There’s little debate needed when determining the No. 1 team in the Sun’s preseason high school football Top 10. Bishop Gorman, after all, is the 10-time defending state champion and an established national brand.
Don’t be surprised if Gorman, which has a blend of highly touted seniors and up-and-coming standouts, runs the table and goes undefeated. Yes, the Gaels are again loaded.
There’s also not much debate when it comes to placing other Las Vegas-area teams in the top half of the rankings. Liberty has long been considered next-best program behind Gorman, Arbor View has had five straight seasons of reaching the regional finals, and Desert Pines is building something special with many college-caliber players at key spots.
Here’s a look at the rankings. The season openers are set for Aug. 23.
Last season: 11-3, state champion
Perennial power Bishop Gorman suffered a lopsided loss to a national opponent to open last season, and for one of the brief times in its decade of Nevada dominance, was perceived to be vulnerable. There was a week or two when rival Las Vegas-area teams had a glimmer of hope — or so they thought. The Gaels still easily won the state championship for the 10th straight season, and in 2019 brings back many key pieces for what is expected to be another championship season. Gorman returns two of the city’s top three players in four-star quarterback Micah Bowens, a Penn State commit who passed for 2,778 yards and 29 touchdowns last year, and heralded wide receiver Rome Odunze (60 catches for 1,347 yards and 15 scores). The defense is led by linebacker Bryan Certain (82 tackles), and there’s plenty of leadership from the likes of offensive lineman Hayden Engel and linebacker Lincoln Tuioti-Mariner, an Air Force commit. And the Gaels are built to last, with a who’s who of underclassmen set to debut this fall in Las Vegas’ most talented roster.
Prediction for 2019: Win an 11th straight state championship
Weakness: Gorman’s secondary is almost exclusively underclassmen. However, the talent is off the charts, as all four starters have scholarship offers. Sophomore Zion Branch, who was offered by Auburn and others this summer, is one of many studs. Gorman’s offensive line is also breaking in a few new starters, who are tasked with replacing graduates now playing major college football.
Last season: 7-5 overall; Southeast League champions; lost in Desert Regional championship
Some feel Liberty is closer to defeating nemesis Gorman than at any other time in program history, especially after only losing by 14 points in last season’s regional finals. The optimism stems from a lineup of top-end underclassmen, highlighted by running back Zyrus Fiaseu (798 yards and eight touchdowns in 2018), tight end Moliki Matavao (18 catches for 327 yards and three touchdowns), linebacker Zephaniah Maea (56 tackles) and sophomore wide out Germie Bernard, all of whom are college prospects. When most teams struggle with player depth, and experienced player depth, the Patriots return 50 letter winners. Established seniors, such as wide receivers Maurice Hampton and linebacker Toa Tai, have been part of many big games over the years and bring much-needed experience. More important, they have arguably the toughest nonleague schedule in the nation with a road trip to Hawaii, dates with California powers St. John Bosco and Centennial Corona, and the season opener against Chandler of Arizona.
Prediction for 2019: Win the Southeast League; fall to Gorman in the Desert Region championship game
Weakness: The Patriots' defensive line is young with a pair of sophomore starters, although Sir Mells and Jesse Wilson are expected to develop into standouts. The Patriots are also unproven at quarterback, where they were plagued last season with injury.
Last season: 8-3 overall; lost in Mountain Region semifinals
Desert Pines — the 2016 and 2017 state champion of the 3A — blew a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter last season in the Mountain Region semifinals to Arbor View. They should have won but faded late and were outmatched up front. This year should be different. Desert Pines returns many notables, including five-star tight end Darnell Washington (Alabama’s interested), defensive lineman Gabriel Lopez (16 sacks in 2018), linebacker Elijah Wade (115 tackles) and many more. The quarterback is sophomore Rjay Tagataese, a transfer from Hawaii. He’s D-I caliber. Many have major scholarship offers, including junior defensive linemen Braezhon Ross and Jonathan Pickett, and junior offensive lineman Tia Savea. And the Jags have experience with senior defensive tackle Blaze Homalon and offensive lineman Joe Brown, both of whom are state champions.
Prediction for 2019: Win the Northeast League and beat Arbor View for the Mountain Region championship.
Weakness: Desert Pines has Division I players at many positions on both sides of the ball. However, its offense line is very much a work in progress. The unit will need to get up to speed for the playoffs, especially a potential regional-championship game against Arbor View — and the Aggies' strong defensive front.
Last season: 12-2 overall; Mountain Region champions
Arbor View finally won a regional championship last season, adding the elusive title in its fifth straight season with 10 or more wins and the Northwest League championship. This year, they will again be in contention. Matt Gerber, the former Green Valley and Durango head coach, takes over for Dan Barnson. Gerber was an Arbor View assistant last year, promising not to change much, and rightfully so. The Aggies, after all, have played in five straight regional championship games. Defense will be a strength with UNLV commit Tai Tuinei and Cory Hall on the defensive line, Trent Whalen at linebacker, and Rickey Jones and Rickie Davis in the secondary. Easton Jones is the area’s best kicker and punter, and Zavier Alston at defensive end and fullback is a major contributor on each side of the ball.
Prediction for 2019: Win the Northwest League; fall to Desert Pines in regional finals
Weakness: The Aggies are young at the skilled position with first-time starters at quarterback and running back.
