• Coach: Bob Altshuler, second year (14-0)
• 2007 record: 14-0 (6-0 Southwest), state champions
• Returning starters: Five offense, four defense
• Top players: OT Sam Womack (Sr.); G Vince Nicotra (Sr.); G/LB Evan Palelei (Jr.); OT Geoff Gibson (Jr.); TE Xavier Grimble (Jr.); DE Alex Turner (Jr.); DE Justin Chaisson (Sr.); DB Charles Childers (Sr.); RB/DB Chaisson Sears (Sr.); RB Kawika Antolin (Sr.); LB Will Fitzgerald (Sr.); DB Evan Zeger (So.)
• Outlook: The Gaels already have a game under their belts and got a head start in practices, beginning a week earlier than most teams. Still, Gorman must replace all of its starters at the offensive skill positions.
The offensive line is nearly intact from last season with five starters returning and should be the key to the team's ability to score, something Gorman had no problem doing last season, when it averaged more than 40 points per game. Three seniors (Chase Cresto, John Therrell and Joe Huber) are battling for the quarterback position. Sears is expected to fill a big void in the offensive backfield.
Chaisson, a 6-foot-4-inch monster who will play at Oklahoma next season, leads a solid defense. He was second on the team in tackles last season. Turner is a good complement at the other defensive end, but the remainder of the defense will have a new look with only two other starters returning.
Gorman probably remains the team to beat in this league.
• Coach: Shawn Dupris, second year (2-8)
• 2007 record: 2-8 (0-6 Southwest)
• Returning starters: Six offense, six defense
• Top players: WR/DB Aaron Simon (Sr.); C/LB Stuart Montenegro (Sr.); RB Antonio Beals (Sr.); OL Jose Babin (Sr.); LB Franz Ferguson (Jr.); OL/DL Diante Perez (Jr.); LB Matt Sathrum (Sr.); RB/CB Ryan Martin (Sr.); CB/WR DeSean Martin (So.)
• Outlook: The Bengals return with experience and enthusiasm as they attempt to move up the Southwest League ladder.
"We've really been stressing coming to play and play hard during the preseason," Dupris said. "The kids are more mature, more experienced."
In Beals and Ryan Martin, the Bengals have the makings of a good running game, but that's not all they'll do. Two sophomores are battling for the quarterback position in Bonanza's spread offense.
"We've got some size at quarterback, which we didn't have last year, so we couldn't throw much," Dupris said. "They're smart kids, and we like to spread it out."
• Coach: Don Willis, third year (3-16)
• 2007 record: 3-7 (2-4 Southwest)
• Returning starters: Four offense, six defense
• Top players: QB Anthony Lotta (Sr.); DL Ben Atuatassi (Sr.); OL/DL Terry Kilfian (Sr.); RB/DB Quincy Hatcher (RB/DB); RB/DL Dan Barr (Sr.); LB Taylor Barrows (Sr.); LB Jon Shogron (Sr.); RB/DB Andre Clay (Jr.); DB/WR Devohn Marks (Sr.)
• Outlook: The three wins last season give the Chargers something on which to build. The team snapped a 42-game losing streak by downing Legacy on Sept. 7. This year's squad is senior-laden, though the offensive line doesn't have a lot of experience.
Lotta returns at quarterback after completing 24 of 68 passes last season, but the Chargers will have to make up for the loss of running back Dimarko Shoulders, who averaged more than 9 yards per carry.
Clark's strength should be its defense, which returns five seniors who started in the front seven last year. Included in that mix is Barrows, who led the team in tackles from his linebacker position. Hatcher is the only returning starter in the secondary.
The untested offensive line and skill position players who haven't posted huge numbers in the past could lead to some early scoring troubles, but the Chargers' defense can keep them in games.
• Coach: Gary Maki, first year
• 2007 record: 2-8 (1-5 Southwest)
• Returning starters: Four offense, four defense
• Top players: RB/DB Romell Maxwell (Sr.); QB/FB Thomas Flanagan (Jr.); OL/DL Fernando Diaz (Sr.); RB/LB Amean Galindo (Sr.); WR/DB Keiffer Mancebo (Jr.); K Anthony Ramirez (Jr.); RB Julio Mora (So.)
• Outlook: Maki, who coached at Rancho last season, has a young team in his first year with the Trailblazers.
"We may not have a senior starting on offense," Maki said. "It's definitely a rebuilding year for Durango. We really like our junior class."
Maki and his staff have used the early practices to improve the Trailblazers' conditioning and implement new offensive schemes.
"We should be improved if we can come together early," Maki said.
• Coach: Leo Verzilli, first year
• 2007 record: 0-8-1
• Returning starters: Six offense, six defense
• Top players: RB Andy Floyd (Sr.); RB Gueren Fenikle (Sr.); C Joey Collucci (Sr.); OT Steven Schmidt (Sr.); QB Nick Murphy (Jr.)
