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 Desert Vista Thunder of 6A Region 5 (Central).
Dan Hinds, 19th season (129-79)
2019 AT A GLANCE
Overall record: 9-4
Region record: 3-2, tied for second place in 6A Central
Playoffs: 6A, beat Basha 52-26 in first round, beat Perry 70-63 in quarterfinals, lost to Liberty 33-30 in semifinals
ALL-REGION PLAYERS DEPARTED
DL Jaylen Johnson, first team
DB Taron Thomas, first team
TE Braeden Belnap, first team
WR Elijah Ervin, first team
CB Colby Humphrey, second team
LB Zack McGinnis, second team
OL Eddie Weigl, second team
OL Zander Katsirebas, honorable mention
WR Colton Grover, honorable mention
Oct. 2, at Corona del Sol
Oct. 9, at Highland
Oct. 16, at Basha
Oct. 23, Mountain View (Mesa)
Oct. 30, Hamilton
Nov. 6, Chandler
Nov. 13, Tolleson Union
Nov. 20, at Mountain Pointe
PLAYERS TO WATCH
QB Landen Powell, 6-3, 210, Jr.
With Parker Navarro now playing at Central Florida, Powell — a strong-armed Mountain Pointe transfer who threw for 1,178 yards, eight touchdowns and 15 interceptions last season while completing 55 percent of his throws (112 for 202) — will battle sophomore Jackson Akins (6-0, 165) for the starting job under center.
RB/SS Devon Grubbs, 6-0, 195, Jr.
Grubbs backed up older brother Tyson at tailback the past two seasons, rushing for 499 yards and six touchdowns on 77 carries. A second-team all-region kick returner, he has offers from Arizona State and Northern Arizona. “We’re expecting Devon to be the workhorse this year,” said assistant coach Jake Swingler. “I don’t think that’s going to surprise anybody.”
G/DE Kekamalei Huakau, 5-8, 210, Sr.
He’s nicknamed “Kama” and is a returning starter for the Thunder. Swingler called Huakau “the heart of our line. Sometimes, big things come in small packages.” He finished with 17 tackles (three for loss) in eight games last season.
OT/DT Jai Rodriguez, 6-5, 265, Jr.
Rodriguez was a part-time starter last year, but he’ll be an anchor along the offensive line this fall. He received an offer from Arizona State in June. “This will be his coming-out party,” Swingler said.
WR/CB Jaden Clark, 5-9, 165, Sr.
Clark saw spot duty as a junior. He’s another player who should have a breakthrough season. “He has great hands,” Swingler said. “He should be a standout this year.”
TE/MLB Carlo Jinks, 5-9, 190, Sr.
Another player who bided his time and appears ready to play a bigger role this year.
WR/CB Blake Taylor, 6-1, 175, Sr.
Not to sound like a broken record, but Taylor is yet another player who saw his path blocked by a deep senior class. “He really didn’t get a chance with all the talent we had last year at the skill positions,” Swingler said. “He should stand out this year.”
FB/LB Tyson Martinez, 5-7, 180, Sr.
Injuries limited him to three games last season. Swingler believes Martinez is primed for a breakthrough senior year.
TE/DE Jayden Ruff, 6-1, 215, Sr.
Ruff appeared in only two games last season and is coming off knee surgery, but he is another player the Thunder will count on to make an impact.
OT/DE David Nation, 6-4, 225, Jr.
A late-season call-up from the JV squad, he and Rodriguez will bookend the offensive line this fall.
C/DL Aiden Mikus, 6-1, 245, Jr.
Mikus played behind Aayden Dodd at center last year but has the job to himself in 2020.
G/DE Jayden Denton, 5-11, 215, Soph.
Denton already has drawn attention from college scouts, and he’ll be in the mix for a starting job in the interior line as a sophomore. “Strong, aggressive and doesn’t back down from anyone,” Swingler said. “A complete stud.”
RB/DB Michael Allison, 5-9, 170, Soph.
Allison is a speedster who can turn the corner against anyone. He and another sophomore, Quentin Ivey (5-6, 155), will complement Grubbs in the backfield.
The Thunder have plenty of talent back but not many players who started on a team that earned the program’s first semifinal appearance since its 2011 championship.
That has a lot of players hungry to make their mark and prove themselves under the Friday night lights. That includes a new crop of skill players, led by Grubbs, and the first wave of a strong sophomore class.
Desert Vista will have a newcomer under center, although Powell has starting experience with Mountain Pointe. He’s in a dogfight with Akins, who played freshman ball a year ago, for the starting nod.
Fortunately, the newcomers will have a few weeks to acclimate themselves before back-to-back games in Weeks 5 and 6 against Hamilton and Chandler will test whether the Thunder have what it takes to qualify for the Open Division playoffs.
MOST REALISTIC SCENARIO
Desert Vista was the No. 6 seed in last year’s 6A playoffs. That sounds about right again this fall.
Youth typically gets served a few doses of reality as it gets accustomed to varsity action. The Thunder will start the season with three consecutive road games, all against 2019 playoff qualifiers.
The team had hoped Taron Thomas would help lead the transition, but the all-region defensive back (80 tackles, three interceptions, three forced fumbles) transferred to Saguaro over the summer.
The offensive linemen show plenty of promise, but they’re still filling out. Rodriguez at 265 pounds is the heaviest player in the group.
“The strength of our team is definitely the run game with Devon running behind Jai and Kama, but all-around defensive improvement is needed.” — Jake Swingler