Thursday, Aug. 16, 2018 | 2 a.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.
After destroying their competition in the 3A classification over the past two years, the Desert Pines Jaguars have set their sights on a bigger prize.
The two-time defending state champions of the lower classification have moved up to the bigger league, where they will compete this season with perennial playoff contenders Legacy and Canyon Springs for the Northeast League title.
“The kids are motivated for the challenge and they’re excited,” Desert Pines coach Tico Rodriguez said. “They’ve been waiting for this moment and it’s finally here.”
During their two-year reign over the lower classification, the Jaguars have gone 18-0 against 3A opponents, outscoring them by a combined 756-150, or an average score of 42-8. During that stretch, Desert Pines has tested itself with non-conference games against bigger schools with mixed results, and now it will finally have a chance to prove itself as one of the best teams in Southern Nevada.
The team won last year’s 3A state championship with a roster made up of mostly underclassmen, and as a result returns an experienced group.
“You have guys that are returning and you have experience,” Rodriguez said. “With that experience you can add more concepts and open up the playbook. They’ve had success and they want to keep success.”
The group is led by hulking sophomore tight end Darnell Washington. The 6-foot-7, 250-pound receiver has offers from Alabama, Oklahoma, Oregon, USC and more. He will be a top target for third-year starting quarterback Tyler Williamson.
Newcomer Cameron Wiley is one of the most exciting players in the league. The running back transferred from Silverado and was ineligible to play at Desert Pines last season, but is ready to impress in his senior season. He has already verbally committed to play college ball at Minnesota.
After realignment, the Jaguars will no longer have a cake walk to the state championship game. They will face stiff competition in defending league champion Canyon Springs and Legacy.
Legacy is new to the league after finishing 7-4 in the Northwest last season and losing to Arbor View in the second round of the playoffs. The Longhorns will again be spearheaded by a potent run game, this time led by running back Amorey Foster.
“I’m actually really excited,” Foster said. “It’s my opportunity. I’ve been in the shadows learning from those other backs, and now it’s my time to shine. I’m ready.”
Legacy may have a more balanced attack than usual, as the coaches are particularly high on sophomore wide receiver Aaron Holloway, about whom assistant coach AJ Lewis said, “The only word to describe him is special.”
“We’re young so we’ll have to get over those bumps in the road and growing pains, but this team’s potential is through the roof,” Lewis said.
Canyon Springs lost a lot of production when electric playmaker DiaMante Burton graduated, but running back Jayvion Pugh returns after 800 total yards and nine touchdowns last year.
“We lost a lot of seniors and we understand that,” coach Gus McNair said. “But these incoming seniors and young guys coming up have had the right work ethic this offseason to replace the production.”
The bottom three teams in the league will struggle to compete with the top half, but are intriguing nonetheless. Longtime Northeast staple Las Vegas High will be looking to return to its past dominance behind some lightning-quick skill players. The Wildcats started 0-7 last year but finished the season on a three-game win streak and hopes to roll that momentum over the offseason.
“On offense we are going full throttle this year and try to spread the ball a lot more than we have in the past,” Las Vegas coach Erick Capetillo said. “We’re going to be young, but we’ll be more than the one-dimensional (offense) we’ve been in the past.”
Eldorado is coming off a disappointing 2-8 season and now staring an even tougher division in the face. That won’t keep the Sundevils from battling week to week, and their biggest goal of the season is winning the Cleat Game against Chaparral on Sept. 14.
“We are welcoming the challenge,” receiver Daniel Powell said. “We see a hill and we don’t think about not getting over it, we think about doing it. We will finish strong.”
Rounding out the division is the team that lost to Desert Pines in the 3A state championship game a year ago — the Mojave Rattlers.
Unlike the Jaguars, it’s unlikely Mojave’s newfound success will transfer to the upper classification, especially with the loss of superstar running back Tawee Walker, who carried Mojave with more than 1,700 yards and 22 touchdowns last year.
The Rattlers expect to rely heavily on big-bodied, 6-foot-4 receiver Isaiah Harper on offense, and a speedy pass rush on defense.
“We wanted to add some outside rush to our defensive game,” coach Abraham Gonzalez said. “We have a lot of speed and I think off the edge we can do some damage and mess up some offenses.”
Last year’s finish: Canyon Springs, Las Vegas, Valley, Eldorado, Rancho (Desert Pines, Legacy and Mojave are new to the league while Rancho and Valley left due to realignment)
Projected 2018 finish: Desert Pines, Legacy, Canyon Springs, Las Vegas, Eldorado, Mojave
Desert Pines: Tight end Darnell Washington, running back Cameron Wiley and defensive end Gabriel Lopez.
Legacy: Running back Amorey Foster, running back Jerry Martin and receiver Aaron Holloway
Canyon Springs: Linebacker Keyvon Lakes, running back Jayvion Pugh and defensive back/receiver Xavier Delong.
Las Vegas: Receiver Darrin Akau, running back Cody Summers and receiver Miles Davis
Eldorado: Quarterback/safety Jalen Malone, tight end/linebacker Guillermo Hernandez and running back Michael Perez
Mojave: Receiver/cornerback Isaiah Harper, lineman Ivan Parra and quarterback K’Maurican Philogene
Offensive MVP: Desert Pines’ Cameron Wiley
Defensive MVP: Canyon Springs’ Keyvon Lakes
Coach of the Year: Desert Pines’ Tico Rodriguez
Game of the Year: Desert Pines 28, Legacy 21
Newcomer of the Year: Desert Pines' Cameron Wiley