• Outlook: The Trojans' attempt to improve on last year's record won't be made any easier by their move from Class 3A to 4A this season. On top of that, the team is learning a new offense and a new defense and has only 23 varsity players.
Still, there's plenty of optimism in Pahrump.
"It's been nothing but positive from our kids," said Verzilli, who was an assistant coach at Pahrump Valley last season.
The team has good speed, and Verzilli likes his team's work ethic.
Offensively, the team is switching to a Wing-T formation to try to control the tempo of the game.
"If we can hold the rock, we'll own the clock," Verzilli said.
• Coach: Mark Sauve, fourth year (12-19)
• 2007 record: 3-8 (3-3 Southwest)
• Returning starters: Three offense, four defense
• Top players: RB/LB/DB Akil Sharp (Sr.); RB/DB Garland Latham (Sr.); DT Miles Harris (Sr.); DB Darian Yahayavi (Sr.); QB Jeremy Green (Sr.); OL Cody Randall (Jr.); LB Kohl Homeyer (Sr.); DE/LB Sebastian Ross (Sr.)
• Outlook: As Sharp and the players in front of him go, so might the Lions. Sharp, who averaged nearly 25 carries per game and ran for 1,255 yards last season, returns in the backfield and is the focal point of the team's offense. He's also a starter on defense. The offensive line, led by Harris and Randall, should be improved.
On defense, the Lions aren't big, but they should be ultra-quick. Sharp, Yahayavi and Latham return in the defensive backfield.
Depth is a concern for Sierra Vista, which lost potential contributors when nearby Desert Oasis opened this fall.
• Coach: Kelly Murphy, first year
• 2007 record: 7-4 (4-2 Southwest)
• Returning starters: Four offense, three defense
• Top players: OT/DT Nate Holloway (Sr.); RB/DB Jacques Adams (Sr.); FB/LB Tom Krysztof (Sr.); G/DT Steve Haunga (Sr.); WR/DB Keenan Sanders (Sr.); WR/DB Jeff Fajardo (Sr.); QB/DB Anton Stallworth (Jr.)
• Outlook: The Grizzlies are transitioning from a spread offense to a more conventional run-based offense and have only four returning starters on offense.
Murphy said the competition to fill in the remaining spots has been good.
"We're about two or three deep at every spot," Murphy said. "We're going to play kids on both sides of the ball. We'll put the best 11 athletes out on offense and the best 11 on defense."
Holloway (6-4, 320 pounds) anchors both lines, which Murphy said are the strength of the team. The offensive line is learning a new blocking scheme, but Murphy is pleased with the progress.
"The kids want to get over the hump in the playoffs, but we have to get there first," he said.
• Coach: John Isola, first year
• 2007 record: 8-3 (5-1 Southwest)
• Returning starters: Two offense, two defense
• Top players: QB Devin Wiedemann (Jr.); TE Dante Warren (Jr.); C Nate Taylor (Sr.); WR Giovon Grant (Sr.); RB Dawon Maxey (Sr.); DT Clarence Young (Sr.); DE Donte Perry (Sr.); LB Oliver Recarte (Sr.); FS Brian Mickel (Sr.)
• Outlook: The Warriors are starting over after a fine season last year. Gone are both halves of the quarterback-running back duo of J.D. Buonantony and Reggie Bullock, who combined for more than 3,100 yards of total offense and 33 touchdowns.
Western has only four returning lettermen.
"It's a new staff and a new system," Isola said. "We're doing things differently here than they've done before."
The Warriors are trying to gradually improve each week, and they think they can contend for a playoff berth.
• Coach: Dan Barnson, second year (2-8)
• 2007 record: 2-8 (0-7 Northwest)
• Returning starters: Five offense, five defense
• Top players: RB/DB Ryan Hill (Sr.); FB/LB Gabe Toney (Sr.); OT Charles Cullison (Sr.); QB/LB Austin Anderson (Jr.); QB Tony Bilyeu (Sr.); OT/DT Sam Melaerts (Jr.); DB/RB Xavion Johnson (Sr.)
• Outlook: The Aggies already have received a shot in the arm from their junior class, which went 8-1 as a junior varsity team last year. Barnson elected to keep all of his sophomores on JV last year to allow them to bond.
"That whole group has come up together, and they've really come together with the seniors," Barnson said.
Toney transferred from Shadow Ridge, where he had 152 tackles last season, and should be a leader on defense. The Aggies have plenty of size and spent the summer bulking up in the weight room but don't have a lot of proven offensive weapons.
"The excitement is there, but we have a long way to go," Barnson said.
