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Fall 2014: Mayer football filling holes as ball kicks on 2014 season

Two high rises are sprouting up in Mayer ... on the football field.

Tight end twin towers - Joseph Williams (6-4, 270 pounds) and Tucker Gilbertson (6-4, 220) - give Mayer High's eight-man offense flexibility as blockers for its Power-I running attack and as tantalizing targets for junior quarterback Chandler Gutierrez.

"Joseph has the potential to play in college," says eighth-year head coach Rick Lashley. "He's a great all-around athlete with good hands. Tucker sat out last year because of a lower leg injury. He looks good so far, but we're bringing him along slowly. We'll see how they perform once they start playing against opponents their own size."

Junior Hunter Urquides (6-3) is another tall receiver for Gutierrez, who started several games in 2013.

"Chandler threw really well in our intrasquad scrimmage. He had good mechanics [releasing the ball] over the top," says Lashley, who was an assistant coach on Mayer's undefeated 2006 state championship team and has guided the Wildcats to a 39-25 record since then. "He's really smart and won't make a lot of mistakes."

Lashley has lost 10 seniors, including six two-way starters, from last season's team that missed the playoffs for the second straight year with a 4-5 record. The Wildcats qualified for postseason play in each of Lashley's first five seasons as head coach. Mayer faces a tough path back to the playoffs this season with road games against defending Division 6 state champion Bagdad and state runner-up Mogollon.

The key to Mayer's fortunes will be the performance of the offensive and defensive lines, which need the most improvement on the team, according to Lashley. The challenge became more difficult when three-year, two-way starter Dalen Warburton decided to work this fall instead of playing football and center-nose guard Kevin Atkerson suffered a knee injury playing basketball this summer that will keep him out for the entire season.

"We should have been 7-2 last season," Lashley says. "We didn't block or tackle well. We're going to have fewer two-way players in the lines this year so the kids can learn one position and specialize like they do at the bigger schools."

One exception, senior Cody Burlington (6-2, 210), will anchor the offensive line and also play defense.

The fastest player on the team, junior receiver Kwame Jackson, has been a standout on the Wildcats track and field team. "He's not a real big kid," Lashley says. "We'll use him in motion and sometimes as a decoy."

Josh Johns and Dustin Smith - a pair of two-way veterans with good speed and toughness - should get the majority of carries at running back. Smith is recovering from a preseason knee injury.

Senior middle linebacker Andre Uncapher, who is also an outstanding wrestler, will anchor the defense for the Wildcats when they open their season at home on tonight against Arizona Charter Academy, which dropped a 53-38 decision to Fort Thomas on Aug. 22.

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