Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Monday, Aug. 19, 2013 | 2 a.m.
The Bishop Gorman High football team hasn’t lost to a Las Vegas-area opponent since 2008 in winning four straight state championships.
It has gone from being a local power to earning respect on a national stage.
When the Gaels open the season Friday by hosting Mountain Pointe of Arizona in the Sollenberger Classic, they will take the field ranked in the top-25 of multiple national polls. It’s been that way for most of the past four seasons since Tony Sanchez became the Gaels’ coach.
They’ve also been the No. 1 team in the Sun’s top-10 rankings every week for the past four seasons. Today, we release our preseason top-10. The No. 1 team isn’t a surprise.
Perennial power Gorman will again be the team to beat and the favorite to win the state championship. Despite the Gaels having to replace their quarterback, running back and top two receivers from last season, the depth chart is again flooded with Division I prospects.
Junior tight end Alize Jones is one of 20 five-star recruits nationally for the class of 2015, quarterback Randall Cunningham (the son of the NFL and UNLV star) has double-digit scholarship offers from major programs and is starting to resemble his father, and junior linebacker Nela Otukolo might wind up being the team’s top defender.
Defensive backs Dylan Weldon and Jabari Butler, and Arizona State commit Armand Perry at safety will lead the secondary, Terrance Chambers brings speed — and lots of it — to the offense at wide receiver, and running back Daniel Stewart went from being the Gaels' backup to receiving scholarship offers.
Zack Singer is back for his fourth year on the defensive line and is the clear leader of the team, and the offensive line is massive, led by major Division I prospect Nick Gates (he's been offered by Alabama), Tryson Mook (6-foot-4, 310 pounds), Jackson Perry (6-foot-3, 290 pounds) and Ethan Palelei (6-foot-1, 290 pounds). Defensively, tackle Noah Tialavea, at 5-foot-11, 300 pounds, will be tough to push around up front.
Here’s the rest of the rankings:
2. Palo Verde (7-5 overall, lost in Sunset semifinals in 2012)
What’s to like about Palo Verde: It’s a team with something to prove. Palo Verde went from losing once each in 2010 and ’11 to dropping five games last season, including surrendering 71 points in a playoff loss to Gorman. The players are determined to return the Panthers back to their winning ways, using the disappointment from last season to fuel their work in the offseason. And they have the players to make some noise, especially in the trenches. Division I prospect Michael Hughes Jr. and seniors Griffin Kemp and Josh Hamilton each started last year and are expected to be key contributors on both sides of the ball. Jake Ortale is the best defender at linebacker and the top threat in the passing game at tight end. Parker Rost will be a third-year starter at quarterback and knows the offense inside and out, and Sean Dennis is solid at safety.
What’s not to like: The secondary will be a weakness with first-time varsity players penciled in as starters. They replace the team’s top two performers from last year, Ryan Beaulieu and Lee Griggs. Beaulieu was a three-year starter and the area’s top defensive back.
Brewer’s prediction: Palo Verde falls to Gorman in the Sunset Region title game, but it’s closer than last year. A lot closer.
3. Green Valley (9-2 overall, lost in Sunrise semifinals in 2012)
What’s to like about Green Valley: The Gators have the top offense in the Sunrise Region, if not the state, and are loaded at virtually every position. Tackle Tyrell Crosby is committed to Oregon, quarterback Christian Lopez is dangerous running and passing the ball, wide receiver Markus Varner is the area’s leading returning receiver, and receiver/defensive back Gio Hernandez will be a difference-maker on both sides of the ball. Albert Lake at running back could be the area’s breakout performer. Arbor View transfer Larry Norman and senior Kyler Chavez give Green Valley a ridiculous amount of capable offensive weapons.
What’s not to like: Green Valley graduated nearly all of its key defensive contributors from last season’s Northeast League title team. And, in camp this summer, senior Micah Klorman — one of the lone experienced defenders — was lost for the year with a knee injury.
Brewer’s prediction: Green Valley defends its Northeast title and beats Liberty in a classic game in the Sunrise championship. The Gators lose in the snow in Northern Nevada in the state semifinals.
4. Liberty (11-2 overall, three-time Sunrise champ; 2012 state runner-up)
What’s to like about Liberty: Some feel Liberty is the second-best team in Nevada behind Bishop Gorman. The Patriots have captured the past three Sunrise championships, have won more than 20 consecutive Southeast League games and have a roster loaded with seasoned players. Linemen Jarvis Polu, an Army commit, and Reno Tu’ufuli are two of the best in the area, combing with Jozef Misaalefua to play both ways. The trio have started more than their share of important games in recent years, giving Liberty a big-time edge. Quarterback Tyler Newman doesn’t lack confidence and is primed for a solid season because Liberty finally has breakaway speed at all the skill positions. Kicker Austin Fitzgerald was an all-American last year and regularly sends kickoffs into the end zone for a touchback — a commodity in high school football because it forces the opposition go 80 yards for a touchdown. Samson Monterde will do a little of everything and is the team’s most underrated player.
What’s not to like: Kai Nacua and Niko Kapeli were more than 80 percent of Liberty’s offense the past three seasons, taking the program from one of the area’s worst to one of its best. The offense will have a different look in 2013 and rely on a handful of sophomores at key positions. The development of the younger players will dictate how far Liberty advances and whether it can return to the state championship game.
Brewer’s prediction: Liberty wins the Southeast League for a fourth straight season and advances to the Sunrise Region title game, where it falls to Green Valley in a back-and-forth affair.
