A new division has not dashed Marauders' football goals of winning a state title. As the program wraps up its first week of practice in full pads, the Mingus football team will be showing its fans what they have worked on tonight at the red and grey scrimmage.
"We've been working hard," said senior Brennan Kitchen. "We put in a lot of hours and I feel real good about how we are at this point in this year."
Mingus Union will be moving from Division-IV to Division-III for the 2013 season. In the team's final year in D-IV, the Marauders made it to the second round with a 17-14 win over Coolidge High School, but were defeated by eventual 2012 state champion Seton Catholic High School.
The team lost 20 seniors from the 2012 squad, but head coach Bob Young said that is how Mingus football tends to operate, with each year's team being senior heavy, and the juniors taking over the following season.
Lets take a look and see how the Marauders will look in 2013 on both sides of the ball.
While Mingus may not be the biggest or strongest team in D-III, they will be among the fastest. Seniors Brennan Kitchen and Dakota Hanks, and juniors Javin Helsel and Levi Collins all spent time on the track during the spring.
"We definitely have a smaller offensive line than last year, and we're a lot faster than last year, so we're going to have to use our speed a lot more compared to our power," said senior quarterback Micah Nevarez.
Kitchen, Hanks and Helsel were part of Mingus' relay teams, even representing them at the D-III state meet. Hanks and Helsel were part of the 4X100 team that ran the relay in 44.44 seconds, finishing eighth, at the D-III state meet, and Kitchen and Hanks helped the 4X400 meter relay team finish the sprint in 3:24.30, finishing third. Collins, while mainly a thrower, tried his hand at the 100-meter race, running the sprint in 12.32 seconds.
While those four have experience on the track, and three of them have medals from the state meet to show for it, the whole team will be fast. When going up against some of the larger teams from the Valley, that speed will come in handy.
The biggest change on offense is the departure of former quarterback Luke Simmons. Simmons was the starting quarterback for two years at Mingus, and during his time under center accounted for 2,179 passing yards and 20 touchdowns. Taking over for the recently graduated Simmons will be Nevarez.
"Micah does a lot of things that remind me of Luke," Young said. "I think they're both very intelligent, they both run the ball well, I think it's about the same as having Luke back there, minus the experience."
While Nevarez has not been named the starting quarterback, he has been taking a majority of the first team snaps through the summer. In 2012, Nevarez spent a majority of his playing time on the defense, but learning the offense was not too difficult for him.
"It's a little different. For offense, I'm going to have to be more of a leader now and I'm going to have to lead the team in the offense," Nevarez said. "Right now he has me as the guy, so I'm going to step up to the occasion and do the best I can ... it's been really good. All of my teammates have been behind me, even my competition; they've been helping me through it. Coach has been helping me through it, they've all been a really great help."
Also on the depth chart at quarterback are seniors Tanner Caron and Marshall Shill. While not taking the same amount of reps with the first team offense, both student-athletes have been spending time with them. Shill and Caron have spent time on the varsity roster in various positions, but like Nevarez, did not spend too much time as shot caller because of incumbent starter Luke Simmons.
"He hasn't really been named the starting quarterback," Young said. "He's got the most reps. He took most of the reps on 7-on-7 because he showed that he had the best feel for what's going on, that's usually what happens, but the other guys are still getting reps in, so we wont decide anything for a little bit yet, so its still anybody's job."
No matter who is calling the plays on the field, they will have a diverse arsenal of weapons to use. Hanks, Kitchen and fellow senior Jesse Rios finished 2012 in the top-5 of all-purpose yards on the team. Hanks finished the season with 711 rushing yards and 143 receiving, while scoring 12 touchdowns and finishing second in all-purpose yards and rushing yards.
"I just have to do my job, same thing I did last year," Hanks said. "I don't need to worry about that."
Kitchen finished fourth (650 yards) and Rios fifth (317 yards) on the team for total all-purpose yards. Kitchen spread his yards gained over the three categories, receiving, rushing and kickoff returns. The kickoff returns are where the sprinter shined on the offense, churning out 378 yards on the returns, including a 70-yard scamper against Snowflake. Rios showed his team that he could be a threat whether he is running the ball, or catching it. During the past season, he ran for 150 yards and accumulated the rest up in the air.
"I feel like we've developed well, we've got our main players. Our offensive line will do good for us, and I feel like we developed well," Nevarez said. "I grew up with all these guys. I played with Brennan my whole football life. It's been good. I know who I can throw to and they'll get the ball no matter what."
Looking to make a bigger impact this year are Helsel and senior Anthony Broyles. Broyles had a productive sophomore season, running for 368 yards on 50 carries, but the following season (2012), Broyles only had five carries due to reinjuring his knee, cutting his season short. Helsel was used sparingly in 2012, but still churned out 52 yards on four carries. Helsel will be a threat for teams if he is able to get separation and accelerate, like many of his teammates and running mates.
