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Sun, Oct. 20

Mayer Wildcats hone in on improving as new Div. VI member

File photos courtesy Les Stukenberg<br>
Atkerson rushed for 2,081 yards on 242 carries and had 32 touchdowns in 10 games including the playoffs in 2010. Right, Justin Allen, No. 34, makes  a tackle.

File photos courtesy Les Stukenberg<br> Atkerson rushed for 2,081 yards on 242 carries and had 32 touchdowns in 10 games including the playoffs in 2010. Right, Justin Allen, No. 34, makes a tackle.

For the first time this fall, Mayer joins fellow Yavapai County teams Orme, Bagdad and Ash Fork in the Arizona Interscholastic Association's (AIA) newly minted Division VI of the state's small-school football programs.

The 36-team division represents only one of six groupings in AIA's recent across-the-board realignment of all its schools in the five former classifications.

However, unlike their 11-man football counterparts in divisions one through five that will be playing more inter-division games, the eight-man squads of the former Class 1A will continue to compete solely in their division.

With the familiarity of common opponents remaining intact for clubs such as Mayer and its coach Rick Lashley, the fairly experienced Wildcats plan to continue making headway in 2011.

Last year, the Wildcats narrowly qualified for the Class 1A playoffs as the North Region's No. 3 seed, finishing at 7-3 overall and 4-2 in league play. They knocked off East No. 2 seed Duncan in a 68-54 first-round shootout before succumbing to West No. 1 Bagdad, 46-32, in the quarterfinals.

Heading into 2011, star senior running back/linebacker/kickoff return man David Atkerson (5-9, 165 pounds) and senior quarterback Grant Samsill (5-10, 150) lead Mayer.

Last year, The Daily Courier named Atkerson - a straight up-and-down runner - its Class 1A co-player of the year after he rushed for 2,081 yards on 242 carries and 32 touchdowns in 10 games, including the playoffs. Samsill completed 74-of-145 passes for 1,188 yards to go along with 16 TDs and six interceptions in 2010.

In the off-season, Lashley said Samsill attended a few passing camps and hit the weight room consistently in hopes of improving.

Senior wide receiver/defensive back Lucas Coldsmith (5-10, 152) also returns to bolster a balanced offense.

Wideout Demitri Campbell, running back Tre Johnson and lineman Michael Boothe were among the bigger names off the 2010 team who graduated in the spring.

On defense, Lashley said he is trying to shore up some deficiencies. Last season, the Wildcats surrendered a total of 484 points. But they were able to compensate for that thanks to a highly potent offensive attack that scored a combined 528 points.

Mayer will once again turn to Atkerson for leadership on the defensive side of the ball. He registered a team-high 108 tackles, including 40 solos, along with two interceptions and a pair of sacks in 2010.

If the Wildcats' defense can do a better job of bending and not breaking, and their offense lives up to billing, Mayer should not have much difficulty making a return trip to the postseason this fall.

Mayer is one of nine teams in Division VI's Section I league, which also features Orme, Ash Fork, Beaver Dam, Joseph City, Shonto Prep, Fredonia, Mogollon and Rock Point. The Wildcats will face five of those clubs on their eight-game schedule.

MHS begins its season at Rancho Solano Preparatory School at 7 p.m. Friday. The Wildcats play their home opener against Joy Christian Sept. 2. Kickoff is 7 p.m. at Mathern Field.

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