High school football preview: Seasons kick off this week
Fans rejoice: The dog days of summer are coming to a close and the return of high school football is on the horizon.
A new season kicks off Thursday night in Tucson, when Sabino hosts east-side rival Sahuaro for a 7 p.m. showdown as part of the Coaches for Charity Kickoff Classic. The action continues the following night with seven more local games and things will be in full swing from there.
Among the biggest storylines heading into this year is the Arizona Interscholastic Association's realignment, which shook up the sports landscape. Because of it, Rincon/University, Sunnyside and Tucson High now find themselves in 6A, the state's highest classification.
Sabino will be playing in 3A, something that might seem strange for the well-known power but that is the school's true classification based on its enrollment. Nobody in the locker room is taking the move lightly.
"There's always going to be somebody, it doesn't matter where you're at or what division you in," coach Jay Campos said. "The thing I like is that we've got a lot of experience coming back and we've got some new guys coming up. There's a lot to be excited about."
Outside of the realignment, there are plenty of questions about who will be Tucson's top team this fall.
Last year, Pusch Ridge Christian put together a surprising 13-1 season on their way to capturing the Division IV state championship in dramatic fashion. Will the Lions continue to hold strong, even with a slew of role players graduated and a new coach in Jerry Harris, a longtime assistant for the team? Pusch Ridge could answer that question when they travel to play Sabino in a big regional game on Oct. 7.
Ironwood Ridge was the team to beat in town in 2015 but also lost a number of key players to graduation. Still, coach Matt Johnson figures to field another tough group who could come out on top of a loaded 5A Southern region also featuring Cienega, Mountain View and Sahuaro.
Johnson, who coached the Nighthawks to a state title in 2012, is happy about the AIA going back to basing alignments on student population, rather than using the complex formula that was in place last year. Also, he said, the regions across the board feature more traditional rivalries.
"Our region is kind of a murderer's row," Johnson said. "It's a good schedule for getting us playoff ready."
Pueblo will be one of the local programs to watch in 4A, as third-year coach Brandon Sanders tries to lead the Warriors to their third straight winning season. Pueblo qualified for the Division IV state playoffs a year ago, snapping a 25-year postseason drought.
The 4A conference also features Catalina Foothills and Salpointe Catholic in another region, setting up a much-anticipated clash on Oct. 21, when legendary coaches Jeff Scurran and Dennis Bene are set to face off for the first time. The game could very well decide the winner for the 4A Kino region.
Salpointe is coming off a disappointing 5-5 campaign while the Falcons return plenty of weapons from last year's state quarterfinal team, such at veteran quarterback Rhett Rodriguez, the son of UA football coach Rich Rodriguez.