just one of the last 14 matchups. Still, Sahuaro is optimistic: Two-way senior Derik Hall believes this is the team that can finally end the skid.
P is for playoffs — or postseason. Call it whatever you want, but Sabino coach Jay Campos has never missed out on playing into November. The Sabercats have reached the state playoffs in 12 straight seasons; Campos has been their head coach for the last 11 years.
Q is for quest. Jeff Scurran, entering his second year at Catalina Foothills, can reach 200 career high school wins this fall. His career record stands at 191-46-1. The Falcons could do it: They’re coming off an 8-3 season that nearly included a trip to the state quarterfinals.
R is for Roses. Douglas senior Blaze Rose, owner of the world’s coolest name, threw for a school-record-tying four touchdowns in a win over Cholla last year. That matched the mark his father, Tony, set back in the 1970s when he was quarterback for the Bulldogs.
S is for Sunnyside. The Blue Devils missed the playoffs in each of the last two seasons but are primed for a big year with 12 starters returning. S is also for sabroso: Sunnyside home games feature some of the best carne asada in town.
T is for targeting. Officials will be monitoring targeting, the act of intentionally spearing an opponent, extra closely this season. The penalty will result in a loss of 15 yards and possibly an ejection that would include a one-game suspension.
U is for under the radar. Marana, coming off a 5-5 season, is the team most likely to surprise this fall. Third-year coach Andy Litten has 11 returning starters from 2013, including two-way star Travis Howard and running back Bradley Gonzales, who rushed for 945 yards and 18 touchdowns a year ago.
V is for volleyball star turned football player. Catalina senior Cole Kowalski, one of the top volleyball players in Arizona, will take his talents to the football field this fall. Perhaps he can help the Trojans reach the state playoffs for the first time since 2009.
W is for Wildcats in coaching. Former UA tight end Clarence McRae begins his third season at Mountain View while Brandon Sanders, a member of the Desert Swarm defense of the mid-1990s, is entering his first season as Pueblo’s coach. They aren’t the only ex-Cats on the sidelines this fall: Former UA quarterback Kris Heavner is Scottsdale Horizon’s head coach.
X is for X-factor. Pueblo junior Jorge Romero won’t be spending much time off the field this year. In 2013, Romero led the Warriors in rushing and receiving while averaging 4.8 tackles a game.
Y is for youngster. Nine years ago at this time, Cody House was suiting up for his senior season at Cholla. Now House, 26, finds himself in charge of Santa Rita’s football program.
Z is for zoo. Ironwood Ridge’s top-notch student section at football games, labeled the “Nighthawks Nest,” is regularly a zoo. It’s one of the rowdiest in town, in a good way. That will especially be the case when I-Ridge hosts archrival CDO on Sept. 12.