Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Tuesday, Aug. 12, 2014 | 2 a.m.
The high school football team in the top spot of the Sun’s preseason top 10 isn’t a surprise.
Five-time defending state champion Bishop Gorman is also the nation’s No. 1-ranked team. And judging by the Gaels’ lineup of Division I recruits, they will again be tough to beat. Gorman hasn’t lost to an in-state opponent since 2008.
The Gaels have at least 10 players with Division I scholarship offers, including Alize Jones, the nation’s top-ranked tight end and a UCLA commit. Jones, who caught 35 passes for 571 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2013, will combine with four-star wide receiver Cordell Broadus to give Gorman a distinct advantage in the passing game.
Defensively, Gorman has four players with scholarship offers in safety Nicco Fertitta (a Notre Dame commit), defensive back Jabari Butler, linebacker Nela Otukolo and defensive lineman Jackson Perry. All four are returning starters.
But, just like other teams in the Las Vegas area, Gorman has questions with its lineup. The Gaels’ quarterback will be a first-year starter and their running game is unproven.
Schools such as perennial Sunrise power Liberty, or respected Sunset programs such as Arbor View and Palo Verde also have talented players and could pull off an upset on any given Friday night, especially in the playoffs.
Remember what Legacy did last year? Legacy led Gorman in the first half and lost by just 13 points, the lowest margin of victory for Gorman in five seasons against a local opponent.
Here’s the rest of the rankings:
2. Liberty Patriots
What’s to like: Liberty has talented players at multiple positions on both sides of the ball, including USC commit Noah Jefferson (6-foot-6, 280 pounds) at defensive end and Ethan Tuilagi at linebacker and running back. It also has some of the city’s top underclassmen in junior running back and linebacker Calvin Tubbs, defensive back and wide receiver Bryan Roland, and sophomore defensive back Ethan Dedeaux. Not only has Liberty won the past four Sunrise titles, it hasn’t lost to a Sunrise opponent in the past four years.
Reason for concern: Liberty has to replace the state player of the year at quarterback, and there will be a competition among multiple signal-callers — including a freshman — during camp. Liberty’s success the past two seasons has been partially because of its balanced attack on offense, meaning an unknown at quarterback could be a tough hurdle to overcome.
3. Arbor View Aggies
Last season: Lost in the Sunset Regional semifinals to Bishop Gorman.
What’s to like: With Division I prospects Malik Noshi and junior Keenen King anchoring the offensive line, Arbor View’s misdirection ground attack will be tough to contain. Running back Herman Gray, who has 15 career touchdowns, returns for a third season. That experience will give the Aggies an advantage.
Reason for concern: Arbor View needs to develop a passing game to challenge Gorman, Centennial and Palo Verde for supremacy in the Sunset.
4. Green Valley Gators
Last season: Won the Northeast League; lost in the Sunrise Regional championship game to Liberty.
What’s to like: Green Valley has the area’s top returning quarterback in Christian Lopez, a three-year starter. Albert Lake, another three-year starter, will have an impact on both sides at defensive back and running back. Senior running back Larry Norman Jr. rushed for 11 scores in 2013. Linemen Carter Nielson, Tafa Vete and Cordell Tidwell are well put together and experienced.
Reason for concern: Lopez passed for 3,455 yards last season but lost his top four receivers to graduation. That’s a big-time void to fill. Also, Green Valley is on the road for four of its first five games.
5. Las Vegas Wildcats
Last season: Lost in the Sunrise Regional semifinals to Green Valley.
What’s to like: Las Vegas has one of the best senior classes in Southern Nevada. Linebacker Jacob Littlefield is looking for his third-straight season with more than 100 tackles. Linemen Mark Anthony and Mark Gil Gacutan are each Division I prospects, blocking for another college recruit in running back Elias Miller. Don’t be surprised if Miller, who has scholarship offers from BYU and UNLV, leads the area in rushing. Also, quarterback Trevor Swenson will be a three-year starter.
Reason for concern: Las Vegas lacks player depth, meaning an injury to a key player — especially to Swenson — will result in a premature end to the season. And, since they went just 6-5 last year, some feel ranking the Wildcats at No. 5 is generous.
6. Palo Verde Panthers
Last season: Lost in the Sunset Regional championship game to Bishop Gorman.
