Game tape is old, new players have risen to the top of the depth charts and expectations have run wild after a great offseason of lifting, team bonding and spring ball.
It has been eight months since high school football has been played in Arizona.
All the speculation, and anticipation of the 2017 football season ends right around 7 p.m. tonight.
The first week, although it is still labeled as Zero Week for some reason, puts it all to rest. The action is real, the clock ticks and the heart beat speeds up a tad.
A team’s true worth begins to be unveiled.
The Mesa-based schools have four teams on the docket, while the other three must wait until next week.
Here’s a closer look at this week’s games:
Red Mountain at Chandler: The Wolves are nationally-ranked by every poll and bring back a of ton talent, led by quarterback Jacob Conover and wide receiver Gunner Romney, as they try to win their third state title in four seasons.
Chandler coach Shaun Aguano has developed a great rapport with the players and he gets them to play for him, and he takes risks – betting on his players to come through – down the stretch in close games.
The Mountain Lions are an area consensus top five team after a good portion of the depth chart from last year’s state semifinal squad returns.
Red Mountain, which is 0-6 against Chandler since 2004, will have to be at its best, a tough thing to do on opening night, win the turnover battle, and Lance Lawson will need help to take the pressure off one of the dynamic players in the state.
The key for Red Mountain defense is to keep Conover contained. He had a spectacular sophomore year in 2016, and it seemed like he did most of the damage outside of the pocket while on the run. If he breaks containment without someone in his face the big plays will be tough to stop.
Chandler 42, Red Mountain 28
Westwood at Skyline: A region game to start the year is a tough draw.
When you are coming off a 2-8 season, have a new coach, and the opponent is the defending region champ it is even tougher.
That’s what Westwood faces to open the season as the Warriors travel to Northeast Mesa to kick off the Kyle Ide, who coached the last two games of 2016, era now that the interim tag has been removed.
Mr. Westwood has seen all the changes the school and program has endured over the years. He also knows what it means to be a Warrior after playing for the team in the late 1980s. He is going to put his heart and soul into the players and they will want to play for him.
Last season the Warriors, who have a 4-3 record against Skyline since 2004, withstood a 61-0 loss to Skyline to open the year. A repeat drubbing would be a surprise.
The gap should be closer and Ide’s hope as the numbers grow throughout the program is that the Warriors can move into the top tier of the East Valley Region.
Until then Skyline will have the upper hand as the Coyotes play with the discipline and heart coach Angelo Paffumi’s teams are known for since taking over the program.
The Coyotes will use their power running game to set up play action and the Skyline defense will play assignment football and make sound tackles.
At this point in time, the Warriors can’t match that level of play.
Skyline 35, Westwood 13
Mesquite at Mesa: Kapi Sikahema admits there was a big old learning curve going on in 2016.
And he and the Jackrabbits are ready to apply the lessons learned.
Sikahema took over his alma mater a year ago after spring ball had been completed. He had never been a head coach before, and the players didn’t know what to expect.
There was some disarray on the sidelines and behind the scenes, but the program came together in many ways, and it continued throughout the offseason.
The talent is there, led by running back Kris Jackson, and the coaching staff, a good portion of which played at Mesa, have the right approach to get the Mesa program back to its winning ways.
The Jackrabbits, who went 4-7 last year, host Mesquite, which won last year’s meeting 22-6 and have a 1-2 record in the series since 2004. A win here, even though the Wildcats are in 5A, and Mesa will show how much it has come in a year.
The Wildcats, under the direction of Chad DeGreiner, won eight games and made the playoffs last year.
Mesa shows just how much has changed in one year by winning one of the closest games of the week.
Mesa 17, Mesquite 14
Here is the rest of 6A Conference schedule
(predicted winners in bold)
Nogales at Sunnyside
Hamilton at Boulder Creek
Tucson at Buena
Horizon at Cibola
Chaparral at Desert Mountain
Perry at Desert Vista
Corona del Sol at Highland
South Mountain at Maryvale
Mesquite at Mesa
Cesar Chavez at Queen Creek
Pueblo at Rincon
Mountain Pointe at Sandra Day O’Connor
Kofa at Trevor Browne
Basha at Westview
Pinnacle at Brophy Prep
– Jason P. Skoda is a senior writer for MyNewsMesa.com. Send Mesa-based story ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.