Last season: 7-4 overall; Northeast League champs; lost in Mountain semifinals
Many think Desert Pines will run away with the Northeast League. The players at Canyon Springs, the reigning league champions, disagree. The Pioneers, as they do most seasons, is loaded at the skilled positions on offense. Junior running back Martin Blake, who rushed for 380 yards and two touchdowns in 2018, is primed for a 1,000 yard rushing season as the full-time starter. Wide receivers Javeion Davison, also a junior, and Trayvion Rainey have superior speed and playmaking ability. What makes the Pioneers different this season is they have capable players outside of the skilled position, such as linebacker Nate Phillips and defensive end Tyse Whigham.
Prediction for 2019: Second in the Northeast League; win one playoff game.
Weakness: Many of the players coaches expect to make an impact will be making their debuts on the varsity team. The learning curve could be problematic.
Last season: 7-4 overall, third place in Northwest League
Centennial, in the third year of a rebuild with coach Dustin Forshee, won’t surprise the opposition this season. Everyone knows the Bulldogs are a contender and expected to improve on last year’s breakthrough season. The combination of quarterback Colton Tenney and wide receiver Gerick Robinson were awesome last year as sophomores, hooking up 44 times for 565 yards and three scores. Robinson also had three kickoff returns for scores. But he isn’t the lone threat, as senior Aaron Johnson was brilliant in 2018 with 27 catches for 534 yards and three scores. The Bulldogs' senior class is led by running back Jordan Smith and safety Troy Miller — athletes with plenty of speed and agility. And senior defensive tackle Thomas Lane, one of the area’s most underrated players, was a force last season in stopping the run with 44 tackles. He’ll combine with senior Samie Wallace on the defensive line.
Prediction for 2019: Finish second in the Northwest League; win one playoff game
Weakness: The Centennial defense lacks experience at linebacker, which will be problematic against opponents in the Northwest League, where each team seemingly has a capable running back and thrives wearing down the opposition with a physical style of play. Can the Bulldogs equal the physicality?
Last season: 8-5 overall; Mountain Region runner-up
One season after losing in the Mountain Region finals to Arbor View, Faith Lutheran is again expected to make a deep playoff run — well, if the Crusaders get production from their quarterback. Gone is Sagan Gronauer (Idaho State), who took virtually every snap the past three years. Whomever they plug in should have success, as the Crusaders’ passing attack scheme produces strong numbers each season. Peyton Thornton, who caught 45 passes for 788 yards and seven touchdowns, returns. The offensive line, which is anchored by Kanalu Shimizu (6 foot 1, 300 pounds), is a strength. The defense is led by linebacker Hunter Kaupiko, a Fresno State commit who had 113 tackles and 12.5 sacks in 2018, and athletic defensive back Noah Vernon. Kaupiko, who has 296 career tackles, is 132 tackles away from establishing a new state mark for career tackles. The Crusaders have many talented underclassmen, led by junior defensive back Julian Rohan, who has UNLV and Utah scholarship offers, and sophomore wide receiver Keegan Bunn.
Prediction for 2019: Third in Northwest League
Weakness: The Crusaders have to replace a three-year starter at quarterback, looking to fill an experience and leadership void in the offense.
Last season: 4-7 overall; lost in Mountain Region quarterfinals
The Longhorns battled the injury bug in 2018 in winning just four games. But they are very good — and very young. Watch out, Desert Pines and Canyon Springs. Wide receiver Aaron Holloway (24 catches for 525 yards and six touchdowns in 2018) could be the fastest player in town. Left-handed throwing junior quarterback Evan Olaes is smooth and confident under center, yet still developing. Defensive tackle Lee Wilson had 73 tackles last season and is part of the Sun’s all-Vegas preseason team. Seniors Anthony Miles at wide receiver and safety, and wideout B.J. Phillips give Legacy an abundance of athletic playmakers.
Prediction for 2019: Third in Northeast League
Weakness: Legacy has many young players ready to make a name for themselves. Getting those players up to speed will determine the success. The Longhorns will also have to guard against injury because of a lack of player depth. Injuries last year contributed to a four-win season.
Last season: 6-5 overall; lost in the Desert Region quarterfinals
The Green Valley defense has the luxury of returning five major contributors from last season, including three along the defensive line — Zane Maningo (59 tackles (12 for loss) and 7.5 sacks in 2018), Traden Gusman (47 tackles, 4.5 sacks) and Sonny Togagae. The secondary is also strong with safety George Faber (39 tackles) and defensive back Stetler Harms. The offense has the potential to be high-scoring with quarterback Garrett Castro (1,550 yards, 16 TDs) and running back Noah Hawthorne (782 yards and 10 total scores) leading the way.
Prediction for 2019: Second in Southeast League; win one playoff game.
Weakness: The Gators could be susceptible to offensive struggles with eight new starters, including a young and inexperienced offensive line.
Last season: 10-2 overall; 3A Sunrise League champion; lost in 3A state semifinals
Year after year, Moapa Valley reaches the 3A state semifinals, relying on tremendous offensive discipline in executing its running game, and a hard-nosed effort on defense. Even when it appears the cupboard is bare, the Pirates somehow win a few playoff games — and could challenge many 4A schools. They are strong up front in 2019 with Kellen Wallace, who is the best linemen in the class 3A. Hayden Redd, who rushed for 688 yards and three touchdowns in 2018, leads the ground attack. Redd (46 tackles in 2018) and Thomas Bellavance (70 tackles) lead the defense. Moapa Valley players thrive playing on both sides of the ball, including two-way lineman Kele Henderson (6-foot 2, 300 pounds), and running back and defensive back Tristan Lehman.
Prediction for 2019: 3A state champs
Weakness: The Pirates will have a first-time starter at quarterback. They’ll also need to develop playmaking receivers and depth at running back.