What’s to like: Running backs Darrion Finn and Jaren Campbell, and quarterback Graeson Vereen have athleticism that will be tough for the opposition to match. And with returners Joey Laurita and Daniel Heller on the line, Palo Verde will have more than its share of chances to break off long runs. Plus, this is Palo Verde — more times than not, the Panthers reach the state semifinals.
Reason for concern: Palo Verde graduated the heart and soul of its offense from last year in quarterback Parker Rost and tight end Jake Ortale. Replacing their production won’t be easy, especially when looking at Palo Verde’s schedule. The Panthers’ nonleague schedule includes games against top-10 teams Centennial, Green Valley, Las Vegas and Liberty.
7. Canyon Springs Pioneers
Last season: Lost by three points in the Sunrise Regional semifinals to Liberty.
What’s to like: Canyon Springs has experience in its offensive backfield. Running back Zaviontay Stevenson rushed for more than 1,000 yards last year, and quarterback Bradley Alexander II will be a third-year varsity performer. It will be tough for opposing secondaries to guard wide receivers Davion Carrington, Kajuan Casey and Casey Allison at the same time. Also, two-way lineman Melvin Johnson will be a leader on both sides of the ball, and linebacker Ezequiel Lopez is an emerging defender.
Reason for concern: The Canyon Springs defense was gutted by graduation, meaning a handful of first-time starters will be relied on this fall for contributions. They’ll be replacing a core group of players who were three-year starters and led the Pioneers to consecutive Sunrise Regional semifinal appearances. Aside from Johnson, the line is experienced and still developing its strength.
8. Centennial Bulldogs
Last season: Lost in the Sunset Regional semifinals to Palo Verde.
What’s to like: The Bulldogs’ defense will be one of the area’s best with seven returning starters, including a Division I prospect at safety in Samuel Liaga. Also, senior linebackers Hunter Brown and Dieyon Scott and defensive back Nick Humenik are proven varsity players expected to have solid seasons. And Centennial has the city’s best kicker in senior Zach Mays.
Reason for concern: Centennial could have problems scoring with inexperience at quarterback and several new starters on the offensive line.
9. Coronado Cougars
Last season: Lost in the Sunset Regional quarterfinals to Canyon Springs by five points.
What’s to like: While Coronado had a losing record in 2013, it peaked toward the end of the season and nearly won a playoff game. The Cougars return virtually all key contributors, showing their potential in June by winning UNLV’s passing camp. Quarterback John Farella and wide receiver Tanner Gorski appear primed for breakout seasons and are perfect fits in Coronado’s quick-tempo spread offense. Linebacker Justin Belknap is one of the Southeast League’s best defenders, safety Koy Harris will be a playmaker in the defensive backfield, and defensive end Myles Holland plays bigger than his 6-foot, 180-pound frame.
Reason for concern: While winning a passing league tournament is a nice accomplishment, it’s important to note those events don’t involve linemen — a clear weakness for the Cougars. Coaches still are developing players on the offensive and defensive lines, which lack size, experience and depth. If the Cougars develop, Coronado will challenge Green Valley for the Southeast League title. If they don’t, the Cougars will suffer another first-game playoff exit.
10. Moapa Valley Pirates
Last season: Lost in the Division I-A state semifinals to Churchill County.
What’s to like: Moapa Valley is the Bishop Gorman or Palo Verde of the Division I-A. Every season, the Pirates are a threat to win the state championship, reaching the title game six consecutive seasons before losing in last year’s semifinals. They were undefeated entering that game and could be undefeated heading into the postseason this season. Quarterback Zach Hymas passed for 25 touchdowns last year, and he has capable receivers in Cole Mulcock and junior RJ Hubert. Defensively, linebackers Andrew Huerta and Kaleb Bodily are candidates for 100-plus tackle seasons.
Reason for concern: A weak schedule won’t prepare Moapa Valley for the rigors of the playoffs. Seven of the nine games on the Pirates’ schedule should be convincing victories, and after a Sept. 12 game with Desert Pines, the Pirates should coast the rest of the season. While winning will build confidence, it won’t give the Pirates big-game experience comparable to the postseason. Also, Moapa Valley needs contributions from inexperienced players on both lines.