Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2018 | 7:30 p.m.
Las Vegas Sun editors Ray Brewer and Case Keefer go through every division and team in the 4A and 3A high school football classifications in their annual season-opening podcast.
For the first time in a couple of years, a football state championship is truly up for grabs.
Over the past few seasons, Bishop Gorman winning the 4A state title and Desert Pines winning the 3A title were foregone conclusions, but offseason realignment has left the 3A classification as competitive as ever.
There is no clear-cut favorite to win the Sunset League, which should make for entertaining football.
“We’re excited about the realignment,” Pahrump Valley coach Joe Clayton said. “We think there is more parity this year than ever before, so Friday nights are going to be exciting. Parity makes it so any team can win on any given Friday night, which makes it more exciting for the players and the fans alike.”
Pahrump Valley has as good of a chance as any. The Trojans finished 2-3 last season in league play, but all three losses were to teams that are no longer in the league — Desert Pines, Mojave and Sunrise Mountain.
They return nine starters on defense and eight on offense, including running back Nico Velasquez, who scored four touchdowns last season and will now take the reins as the lead back. As always, Pahrump Valley will own a strong home field advantage, as the other five teams will have to take the hourlong bus trip west.
“It’s fun (playing at home),” senior lineman Zach Trieb said. “Everyone in the crowd gets involved. You can’t even hear the staff half the time but it’s fun. Everyone from the town comes, and some businesses even close down.”
Cheyenne is another team that will be fighting for the league title. The Desert Shields lost a lot of production from last season but return quarterback Josh Rose, who threw for more than 900 yards and five touchdowns last year. They will rely on a veteran offensive line led by 6-foot-5, 285-pound offensive tackle Chris Rose.
“We’re going to be more aggressive and try to be as physical as possible, especially up front so we can win a lot of battles,” Chris Rose said.
Del Sol returns most of its roster from last year’s 2-8 team and is excited to try its hand in the new league.
“It’s an experienced group of kids who are confident in the system,” coach Mike Valenzuela said. “We have a lot of good athletes who are explosive and can change the game at any time. We always add a few wrinkles and new plays every year, but we’re excited about being even more aggressive in the passing game.”
Another team hoping to make major strides offensively is Valley, which will move last season’s leading rusher Bryce Jones from running back to quarterback. Jones ran for 550 yards and three touchdowns, then threw four touchdown passes and no interceptions as a part-time quarterback down the stretch. This year, he’ll make the transition to full-time signal caller.
“Bryce is a dynamic athlete,” coach Quincy Burts said. “Right now we’re struggling at quarterback, so this year he’s spearheading the offense. The quarterback position enhances his dynamic ability.”
Valley surprised many with an improved 4-6 season last year in 4A and could flourish in the lower classification.
The Western Warriors will be looking to build off last year. The team snapped its nearly seven-year losing streak with a win last year, but lost the final eight games of the season.
“Our major goal is to make it to the playoffs,” first-year head coach Jessie Daily said. “Last year we got our first victory and we’re feeling good about that, but now that we know we can win, we expect to win.”
The final team in the newly constructed Sunset League is one unfamiliar to many. Democracy Prep (formerly Agassi Prep) makes the leap from the 2A classification up to 3A and is hoping to prove it belongs right away.
“We know we are moving up in divisions and we’re pretty excited,” assistant coach Tank Johnson said. “Our kids are ready to compete with anybody. Last year we only had two seniors, so basically the whole team is coming back.”
Democracy Prep returns starting quarterback Micah Gayman, who threw for 11 touchdowns and only three interceptions last year, and leading receiver and lockdown corner Kelley Jones.
After the shakeup, the 3A Sunset league is seemingly anyone’s for the taking.
Last year’s finish: Desert Pines, Mojave, Sunrise Mountain, Pahrump, Cheyenne, Western (Del Sol, Valley and Democracy Prep are new to the league while Desert Pines, Mojave and Sunrise Mountain left due to realignment)
Projected 2018 finish: Pahrump Valley, Valley, Cheyenne, Del Sol, Democracy Prep, Western
Pahrump Valley: Running back Nico Velasquez, Tight end/defensive back Josh Belcher and lineman Zach Trieb
Cheyenne: Quarterback Josh Rose, receiver Ray Brown and running back Armond Clary
Del Sol: Receiver Markell Turner, defensive lineman Ray Wilkins and tight end Kemani Wilks
Valley: Quarterback Bryce Jones, defensive back/receiver Seth Jarrett and lineman Jayden Freiburger
Democracy Prep: Receiver/defensive back Kelley Jones, running back Vanell Meeks and quarterback Micah Gayman
Western: Lineman Chris Cisneros, quarterback Hah’Saun Blackburn and tight end Kenneth Morales
Offensive MVP: Valley’s Bryce Jones
Defensive MVP: Pahrump Valley’s Josh Belcher
Coach of the Year: Pahrump Valley’s Joe Clayton
Game of the Year: Pahrump Valley 34, Valley 28
Newcomer of the Year: Democracy Prep’s Kelley Jones