The last time the Arbor View High football team didn’t win the Northwest League championship, every player that will take the field this fall for the Aggies was in middle school.
For the seniors like preseason all-city selections Deago Stubbs and Elijah Wade, winning is all they know. Since 2014 the Aggies have a combined record of 31-5 and have gone undefeated in league play.
All that success has painted a giant, red target squarely on their backs.
“It’s funny how over the last few years it seems like every game we are playing is a rivalry game, whether it’s for a trophy, a fast food restaurant or just a street that we want to call our own,” Arbor View coach Dan Barnson said. “We take every one of them seriously and these guys know their importance. We have to be our best every night and if we aren’t someone will get us.”
This season, the teams biting at the Aggies’ heels appear to be closer than ever.
Faith Lutheran, only one year removed from jumping back into the 4A classification, has made a meteoric rise to the top-5 of the preseason rankings. Quarterback Sagan Gronauer returns after throwing for 1,731 yards and 16 touchdowns and rushing for six more scores in 2016. His top target, Elijah Kothe ,is back as well after catching 55 pass for 1,053 yards and 10 scores as a junior.
Right there with the Crusaders are the Legacy Longhorns, who had a breakout season of their own in 2016. The Longhorns cruised through most of the division en route to a Sunset Regional semifinal appearance where they fell, 26-14, to Arbor View.
Legacy lost standout running back Samuel Turner but return many key pieces on both sides of the ball, including quarterback Roberto Valenzuela.
The top three team of the Northwest Division are as strong as any in the state. After that, the league appears to be full of teams searching for an identity.
Cimarron-Memorial and Palo Verde are two storied teams with decades of rich history behind them. They’ve both struggled – going a combined 12-27 over the last two seasons – but appear ready to attempt to reclaim their spot in the division.
Cimarron returns athletic quarterback George Tribble Jr. and he’ll have a big target in 6-foot-1 receiver Marcus Phillips Jr. Their offense averaged only 15.4 points per game last year but that should be improved. Palo Verde closed out what was an otherwise disappointing 2016 season with three straight wins and a playoff appearance, giving them hope for a bounce back season in 2017.
The Shadow Ridge Mustangs have gone from years of struggling to threatening for a postseason spot. Last year, the Mustangs opened the season with a 5-1 record, but faltered down the stretch in losing three straight.
“People finally started to notice Shadow Ridge,” Mustangs coach Travis Foster said. “I think we were an afterthought in the Northwest at times and we wanted to make some noise. Now we just have to carry it through all nine weeks.”
And then there’s the Centennial Bulldogs, who look to replace Jamaal Evans at quarterback, but have an entirely new coaching staff under first-year coach Dustin Forshee. It could be rough early as they gel, but Centennial will be back sooner rather than later.
Last year’s finish : Arbor View, Faith Lutheran, Legacy, Palo Verde, Centennial, Shadow Ridge, Cimarron-Memorial
Projected 2017 finish : Arbor View, Faith Lutheran, Legacy, Shadow Ridge, Cimarron-Memorial, Centennial, Palo Verde
Arbor View Running Back Deago Stubbs (2,500 yards, 26 TDs in last 2 seasons), defensive end Elijah Wade (offers from Alabama, USC, Notre Dame and Michigan) and defensive back Isaiah Herron (26 tackles, 1 interception in 2016).
Centennial: Quarterback Vladimir Plotnikov (6-foot-2, 185 pounds), defensive tackle Joseph Ahern (6-foot, 270 pounds) and defensive back Kamden Garrett (1 interception in 2016 as a sophomore).
Cimarron-Memorial: Quarterback George Tribble Jr. (9 total TDs in 2016), wide receiver Marcus Phillips Jr. (20 catches for 169 yards and 2 TDs in 2016) and junior Isiah Rivera who plays both sides of the line.
Faith Lutheran: Wide receiver Elijah Kothe (San Diego State commit with 1,053 yards and 10 TDs in 2016), defensive back Josh Hong and tackle John Schulte (6-foot-6, 240 pounds with an offer from Montana).
Legacy: Quarterback Roberto Valenzuela (threw 10 TDs as a junior), linebacker Amere Foster (40 tackles in 2016) and running back Amorey Foster (4 TDs as a sophomore in 2016).
Palo Verde: Linebacker Daniel Bellinger (San Diego State commit), running back Chamere Thomas (541 yards and 3 TDs in 2016) and quarterback Nick Zuppas (won 3 games as a junior).
Shadow Ridge: Running back Aubrey Nellems (leading returning rusher and receiver), running back Kaejin Smith (148 yards and 1 TD in 2016) and defensive tackle Ricky Tuiletufuga (3-year varsity player)
Offensive MVP: Arbor View’s Deago Stubbs
Defensive MVP: Arbor View’s Elijah Wade
Rising Star (best freshman or sophomore) : Faith Lutheran’s Eric Ho
Coach of the Year: Cimarron-Memorial’s Kory Walker
Game of the Year: Arbor View 27, Faith Lutheran 24
Newcomer of the Year: Centennial’s Vladimir Plotnikov