5. Arbor View (10-1 overall, lost in Sunset semifinals in 2012)
What’s to like about Arbor View: Arbor View doesn’t have a superstar or player capable of taking over a game. And that’s what makes the Aggies dangerous. They give as many as six rushers equal carries out of the double-wing attack, frustrating defenses because they aren’t sure which rusher has the ball. Look for the likes of Jacob Speaks, Devon Turner and Anthony Smith to have big seasons. And, look for players never before heard of to do the same.
What’s not to like: The graduation of Elijah George weakens an offensive line that has to be a strength for a run-heavy offense to have success.
Brewer’s prediction: The Aggies will finish second in the Northwest League and advance to the Sunset Region semifinals.
6. Canyon Springs (7-4 overall, lost in Sunrise semifinals in 2012)
What’s to like about Canyon Springs: Canyon Springs is close to breaking through and winning the region. Last year, the team lost four games by a combined 17 points, including dropping the league title on a game-ending field goal to Green Valley. Rayshawn Henderson is the best defensive lineman in the league, if not the state, and Diamante Luna can flat-out fly in the Pioneers' secondary. Speed kills, and Canyon Springs is athletic at most positions, especially at linebacker with Isiah Carter. At defensive back, Raequan Bascombe and AJ Cooper will make it tough for the opposition to pass, which could be the difference maker in the Northeast League showdown against Green Valley's spread passing attack.
What’s not to like: Donnel Pumphrey was the best player on the field most games the past three years for the Pioneers. With the state player of the year for 2012 now at San Diego State, a previous unknown will have to emerge to lead the Canyon Springs offense. Zaviontay Stevenson, a junior, has big shoes to fill, but he appears to be more than capable.
Brewer’s prediction: Canyon Springs returns to the Sunrise Region semifinals but is eliminated again by Liberty.
7. Legacy (4-6 overall, lost in Sunset quarterfinals in 2012)
What’s to like about Legacy: Casey Hughes at running back and safety will be the fastest player on the field every game, even against state-favorite Bishop Gorman. He’ll have a monster season. So will Devin Williams at quarterback and defensive back. Josh Phillips and Damion Stallings are two capable linebackers, and Zach Lugris, at 6-foot-3, 275 pounds, will be a force on the line.
What’s not to like: Picking a four-win team from last year at No. 7 is a bit of a risk, especially when Legacy’s offense has been so run-heavy over the years. And, the Longhorns open league play with Bishop Gorman in what could be a sound beating. Some teams never recover from a loss like that, realizing their dreams of a state championship won’t be reached.
Brewer’s prediction: The Longhorns finish No. 2 in the Southwest behind powerhouse Gorman and win a playoff game before falling in the Sunset Regional semifinals.
8. Moapa Valley (12-2 overall, Division 1-A runner-up in 2012)
What’s to like about Moapa Valley: The Moapa Valley machine has reached the state title game in eight of the past nine seasons, and there’s no reason to doubt it will happen again in 2013. When one key player graduates, another steps in and is equally effective. Mat McDermand returns to anchor the line and pave the way for the Pirates’ strong rushing attack. Jared Repp and Justin Hughes will be standouts on both sides of the ball, combining in the run game and holding down the defense at linebacker. Sam Rebman will complement McDermand on the line and should be equally effective, and Jordan Grow will also be counted on to play both ways.
What’s not to like: Replacing Connor Mortensen and Sean McConnell could be easier said than done. The duo carried the Pirates on their backs most of the past two seasons.
Brewer’s prediction: Moapa Valley wins the Division I-A state championship in showing it is one of Nevada’s true dynasties. A championship in 2013 will further cement the legacy.
9. Las Vegas (6-4 overall, lost Sunrise quarterfinals in 2012)
What’s to like about Las Vegas: The Wildcats had one of their worst seasons in more than a decade last year — yes, they still beat rival Rancho — because their lineup was loaded with sophomores. Now, those players are juniors and have much-needed experience to make a push to win the Northeast League title. More important, they are eager to get back to the program’s winning ways. Junior linebacker Jacob Littlefield might be the league’s top defender, and senior running back Anthony Moreland rushed for more than 1,000 yards last year. Aaron Zanin-Banks, Randy Ramirez and Eduardo Guardado provide stability in the Wildcats' rotation and are primed for stellar seasons.
What’s not to like: The Northeast League. Las Vegas used to be the league’s perennial power, but Green Valley, Canyon Springs and possibly Silverado each have talented players at multiple positions in 2013. Any of the four teams could win the league title.
Brewer’s prediction: Las Vegas will finish third in the Northeast but advances to the Sunrise semifinals after winning in the first week of the playoffs.
10. Centennial (9-3 overall, lost in Sunset championship game in 2012)
What’s to like about Centennial: Lantz Worthington is a threat to score each time he carries the ball, and Bulldogs coach Leon Evans won’t hesitate getting him at least 25 touches per game. Linebacker Toby Lopez is one of the valley’s most underrated players, registering more than 100 tackles last year. He’ll combine with linebacker Josh Gray to give the Bulldogs a solid defense. Also, Centennial has some of the best younger talent in Las Vegas.
What’s not to like: Centennial graduated more than most teams in Southern Nevada, virtually losing all of its key contributors from 2012. Although it will fill the lineup holes with talented players, the rebuilding project could be rocky early with the newcomers getting their feet wet.
Brewer’s prediction: Centennial wins a playoff game for the fifth straight season — an impressive feat, joining the likes of Gorman, Palo Verde and Liberty with postseason wins in five consecutive years. The Centennial season will end in the Sunset semifinals, likely in an rematch of last year’s epic game against Arbor View.