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6A Region 1 Desert Valley football preview: 10 questions, projected order of finish

Here are 10 questions for 6A Region 1 (Desert Valley). At the bottom is our predicted order of finish.

The 2020 Arizona high school football season kicks off this week. Here are 10 questions for 6A Region 1 (Desert Valley). At the bottom is our predicted order of finish.

Jared Williams (Chaparral) photo by Shari Miller / SLM Images

1. Who are the region’s top player of the year candidates? 

A couple of quarterbacks — Brophy Prep’s EJ Warner and Pinnacle’s Devon Dampier — and Centennial running back James Scott will contend for player of the year honors, but my pick is the region’s top two-way threat. Pinnacle senior Dorian Singer, who transferred from Tartan in Minnesota over the winter, shines on both sides of the ball, catching 14 touchdown passes and intercepting five as a junior.

2. Who will be the region’s top offensive stars?

QB E.J. Warner, Brophy Prep: The son of Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner, the junior moves into the starting role at Brophy Prep after completing 75 percent of his passes as a backup last year.

RB James Scott, Centennial: Scott should become the next in a long line of 1,000-yard runners to churn through the Coyotes backfield. 

QB Devon Dampier, Pinnacle: The sophomore has drawn comparison with the previous freshman to start a game for the Pioneers — Spencer Rattler, now a redshirt freshman starter at Oklahoma.

RB Jared Williams, Chaparral: He’s a returning all-conference running back who gained more than 1,000 yards as a junior and caught 26 passes out of the backfield.

RB Zaccheus Cooper, Liberty: The Lions offense took off last year when Cooper returned at midseason from a broken foot. He finished with 669 yards, including four consecutive 100-yard games as Liberty made a surprising run to the 6A state title.

Devon Dampier photo by Elena Bernardo – EMB Photoshop

3. Who will be the region’s top defensive stars?

DE Anthony Franklin, Pinnacle: This high-motor lineman had 15 tackles for loss and nine sacks as a junior. He has received offers from Duke, Stanford, Army and Air Force.

CB Ben Morrison, Brophy Prep: Another Bronco with NFL lineage, Morrison is the son of former Washington safety Darryl Morrison. He had a big sophomore year with 42 tackles, seven pass breakups and two interceptions, and he enters the season with close to 20 Division I offers.

DT Anthony Lucas, Chaparral: The state’s top junior recruit has offers from Oklahoma, Michigan, Texas and Notre Dame after a sophomore campaign that included 10 tackles for loss and six sacks.

FS Jax Stam, Liberty: The three-year starter earned second-team all-conference recognition as a sophomore after making a team-high 105 tackles and breaking up 10 passes.

DE Zac Swanson, Brophy Prep: A third NFL-Brophy connection — Zac’s father is former Rams offensive lineman Pete Swanson. He missed most of last season with a broken hand but has picked up offers from Florida State, Oklahoma and Auburn.

4. How many Desert Valley teams will qualify for the Elite 8?

All five teams in the region are capable of qualifying for the Open Division playoffs. But when you consider that Chandler, Hamilton and Saguaro should have locks on three of the eight slots, that leaves five spots for the remaining 4A, 5A and 6A teams. My guess is that two teams — Centennial and Chaparral — will get in, with Pinnacle and Brophy Prep just missing the cut. 

5. Who is the region’s top offensive lineman?

Centennial senior Caiden Miles is a three-year starter at tackle who has committed to UNLV and will play in the Blue-Grey All-American game at season’s end. Coyotes coach Richard Taylor raves about Miles’ pass-blocking skills and his understanding of the nuances of playing the position. 

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6. Who is the region’s top quarterback?

With the last name Warner and being in Arizona, could it be anyone other than Brophy Prep’s EJ Warner? Well, yes, it could be, since Chaparral’s Brayten Silbor and Pinnacle’s Devon Dampier both have the chops to challenge for top honors. Warner, though, has the pedigree to go with the experience of getting into nine games as a sophomore, acclimating him to the Friday night lights.

7. Who is the next great running back at Centennial?

The Coyotes have a long tradition of producing hard-running 1,000-yard backs who fuel their attack, and junior James Scott looks to be the next to come off the assembly line. He led a crowded backfield last season with 524 yards, averaging almost 10 yards per carry, and Taylor likens him to two-time all-Arizona back Zidane Thomas with his ability to bounce off would-be tacklers.

James Scott photo by Tim Thiele

8. What can Liberty do for an encore?

The Lions were the surprise 6A state champions last year, making a run as the No. 7 seed to knock off Red Mountain in overtime in the final. They graduated quite a bit of talent from the offensive line and the front seven on defense. In a region as balanced as this one, someone has to finish fifth, and the Lions might draw the short straw.

9. Is Chaparral ready to challenge for a state title?

The Firebirds certainly are in the conversation for an Elite 8 berth, and if they were to miss out on the Open playoffs, they would be one of the prime challengers for a 6A title. It is, in some ways, the paradox of the Arizona playoff system now — there are teams that could be state champions, except they’re too good for their conference, so they end up in the eight-team Open free-for-all.

10. Which underclassman is ready to bust out this season?

Pinnacle has two sophomores who will feature heavily on Friday nights, but the one who’s ready to break through is tight end Duce Robinson, who was starting to come into his own last fall before breaking a small bone in his hand. The 6-6, 210-pounder still has time to fill out his frame, but he’s a four-star recruit who’s drawing Power 5 attention.

Predicted order of finish

1. Centennial

2. Chaparral

3. Pinnacle

4. Brophy Prep

5. Liberty

You could throw these five schools into a hat, pull their names out, and make that your order of finish. All five are legitimate 6A playoff contenders, and it would not come as a surprise to see any of the top three qualify for the Elite 8. Centennial earns the nod only because the schedule favors the Coyotes — they host three of their four region games, traveling only to Liberty.

More on each team

Read more about the Desert Valley teams at the following links:

EJ Warner leads Brophy Prep through gauntlet of Arizona high school football powers

Centennial Coyotes football jumps to 6A, but goal hasn’t changed — a berth in Arizona’s Open Division playoffs

Anthony Lucas, Chaparral football embark on potential historic season

Liberty Lions football back for another title run — this time, it won’t be a surprise

Pinnacle football will be one of Arizona’s top teams — as usual