Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Friday, Aug. 29, 2014 | 2 a.m.
There’s no formula to rank schedule strength for Las Vegas-area high school football teams. Calculations, though, aren’t needed to come to this conclusion: Palo Verde High’s schedule is the most difficult.
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Las Vegas Sun sports reporters Ray Brewer and Case Keefer try to contain their excitement for the start of the football season enough to get through the first slate of games. They also discuss the two defending state champions, Bishop Gorman and Faith Lutheran.
Starting today, when the Panthers open the season at Centennial, all four of their nonleague games come against schools ranked in the Sun’s preseason top 10. Palo Verde, which is ranked No. 6, will play No. 4 Green Valley (Sept. 5), No. 5 Las Vegas (Sept. 19) and No. 2 Liberty (Sept. 27). Centennial is ranked No. 8.
“(The opponents) get better each week,” Palo Verde coach Darwin Rost said. “We have a really tough nonleague schedule. It will test us.”
If any team can survive the tough schedule, it’s Palo Verde. The Panthers last season reached the state semifinals and are firmly established as one of Nevada’s elite programs.
The scenario typically doesn’t change: Palo Verde is always a team others want to beat.
“Everyone will play their A-game against us,” Rost said. “We will have to play our A-game every week.”
Palo Verde’s offensive will be led by running backs Jaren Campbell and Darrion Finn and first-year starting quarterback Graeson Vereen — a trio of players with breakaway speed. Finn rushed for 8.3 yards per carry and seven touchdowns in 2013, and Campbell gained 942 yards on the ground with six touchdowns.
Getting Vereen, a first-year starter under center, up to speed could dictate their success. He was an all-league selection at defensive back last year and has proved to be one of the city’s most talented players. He is expected to make a smooth transition to running the offense.
Palo Verde has two notable returns on the line in senior Daniel Heller (6-foot-2, 270 pounds) at offensive guard and defensive tackle, and Joey Laurita at center and defensive end. They’ll help block in Palo Verde’s double-wing offense and help control the line defensively.
“The line needs to know their jobs for every play and know their responsibility,” Heller said.
Defensively, Campbell and Vereen are part of the Sun’s preseason all-city team. Campbell had 67 tackles and four sacks in 2013, and Vereen recorded seven interceptions.
“We are definitely the team to beat,” Campbell said. “We always go into the game having the plan of winning.”
And they’ve done plenty of winning.
In five of the past six seasons, Palo Verde has registered double digits in wins.
“We are the type of program that doesn’t show up in August and decide to play football,” Rost said. “It’s 365 days a year.”