It’s hard to believe, but five weeks from now the fresh faces of Tucson’s burgeoning high school football scene will return to their rightful places.
These high school superstars will begin their 10-week-long gauntlet come mid-August, with the season wrapping up Thanksgiving weekend.
We’re fortunate on the northwest side of town to have a litany of excellent programs, from defending Division 3A runner-up Pusch Ridge Christian Academy, to stalwarts like Mountain View and Ironwood Ridge high schools.
We also have one of the fastest rising squads in the state in the Marana High School Tigers, who look to take their next collective step as a program under 25-year-old coach Louie Ramirez.
The Dorados of Canyon del Oro High School feature a myriad of fresh faces on both sides of the ball, but should have the personnel to rebound from last year’s 4-6 campaign under venerable coach Dustin Peace.
We’re blessed to have some of the finest young men in the state playing in our collective backyards, and I’ve taken the luxury of pinpointing a handful of players to keep an eye this fall.
This is the first installment of a three-week rollout of my inaugural preseason top-30 list, with numbers 30-21 below.
We’re weeks away from the first slate of games, with much to be decided in the interim. Buckle up, folks, we’re in for a long, fun fall.
30. Jaime Avila, Marana High School senior kicker/punter
Avila is one of the most consistent special teams players in the state, converting 2/3 field goals last season, with a long of 36 yards. Avila also converted 70/76 extra point attempts, while averaging 39.3 yards on 24 punts for the Tigers. Special teams play is a crucial component for any successful program, and Avila definitely gives Ramirez’s team a fighting chance in that department.
29. Ryan Garcia, Pusch Ridge Christian Academy junior running back/linebacker
Garcia was a major player on both sides of the ball for coach Jerry Harris’ Lions squad a year ago that went 14-1. The 5 foot 8 inch junior rushed for 623 yards on 83 attempts, and picked up 11 touchdowns for the Lions. Garcia also picked up 43 tackles at the linebacker position, with three tackles for a loss. He’ll be counted on to carry a large portion of the load for the Lions, who are tasked with replacing a vast portion of their roster this fall.
28. Casey Way, Pusch Ridge Christian Academy senior lineman
Way punches well above his weight class on the gridiron, racking up 67 tackles, 15 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks a year ago—despite being 5 feet 10 inches tall. Way is tasked with spearheading the Lions’ offensive and defensive lines this fall, with Mitch Maas, Blake Reilly, Turner Harris, Dakota Haynes and Max Atkinson, who combined for 440 tackles a year ago, graduating. Way has the makeup and strength to do just that, and should be in for a monster senior season this fall.
27. Jaden Boling, Catalina Foothills High School senior kicker/punter
Boling is without a doubt the best all-around special teams performer in the region, coming off a junior campaign where he made 17/20 extra point attempts, while averaging 41.1 yards on his punts. Boling’s efforts in the latter category will be crucial for coach Jeff Scurran’s squad this season, as his sure-footed kicking style has the potential to flip the field for the Falcons’ stingy defense, which creates greater offensive chances for quarterback Joaquin Holm and company.
26. Edward Gastellum, Mountain View High School junior slot back/cornerback
Gastellum is a key part of coach Clarence ‘Bam’ McRae’s rushing attack, averaging 6.4 yards per rush a year ago for the Lions. He also is a major ballhawk in the team’s secondary, snatching an interception as a sophomore last fall. The 5’11 junior has the tools to thrive on both sides of the ball for McRae’s club this fall, providing another must-see player to a squad full of them.
25. Kareem Swailem, Catalina Foothills High School senior linebacker
Swailem is perhaps the most electric pound-for-pound linebacker in Tucson, coming off a memorable junior campaign where he picked up 78 tackles, an interception and a tackle for a loss. Swailem does exceptionally well in the box against the run, and can provide quality coverage of running backs, tight ends and receivers for Scurran’s defense in the pass game. Don’t be surprised if Swailem finishes north of 100 tackles this fall for the Falcons, as he’s the real deal at linebacker.
24. Nathan Grijalva, Ironwood Ridge High School senior running back
Grijalva has the unenviable task of trying to one-up dynamic running back Nick Brahler, who picked up 2,914 rushing yards on 399 carries with 42 touchdowns for coach Matt Johnson between his junior and senior seasons. Grijalva has the chance to do just that, though, coming off a memorable junior campaign where he had 418 rushing yards and 368 receiving yards with 12 total touchdowns for the Nighthawks. Expect Grijalva to put up monster numbers for the Nighthawks this fall, with an experienced line to open up space up front.
23. John Stanton, Pusch Ridge Christian Academy senior slot back/linebacker
Stanton was an underrated player on both sides of the ball for the Lions last fall, with 139 rushing yards and four touchdowns on the ground and 33 tackles, 7 QB hurries, 6 sacks and 3 fumble recoveries on defense. The 5 foot 11 inch senior looks sharp in practice on both sides of the ball, and should be in for a much greater workload for Harris’ team this season.
22. T.J. Cephers, Marana High School senior linebacker/fullback
Cephers was the Tigers’ leading tackler a year ago with 111 total tackles, 4 tackles for loss, 2 fumble recoveries and a single QB hurry. The rising senior should be a major cog in Ramirez’s defense this season, with the potential to haunt quarterbacks’ dreams come August. His combination of speed, strength and surefooted tackling make him an easy selection for this list, and should help the Tigers’ improve their defensive numbers this fall.
21. Ichiro Ramos, Canyon del Oro High School defensive back/running back
Ramos was impressive for his size as a Dorados last year, registering 43 tackles, 5 interceptions, 3 pass deflections and a forced fumble on defense. Ramos also excelled when given the opportunity on offense, with 355 receiving and 153 rushing yards to go with 8 offensive touchdowns for Peace’s team. The 5 foot 9 inch two-way player has a shot at being the team’s go-to back this fall and should provide a nice offensive punch to balance out an improved passing game under rising senior quarterback Zach Eidenschink.
Check back next week to find out who gets chosen for number 20-11 on our list.