10 questions for Week 1 of 2022 Arizona high school football season

Valley Christian fans react to a play against Snowflake at Campo Verde High School in Gilbert, Ariz. on Friday, Nov. 20, 2021. (Alex Gould/Special to The Republic)
Richard Obert
Arizona Republic

It's not a full slate but it's enough to call it Week 1. The small schools — 3A, 2A and 1A — begin action this week across the state in Arizona high school football.

The big schools — 6A, 5A and 4A — kick off the season on Sept. 2.

Here are the 10 burning questions to get us going:

1. Why aren't the small schools and big schools on the same schedule to start season?

Because the smaller conferences voted to start Week 1 now, and the bigger conferences wanted to start later after the 2020 COVID year, when the Arizona Interscholastic Association pushed back the season.

This somewhat puts schools like Chandler and Basha, among others, behind heading into their Week 1, which is Sept. 2, in California, where the California schools will already be in their Week 3, because they start their season this week.

Chandler is traveling to play Cathedral Catholic and Basha is headed to play Los Alamitos that first Friday of September.

Last year, the AIA asked the member schools when they wanted to start the season. The big schools wanted to wait for the later start date because of the ability to get more kids after school began. 

"We asked membership, if you want to go back to the original start date, let's go back, we don't care," AIA Executive Director David Hines said. "There are a lot of 3A schools that are mountain schools. They said, 'We want to go back to the original date.' Four, five and six (conferences) said, 'We like to start a little later.'"

The big schools still have 11 weeks to play 10 games. But here we are. So let's call this Week 1 now. The big schools will come in during Week 3 of the AIA schedule.

More:Hamilton High School has one play to call if it hopes to salvage its football season

2. Why does if feel like midseason already?

Because of the ongoing drama that has been draining for those involved. Chandler Hamilton has a chance to appeal probation that the AIA Executive Board placed on it Monday during its meeting over a recruiting violation by defensive coordinator Tim Dougherty, who reached out to a Cesar Chavez defensive lineman in a direct message on Twitter. Tempe Corona del Sol first-year coach Jake Barro is under investigation by the school and the Tempe Union High School District over a heat-related illness in his program. That was still ongoing as of late morning Tuesday with no timeframe when that will be resolved.

Somers column: Hamilton has only one play to avoid probation this season

3. Why are so many media days being held by schools, districts?

That's how big Arizona high school football has become and the platform that social media carries. Who doesn't want to get hyped up for the start of the season? Is high school football at its most popular in Arizona than ever before? Hard to say. But the visibility has never been greater with everybody rating everyone and excitement at an all-time high.

More:Arizona high school football 2022 season: Top 10 teams in 3A Conference

4. Why so many Thursday night games?

Part of the reason is to help the AIA assign officials to games. There's been a shortage and schools moving games to Thursday helps in order to get enough officials everywhere on the usually packed Friday nights. On Thursday, American Leadership Anthem South has its very first varsity game at American Leadership Ironwood in 3A. That's one of only two Thursday games this week. Next week, there are four games among 3A, 2A and 1A scheduled for Thursday, Aug. 25. When there are a full slate of games in Week 3, there will six Thursday night games among the big schools.

5. Is Valley Christian the runaway favorite in 3A?

It's no gimme, but a clear path has been paved by the absence of Snowflake, Yuma Catholic and American Leadership Gilbert North, all now in 4A. This puts the Trojans in great shape to win their first state title since 2009 and third overall. It also lends the question, ''Will this be Valley Christian's last year among small schools?'' Coach Jake Petersen has done a tremendous job building the program and keeping it strong year in and year out. But they have a tough task Friday, traveling to Show Low to play a well-coached team that made a big step back towards elite level last year under coach Carlo Hernandez. 

More:Arizona high school football 2022: Top 10 teams in 2A Conference

The Valley Christian football team take the field for the 3A semi-finals game against Snowflake at Campo Verde High School in Gilbert, Ariz. on Friday, Nov. 20, 2021. (Alex Gould/Special to The Republic)

6. How will Tempe, Shadow Mountain do moving down a level?

They'll find out who is in better rebuilding shape Friday when the teams meet at Shadow Mountain to open the 3A season. This is their first time ever playing in the small-school ranks, and they want to be able to prove they can make their way back up. Neither team won a game last year. Shadow Mountain coach Ron Fagan started 18 sophomores last season, "So we basically played a varsity schedule with a JV team," Fagan said. "They never quit and have worked hard as a team to get better."

7. Can Benson make a competitive jump to 3A?

Yes. There is tradition started by Chris Determan, who stepped down last spring after clashing with administration over philosophies on offense. Benson was a 2A power that lost to Eloy Santa Cruz in the final in 2020 and reached the semifinals last year. Dustin Cluff should do a good job as the new coach, after coming over from Eagar Round Valley, where he was an assistant. He was an assistant from 2007-20 at Show Low. He's got several Benson alum on his staff. It helps having its first five games against 2A schools. The Bobcats will know more on Sept.16, when they face 3A Tucson Pusch Ridge, how well they'll compete in 3A.

More:Arizona high school football 2022 season: Top 10 teams in 1A Conference

8. Can QB Gage Baker make Paradise Honors a playoff team?

Indeed. He's got the confidence and the abilities to transform this program into a football power at the 3A level. Last year, after transferring in from Surprise Willow Canyon, he had to sit out the first five games. He led the conference in completion percentage the second half of the season. He's got playmakers around him and a coach, Josh Goodloe, who will let him sling it all over the field. It starts Friday at home against Wickenburg, which is adjusting to a new coach, Ismail MacNeil.

9. Why is 1A Williams making it a tradition to open against Nevada 8-man power?

Makes them better for in-state 8-man competition. This will be the third time since 2019 that Williams is opening its football season against Pahranagat Valley from Alamo, Nevada. Pahranagat has won the past three 8-man Nevada state championships and beat Williams last year and in 2019. On Friday, Williams visits Pahranagat, which has won 14 Nevada titles since 2001 and 22 overall. It's not too far for Williams to go and why not get its feet wet against a top 8-man team? It only prepares Williams for the schedule and the Heber Mogollon showdown, which this year will fall on Oct. 7 at home.

More:Arizona high school football 2022 season: Top 12 impact transfers

10. What's the best 3A game this week?

Valley Christian at Show Low is good, but Coolidge at Tucson Sabino looks even better. All four schools are in The Arizona Republic's Top 10 preseason rankings. Sabino is ranked No. 2 and Coolidge is No. 4. Coolidge coach Rodger Schenks really likes his team. There's a lot to like. He has an experienced group, speed on both sides of the ball, and power in the trenches. But Sabino QB Cameron Hackworth has lots of playmakers around him, led by receivers Savaughn and Shamar Berryhill, and running backs Andres Baca, Mason Cade, and Juju Cordova. This will go a long way in saying who has the inside track to the title. 

To suggest human-interest story ideas and other news, reach Obert at richard.obert@arizonarepublic.com or 602-316-8827. Follow him on Twitter @azc_obert.