Again this year, the perennial three ‘power states’ in high school football have dominated the list of Top 25 early contenders for national honors, as selected by MaxPreps. Thirteen of the pre-season picks are schools from Florida, Texas, and California.
Arizona is usually able to place one or two schools on the list, and this year is no exception as a couple of the state’s top programs have squeezed into the 2016 Top 25. And, according to MaxPreps, they were selected from a pool of more than 15,000 teams across the country.
Mountain Pointe High School in east Phoenix is slotted in at No. 23, while Scottsdale’s Saguaro High School came in just under the wire at No. 25.
This isn’t the first time Mountain Pointe has appeared in the national rankings. In fact, in 2013 when the Pride won the Division I state title, they finished the season ranked No. 6.
They return a stable of 13 starters from last year’s squad that finished the season 12-1 and advanced to the semifinals of the state tournament. But the Pride will have a new quarterback under center, which makes it a little surprising that they found their way onto the Top 25 list.
Not only did graduation take QB Jack Smith, who came close to the 2,000-yard mark passing and averaged 155 yards a game, but the Pride also lost Macarius Blount, the running back who averaged another 139 yards per game on the ground.
The selection committee made special note of some of those expected to play key roles in the coming season: Matthew Pola-Mao, a sophomore who is one of the most heavily recruited linemen in the Class of 2019; wide receiver Jaydon Brooks; offensive lineman Eddie Rivas; cornerback Antwaun Woodberry; linebacker Rashie Hodge; quarterback Noah Grover; and running backs Anthony Stephens and Gary Bragg.
Saguaro High validated its choice by moving up from Division III to D-II last season and rolling to its third consecutive state title. The Sabercats strung together 11 straight wins after rebounding from an uncharacteristic 1-2 start to the season.
They were enjoying a 28-game winning streak before getting beat in the second game on the schedule by Centennial High School, which went on to win the D-I state championship.
Tradition is one of the considerations in selecting the Top 25 teams, and Saguaro excels in that category. The Sabercats have been a consistently dominant force in prep football in Arizona, having won eight state titles over the last 10 years.
Saguaro, too, will be breaking in a new signal-caller. But they will return a 2,000-yard rusher in Stone Matthews who piled up 2,155 yards and 24 touchdowns last year as a junior.
Others singled out by the folks at MaxPreps included linebacker/tight end Kyle Soelle, safety Kaelib Jarrell, tight end/defensive end Jared Poplawski, and guard Corey Stephens.
Both teams open the season in the middle of the summer’s August heat, with just four more weeks of preparation as they hope to prove they belong in the national conversation this season. Each has a home opener on Aug. 19.