With the dust having settled after a whirlwind off-season for the Mingus Union High School football team, the focus now shifts to winning football games.
“The boys trained hard in the summer, and we’ve had some good practices the last few weeks. We’ll do what we always do, and we’ll continue to work to get better,” longtime Mingus Head Coach Bob Young said.
There’s no telling what the 2011 season will bring for the Marauders, who are in the midst of change.
A year ago, the Arizona Interscholastic Association made one of its biggest decisions in decades, realigning Arizona schools by throwing out the conferences and regions of old and introducing divisions and sections.
For Mingus, the 4A-II conference and Grand Canyon region it played in for nearly two decades is gone, traded for Division IV [Section III].
The Marauders will still see a few old Grand Canyon rivals this fall in Flagstaff, Coconino and Bradshaw Mountain high schools, but only because they are within the proximity of Mingus geographically.
The AIA began making the transition in the fall of 2010, with individual sports feeling the difference during the 2010-2011 school year, and team sports starting their new way of life this fall for 2011-2012.
A schedule for all team sports this school year, not just football, will be made based on geography, instead of the size of school enrollment. In the end, Mingus football may benefit.
Instead of Young worrying about how to beat Thunderbird and Williams Field high schools, the two teams that played for the 4A-II title last year, he’ll have to worry about Blue Ridge and Show Low high schools, the two squads which played for a 3A conference state title instead.
In fact, Blue Ridge is Mingus’ first opponent this year when the season kicks off Friday, Aug. 26. The Marauders are making the trip to Pinetop-Lakeside this Friday, with a kickoff set for 7 p.m. Show Low defeated Blue Ridge in the 3A state title game last November, 20-17.
For Young, his offseason was rougher than most coaches, having left the Mingus program at the end of last school year for a job at Prescott High School, only to change his mind and return to the Mingus campus by the July 4 holiday weekend.
Mingus welcomes him back with open arms, especially since he’s 67-21 since 2004, bringing home five region championships and making it to the state championship game in 2007 during that time.
Young’s last state championship came in 1997, but the Marauders are in the discussion every year and 2011 is no different.
Like every season, Mingus has a big senior class with 22 leading the way this fall, and the group is sure to be on its toes this fall.
Top senior returners include Carlos Abrigo, Andrew Hickey, Dillon Lightfoot, Brandon Morales and Jordan Westover.
Abrigo could be in the backfield this season and see plenty of time at cornerback while Hickey is a solid receiver, but he is even better with his foot as the team’s kicker.
Morales is one of the top linebackers on the team while Lightfoot is another defensive back to watch out for. As for Westover, he should see time on both sides of the ball this season for Mingus.
With Ronald Morones having graduated last May, the starting quarterback position is available with three guys looking to lead Mingus in 2011 under center.
Juniors Luke Simmons and Chandry Rice and sophomore Marshal Shill battled throughout the summer during seven-on-seven tournaments, and they carried over their friendly competition to practice in August. Simmons looks to be the favorite to start Friday night.
Other top returners this season include junior wide receiver Andrew Garcia, junior defensive back Zach Pelletier and junior lineman Jordan Welborn.
As for the schedule, Mingus is set to play five games within Division IV this season including Blue Ridge, Chino Valley, Cortez, Payson and Snowflake high schools.
The most intriguing game comes in the regular season finale Friday, Oct. 28, at Camp Verde High School.
Just 15 miles apart, the two schools haven’t locked horns on the football field for over 20 years. Mingus is 7-0 all-time against Camp Verde, with the last victory coming in 1988, winning 41-7.
The first round of the Division IV state playoffs are scheduled for Friday, Nov. 4.