While Hanks has emerged as the top scoring threat for the Marauders, when it comes to the running game, it will be a group approach, Young said.
"I would say receiver wise, Jessie Rios, Tanner Caron, they've both done really well," Young said. "Running back, there's going to be a lot of running back by committee. Dakota Hanks ran the ball a lot last year, so obviously we know what he can do, and then Brennan Kitchen, Javin Helsel, those kinds of guys, we'll see. I think the receiving crew is pretty settled right now and we'll go from there."
Offensive, defensive lines and secondary:
While the offensive production took a hit with Tyler Herndon and Alex Brewer graduating, the part of the Marauders football team that was hit the hardest was the offensive and defensive lines.
Of the 20 seniors that graduated, eight played on the offensive line, defensive line or both.
"It was a really big loss, but we got to make it work. All the juniors and sophomores have to step it up," senior Alec Eppinger said. "(They handled it) pretty good. We actually had some sophomores step up to varsity line this year."
While it is hard to gauge how effective an offensive line is, aside from the number of times the quarterback was hurried of sacked, one look through the roster will show that the Marauders have decent size on the line. The shortest lineman is 5 feet 8 inches (Charles Novak), and the lightest is Colton Elmer at 175 pounds. (All measurements are according to 2012 football roster on maxpreps.com.)
With most linemen playing on both sides of the ball, the rapport and team chemistry is there, but going into the 2013 season, there was a learning curve for the linemen because of the turnover. Senior Alec Eppinger notched 27 total tackles in 2012, but outside of the 6-foot-4-inch senior, the line is light on varsity experience.
"We lost a lot of seniors on both sides of the ball and we're progressing, that's kind of how it is. We, every year we have a lot of senior's play, so we have a lot of turnover," Young said. "The good thing is, these guys behind them, they get to practice everyday, they get game reps, so they should be close to where we need them to be once we start playing games."
Despite this, there have been Marauders that have stepped up and began to emerge as leaders on the team. Senior Jack Hockman has shown Young he intends to make an impact, and other upperclassmen, like junior Cordell McKeever and senior Galen Leo, have worked tirelessly to ensure the offensive and defensive line are in tip-top shape.
"We're going along pretty good right now, (put) a lot of work in. We're looking to take state this year," Eppinger said.
The secondary looks to be in much better shape. Kitchen will be leading the backfield after finishing third on the 2012 team with 107 total tackles. Joining Kitchen will be other receivers and backs that split time on the defensive side of the ball. Rios and Broyles also tallied double-digit tackles with 15 and 10, respectively.
"We're good this year. We're fast, we did great this year on 7-on-7, and so we should do as good as last year, if not better," Kitchen said. "Last year I didn't play with as much confidence, but over the summer, its my second year doing it, so I have a lot more confidence now and I'm able to make plays and read (what the other team is going to do)."
D-III is much deeper than the Marauders previous division with 15 additional teams. Mingus will be playing in Section-IV, against teams like Flagstaff, Coconino, Bradshaw and Prescott.
Mingus begins its season with three teams that reached the state playoffs in their respective divisions in 2012. The Marauders open up 2013 against Snowflake High School, then Cactus and follow that up with Paradise Valley. Snowflake entered the D-IV state playoffs as the No. 4 seed, and Cactus (No. 8) and Paradise Valley (No. 13), while earning bids to the playoffs, never made it out of the first round of the D-III bracket.
The other schools on Mingus' schedule are its section opponents. Before the Marauders begin its section games, they will face off against D-I opponent North High School. This could be a trap game for the Marauders as North could be considered one of the bottom-feeders of D-I. The Mustangs finished the season 2-8, but still have the size (and subsequently the quantity of players) to give Mingus problems.
There are two games that most Marauders have circled on their calendars. They are the season opener versus Snowflake, and the final game of the season against Prescott High School.
The game against Snowflake is important to the Marauders for two reasons. First, it is their season, and home, opening game, and as Young puts it, he does not like to look past each game. For the players, the game holds importance because it is a game they admittedly did not show up for.
"I want to beat Snowflake," Kitchen said. "They beat us last year and I felt like that was the worst game we played. And, it's our first game, so it's all I've been thinking about all summer."
Mingus Union may not be looking past each game, but the squad is aiming for the ultimate prize, a state championship. It will be a tough task, as both D-III state champion Queen Creek, and runner-up Desert Edge both return to the division. If the Marauders can play consistent, solid football and put together the kind of season they had in 2012, or better, they should make the playoffs. Especially given the fact that none of the other schools in S-IV made the playoffs in 2012.
Young's goal for the season is the same as his goal during the 2013 baseball season, "get better everyday and we'll see where we are at the end," Young said