SBLive Arizona will preview every 6A football team in the state leading up to the 2020 high school football season. Here’s our look at the Mountain Ridge Mountain Lions of 6A Region 7 (Southwest).
Doug Madoski, second season (5-6)
2019 6A Desert Valley Region coach of the year
2019 AT A GLANCE
Overall record: 5-6
Region record: 1-4, tied for fifth place in 6A Desert Valley
Playoffs: Lost to Perry 38-25 in first round
ALL-REGION PLAYERS DEPARTED
LB Tommy Ellis – 1st Team (1st Team all-6A)
RB/PR Jay’Von Thompson – 2nd Team
WR Kyler Stancato – 2nd Team
OT Desmond Lott – 2nd Team
QB Keegan Stancato – Honorable Mention
10/2 at Skyline
10/9 vs. Desert Rdige
10/16 vs. La Joya
10/23 at Boulder Creek
10/30 vs. Valley Vista
11/6 at Tolleson
11/13 at Shadow Ridge
11/20 vs. O’Connor
PLAYERS TO WATCH
DL/LB Derek Torres – SR.
Torres can play at least three positions in the front seven and is coming off a second-team all-region campaign. Spending most of his time at defensive end, he totaled 33 tackles, four tackles for loss and three sacks last year, but those numbers don’t do justice to the attention he took up in opponents’ game plans. He also can line up at defensive tackle and middle linebacker.
LB Deryk Leverage – SR.
Another returning all-region selection (honorable mention) from the front seven, Leverage was second on the team last season with 81 tackles and seven tackles for loss, and he led the Mountain Lions with 3.5 sacks. He can play either linebacker spot with strong edge-rushing ability, but he primarily plays outside linebacker because he also has impressive mobility.
C Justin Ritter – SR.
Ritter also is coming off an honorable mention all-region junior season. He brings great size (5-11, 265) to the center position and anchors what should be one of the region’s top offensive lines.
OG Sean Sisco – SR.
Sisco, a third-year starter, also will help lead the offensive line. In addition to his blocking on the field, he’s one of the Mountain Lions’ top leaders off the field.
WR Deric English – SO.
One of the highest-upside receivers in Arizona, English received a Division I offer from Morgan State after just one year of high school football. At 6-4, 210, he has the athleticism of a downfield receiver and the budding size of a tight end. He didn’t get much time at the varsity level as a freshman, but he still reeled in nearly 200 yards receiving.
SB/WR/QB Cole Mitchell – SR.
Mitchell was a key receiving threat for Mountain Ridge last year, totaling nearly 400 yards. He operated primarily from the slot, but he is capable of playing wideout. He also has experience at quarterback and could move under center for his senior season despite being the Mountain Lions’ leading returning receiver.
QB Brendan Anderson – SO.
If Mitchell isn’t at QB in Week 1, Anderson will be the guy throwing him passes. Anderson has significant potential as a Division I prospect and is Mountain Ridge’s future at the position.
TE/WR/SB Tyler Strow – SR.
Another receiver with prototypical size at 6-3, 210, Strow can play any receiver spot — tight end, wideout or in the slot. He was a solid contributor last season with 237 receiving yards, but expect his role to grow significantly in his senior year.
LB/SS/CB Dylan Johns – SR.
Versatility is a theme with this Mountain Lions core, and Johns can play outside linebacker, strong safety or cornerback full-time — or alternate between them, fitting the “rover” archetype that is gaining popularity. As a junior, he recorded 40 tackles (four for loss) and defended capably in coverage, a skill that will be important for him even if he doesn’t play any corner.
As one of only two teams in Region 7 that came within striking distance of a playoff victory last year, Mountain Ridge hopes to build off its 2019 campaign.
Sure, there are plenty of question marks — new quarterback, zero returning rushing threats, one of the state’s best linebackers gone. But the Mountain Lions might have the pieces to overcome those obstacles.
Having English and Strow back to lead the receiving corps means Mountain Ridge can afford to move Mitchell to quarterback if he proves to be the best man for the job. The receiving unit still would be plenty deep, with some talented up-and-coming players such as sophomore Sam Thielen.
Last season’s biggest rushing threats were dual-threat quarterback Keegan Stancato and running back/slotback Jay’Von Thompson. Combined, those two tallied fewer than 900 yards rushing. While the Mountain Lions hope someone will emerge in the backfield, they did have offensive success last year without a prolific rushing attack.
Defensively, Ellis will be missed, but with Torres and Leverage anchoring the front seven, Mountain Ridge still should be stout up front. Cornerback Albin Arulanandu and safety Tanner Loosle return as starters in a secondary that also could become a strength.
MOST REALISTIC SCENARIO
The Mountain Lions competing for a region title is possible, but it certainly won’t be easy. Two of the teams that beat them in region play last year — Boulder Creek and Sandra Day O’Connor — are joining them in Region 7. The Southwest will be a dogfight, where every team will need to bring it every week, and the Mountain Lions will have less continuity in their playmaking corps than many of their adversaries.
And here’s the real downer — even if the Mountain Lions have improved from last season, they still might fall out of the playoff hunt. That’s because the 6A bracket will include eight teams this year instead of the usual 16.
Still, it would be surprising if Mountain Ridge does not post some big wins and at least challenge for the region title. Time will tell whether that’s enough for another postseason berth.