Originally Published: August 23, 2015 1 a.m.
CHINO VALLEY - The Arizona Interscholastic Association (AIA) came to the rescue of the Chino Valley High football program earlier this year, moving the Cougars down a notch from Division 4 to 5 after they finished 0-10 in 2014 and were outscored 568-42.
"This gives our kids a mental edge," says second-year coach Wade Krug (pronounced KROOG). "Now they will not be intimidated by the size of the opponent. It will give them a sense of confidence that they can compete for four quarters."
The other teams in Division 5, Section 3 include:
Joy Christian (Glendale), winner of Division 5, Section 7 in 2014.
Camp Verde, which beat Chino Valley (40-14) last season.
Mohave Accelerated (Bullhead City), an independent team a year ago.
North Pointe Prep (Phoenix), which mirrored Chino Valley's nightmare in 2014 with a 0-10 record against Division 4 competition and moved down to Division 5.
Paradise Honors (Surprise).
In addition to playing opponents with similar squad sizes - numerically and physically - the Cougars should improve because they're more experienced (16 starters returning) and athletic than they were a year ago.
"The big difference is that most of us started as juniors, and we understand the game more," says senior captain Jerad Chavez, a receiver and safety. "We have much more talent [than in 2014]."
"We have a lot of athletes," Krug says, "guys we can move around [in different positions]. Jerad gives us a little bit of everything. He can play as a slot receiver. We want to get him the ball more than we did last year."
The Cougars benefitted significantly from a week-long training camp at the end of July when they worked on the intricacies of the option offense and the 4-3 defense, and, equally important, formed a bond that Krug and Chavez agreed was lacking in 2014.
"We came together as a team," says Krug. "We were divided last year. We weren't a family. The seniors know what's required of them to become leaders."
"It [training camp] wasn't just upperclassmen hanging out with upperclassmen," says Chavez. "There are more guys willing to do things for each other. The selfishness has gone away. No one got into last year's mentality. Everyone is staying positive."
The camp accelerated the development of inexperienced junior quarterback Josh Fisher, who will start in the Cougars' opener at home this Friday, August 28, at 7 p.m. against Kingman.
"Josh got a lot of reps," Krug says. "He's learning our passing concepts, reading defenses, and understanding route concepts. He's very athletic."
The three other senior captains in addition to Chavez give the Cougars experienced talent and leadership.
Eduardo Sotelo, the biggest player on the squad at 6-2, 280 pounds, anchors the offensive and defensive lines. He was selected to the All-Courier team in 2014.
"He's a beast," Krug said. "He's a legitimate 280-290 pounds, but he doesn't look it. He will be the leader of our offense and defense."
Michael Brillhart, a starting running back and linebacker, will be the workhorse of the rushing attack.
"We will get as much out of him as he wants to give us," Krug says.
The fourth senior captain, Justin Ward, made honorable mention all-section in 2014 as a punt returner. He will be one of the top receivers with Chavez and tight end Bailey Peleties.
"Peleties is a true tight end (6-1, 220)," Krug says. "He can block and has a nice pair of hands."
Krug also looks for junior center-linebacker J.P. Basua to have a strong year. In the defensive backfield, freshman Michael Paulus "is playing well and has stepped right in with the older guys," according to Krug.
The Cougars have something in common with Kingman, their opponent in the home opener and the only non-Division 5 school on the schedule. The Bulldogs also were winless last season, competing in a Division 3, Section 4 that included Prescott and Bradshaw Mountain. Kingman has dropped to Division 4, Section 3 this year.
Chino Valley will play three more non-conference home games in a row after Kingman against Scottsdale Christian Academy (Sept. 4), Holbrook (Sept. 11) and Sedona Red Rock (Sept. 18) before the first road game at Tuba City, which won its division in 2014.
"We can gain confidence from having four games under our belts before we hit the road," Krug said. "It also puts a lot of pressure on us. We have to execute. We cannot come out scared. We have to come out with confidence. It's our field, our home, and we need to defend it."
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