2010 Pigskin Previews: Mayer, Bagdad and The Orme School
All three of the area's eight-man prep football teams had their shots at the state's Class 1A title last season.
Mayer came five points away from a state tourney quarterfinal berth, while Bagdad and The Orme School each made it to the Final Four before seeing their title hopes end.
All three programs come into this season hoping they'll be the last team standing once it's all said and done.
Here's a look at each squad:
The Sultans return a quarterback who threw for more than 2,300 yards and 30 touchdowns last season in Zach Loveall, but opponents would be wise not to label them a one-dimensional offense.
That's the case thanks to the return of running back Gabe Owens.
Owens (5-6, 165) missed the majority of last season due to a collarbone injury, but Bagdad coach Danny Corbin said he's back at full strength.
"Our running game was pretty much obsolete after the third game last season," Corbin said. "After (Gabe's injury) I had to put a wide receiver in the backfield."
While that development put more pressure on Loveall, an All-West Region first-teamer, to deliver with his arm and legs, opponents won't just be able to key on him in 2010.
Corbin will have another weapon at his disposal in multi-position player and another all-region first-teamer Dillon Juaregui.
Jerhen Ertel (6-6, 260) will be a big target at tight end, but he'll also look to do lots of damage on defense. Corbin also expects big things from nose guard Andrew Dominguez.
Tyler Roybal will anchor the offensive line at center.
Bagdad opened last season with a 54-14 loss to eventual state champ Joseph City on the road, then won four straight before facing off with perennial power Heber Mogollon at home.
Bagdad fell 60-14 to the eventual state runner-up, but went on to go 4-0 in league play and win the region title.
The Sultans met up with Mogollon in the state semis, but couldn't exact any revenge, losing 60-14.
The Sultans open this season versus Joseph City at home on Friday.
Kickoff is 7 p.m.
The Wildcats were hit hard by graduation.
Among the biggest losses was Blake Ambrose, who led the team in tackles, receiving yards and was second on the team in rushing yards.
"It's tough to replace Blake," MHS coach Rick Lashley said. "He did everything... .He was everywhere."
Still, the Wildcats don't come into this season with a shortage of talent.
Running back David Atkerson, who led the team in rushing yards as a sophomore last season, is back stronger and faster.
"He's put on 15 pounds of muscle and (he's still) the fastest guy on the team," Lashley said.
More bad news for opposing defenses is tight end/wide receiver Demitri Campbell also returns stronger and faster.
Lashley will hand the keys of the offense over to junior Grant Samsill.
"He's been doing a pretty good job of being a leader on the field," Lashley said of Samsill, who didn't see much time under center in 2009 as the understudy to senior Tony Warburton. "He knows what every position needs to do (on any given play)."
If last week's scrimmage versus Mogollon is any indication, Samsill should have plenty of time to learn on the job.
Landon Smith (6-5, 300) led an offensive line that protected Samsill versus the perennial state contenders.
"Our strength was not what I thought it would be: Our run blocking. But our pass blocking was fantastic," Lashley said. "Grant only got touched once, and that was after he already got rid of the ball."
If Samsill has the time to throw, Campbell and wide receiver Lucas Coldsmith should benefit.
Defensively, Lashley will lean on Smith in the trenches and linebacker Marco Flores around the field.
The Wildcats kicked off last season with a heartbreaking 39-38 loss to rival The Orme School, then went on to lose two of their next four before turning it around to end the season.
Mayer closed out the regular season with three straight wins to earn the North Region's third seed for the state tournament.
The Wildcats had upset on their minds in the opener, but East Region No. 2 Fort Thomas held on for a 22-18 win.
Mayer kicks off the season at home Friday versus The Orme School.
Kickoff is 7 p.m.
The Orme School
The Warriors rode its high-octane offense all the way to the state semifinals.
The good news for their fans is big guns Alfonzo Broom and Theo Turner are back for more.
Broom rushed for more than 2,300 yards with 32 touchdowns, while Turner finished with more than 1,000 receiving yards and 12 TDs.
Based on those stats, Warriors coach Ricardo Oliveras is confident his team won't struggle on the offensive side of the ball.
"We've got a lot of speed," he said.
Orme's team speed got a boost with the addition of 2010 All-Courier boys prep basketball player of the year Metehan Ackam, who Oliveras said was clocked at 4.6 seconds in the 40-yard dash.
The news isn't all good, though, as Oliveras hasn't settled on a quarterback.
"That's still a work in progress," he said.
Defensively, the Warriors should get production from linebacker David Galbraith and nose guard Blake Rahmus.
The West Region Warriors kicked off last season with a bang at Mayer, then thumped Salome 53-6 before falling to Bagdad by 37 points in Week 3.
Orme got back on track, though, ripping off a six-game winning streak in which it outscored opponents 399-63.
After a first-round state tourney bye, the West No. 2 seed Warriors upset East No. 1 Duncan 48-20.
That set up a semifinal matchup with Joseph City.
The Warriors fell 64-20.