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High school football:

Palo Verde football playing for respect and to silence skeptics at Sollenberger Classic

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Steve Marcus

Palo Verde High School’s Brad Solomon practices with the team at the school Tuesday, Aug. 7, 2012. Palo Verde will face Desert Vista High School (Arizona) in the Sollenberger Classic at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Arizona on Aug. 18.

Palo Verde Prepares for Desert Vista

Palo Verde High School's Lee Griggs poses during practice at the school Tuesday, Aug. 7, 2012. Palo Verde will face Desert Vista High School (Arizona) in the Sollenberger Classic at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Arizona on Aug. 18. Launch slideshow »

Palo Verde Coach Darwin Rost

Palo Verde High School Coach Darwin Rost talks about the upcoming 2012 football season.

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GLENDALE, Ariz. — Players on the Palo Verde High football team are more than familiar with the negative comments and criticism about their program.

Ever since the perennial Las Vegas power Panthers were picked in April for Saturday’s Sollenberger Classic, the message hasn’t changed when debating their selection over three-time defending state champion Bishop Gorman: Palo Verde, despite a 59-6 record since 2007, isn’t worthy to represent Nevada on a national stage, the critics say.

Gorman, which is nationally ranked, had played in the game — where a Nevada team takes on an Arizona school — the past two seasons. Until this year, the organizers took the past season’s state champion to represent Nevada.

But come Saturday, it will be Gorman’s Summerlin rivals, Palo Verde, representing the Silver State when the Panthers play defending Arizona state champion Desert Vista High at 7 p.m. at the University of Phoenix Stadium (home to the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals).

Some aren’t giving Palo Verde much of a chance.

“Have you ever seen Palo Verde’s offense? That will be one horrible three hours for television viewers and anyone who chooses to attend this game,” one commenter posted on the Sun’s website.

Another posted, “They (Arizona) are still stinging from the embarrassing butt-kicking that Gorman gave them last year, so they invited a much easier team this year.”

The Palo Verde players have taken inventory of the negative comments and are using them as a rallying cry in their preparation. Palo Verde has just two defeats the past two seasons — both in the playoffs to Gorman — and are widely considered one of Nevada’s unquestioned top programs.

The players plan on proving that claim against Desert Vista in one of the first games of the season nationally.

“Palo Verde is always the underdog,” said Ryan Beaulieu, the Panthers' three-year starting running back and defensive back. “People aren’t expecting much from us. They don’t realize the talent we have this year, and that motivates us.

“We have a really good chance (to beat Desert Vista). We have a really good team this year. Lots of talent.”

And, because of the talent at the skilled positions, that so-called “boring” offense might have a different look to it.

Palo Verde still will primarily operate out of its double-wing attack, which, despite what the critics have said, has been virtually impossible for opponents to stop. Last year, for instance, Palo Verde rushed for 3,119 yards in 12 games.

Senior Lee Griggs

Senior running back and safety Lee Griggs talks about Palo Verde's upcoming season

This year, however, they have installed part of the spread offense with hopes of taking advantage of their team speed. In addition to Beaulieu and Lee Griggs, two members of the Sun’s preseason all-city team and legitimate Division I prospects, the Panthers have several other players coach Darwin Rost feels could have a breakthrough season.

“We are trying to move the ball around the field more,” said Brad Solomon, an anchor of the Palo Verde line. “We are trying to get the ball around to more people and spread it out a little bit.”

The pageantry of the Sollenberger Classic might serve as a perfect setting for Palo Verde to unveil an altered offense. Getting to play in an NFL stadium is a once-in-a-lifetime experience the players won’t soon forget — something that makes this more than an early-season game that serves as a table-setter for the rest of the year.

“We get a little treat this year,” Rost said. “It’s a nice reward for the kids.”

First-game jitters are pretty commonplace for a majority of high school teams each August. Considering the magnitude of the Sollenberger Classic, the venue and the pressure of proving they deserved to be selected, it could potentially be overwhelming for Palo Verde.

“Even though this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, we are trying not to be overwhelmed about it,” Solomon said. “We have to stay focused on the game no matter where we are playing.”

Earlier Saturday, Moapa Valley from Overton will challenge Arizona’s Blue Ridge High in the Sollenberger Classic’s small-school game. Friday, the Sun will have a story on Moapa Valley online.

Ray Brewer can be reached at 990-2662 or ray.brewer@lasvegassun.com. Follow Ray on Twitter at twitter.com/raybrewer21.

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