• Coach: George Baker, second year (6-4)
• 2007 record: 6-4 (3-4 Northwest)
• Returning starters: Seven offense, six defense
• Top players: QB/DB Chris Henderson (Jr.); RB/LB Josh Hardy (Sr.); WR/DB Matt Holley (Sr.); OL/DT Billy Smith (Sr.); OL Drew Thomas (Sr.); OL Michael Cardamone (Sr.); K/WR Colton Price (Sr.); LB Scott Hamilton (Sr.); DT Dana Payton (Sr.); WR/DB Jeremy Howard (Sr.); RB/DB Brandon Wright (So.); WR/DB Chris Stinson (Sr.); OL/DL Chase McCutcheon (Jr.); LB David Cuckler (Sr.); TE/DB Robert Holley (Jr.); OL/DT Taylor Davis (Sr.); WR/DB Todd Jackson (Jr.); QB/WR/DB Steven Wicker (Jr.); TE/DL Ryan Miller (Sr.); RB/LB David Vance (Sr.); WR/DB Nick Waters (Jr.)
• Outlook: The Bulldogs have all the incentive they need after narrowly missing the playoffs last season. The team's four losses were by a combined 22 points.
"Our kids are pretty hungry," Baker said. "They want to get to that next level."
Holley was the team's leading receiver last year with 23 catches for 415 yards. He also should be one of the leaders on a defense that has good overall speed.
Baker said the senior class has supplied good leadership.
"Our kids really have a tenacity to them," he said. "When things start to go bad, they really get after it and work harder."
• Coach: Charles Anthony, fifth year (33-13)
• 2007 record: 9-3 (7-1 Northwest)
• Returning starters: 10 offense, 10 defense
• Top players: LB Damien Proby (Sr.); OL Jeremiah Toefano (Sr.); OL Brian Lorio (Sr.); OL Laurence Leu (Sr.); OL Deshawn Crymes (Sr.); RB Marcus Sullivan (Sr.); RB Terrance Brison (Sr.); LB Ronnie Green (Sr.): DB Kevontae Clark (Sr.); DB Khyriece Campbell (Sr.); DB Brice Lynch (Sr.); WR Evan Streets (Sr.); LB Chareece Anderson (Jr.); LB Davion Moore (Jr.)
• Outlook: Cheyenne finally has a large group of seniors after being perennially young. A total of 25 lettermen return from a squad that advanced to the second round of the playoffs. Most of those players have been in the program for three years.
"Everyone knows each other's value. They try to complement each other," Anthony said.
The line appears to be the biggest strength on both sides of the ball.
• Coach: Rod Vollan, first year
• 2007 record: 6-5 (4-3 Northwest)
• Returning starters: Four offense, three defense
• Top players: TE/LB Triton Manumaleuna (Sr.); OL/DL Jordan Padgett (Sr.); FB/SS Zach Barbara (Jr.); LB/OL Aaron Garcia (Jr.); RB/DB Stephen Nixon (Jr.).; WR/DB Keenan Nelson (Sr.); OL/DL Jason Smart (Sr.); WR/DB Kevin Bansbach (Sr.); WR/SS Allen Lee (Sr.); RB/DB Rodrick Washington (Sr.); QB/DB Kenneth Banks (Jr.); OL/DL/PK Alex Ramos (Jr.); LB/OL Maurice Davis (Jr.); FB/LB Jerrel Garrett (Jr.); OL/DL Brandarius Johnson (Jr.); RB/DB James Poole (Jr.); QB/DB Cody Clark (So.)
• Outlook: The Spartans have holes to fill with only 10 players, including five starters, returning from last year's squad.
Nixon could be one of the top backs in the area after rushing for 1,314 yards and 19 touchdowns on 139 carries last year. Barbara added 562 yards and four TDs. The Spartans will need to fill gaps on the line to open up running lanes for Nixon and Barbara to have success.
Manumaleuna, Padgett and Garcia anchor a defense that appears to be strong up front.
Vollan, an assistant at Cimarron for the past 17 seasons, is hoping the competition for all the openings on both sides of the ball will make the team stronger as the season progresses.
• Coach: David Snyder, third year (3-15)
• 2007 record: 2-8 (2-5 Northwest)
• Returning starters: Six offense, four defense
• Top players: WR/DB Deshae Edwards (Jr.); FB/LB Prince Oroke (Sr.); QB Zach Monticelli (Jr.); G John Medina (Jr.); G Lino Garcia (Sr.); TE William Purcell (Jr.); LB Rodney Gilmore (Jr.); DL James Price (So.)
• Outlook: The Longhorns could be ready to compete with every opponent this season after spending two seasons struggling to stay in some games.
"We're definitely improved from last year," Snyder said. "We're older. We've learned some valuable lessons. We basically had a glorified JV team the last couple of years."
The Longhorns have 10 seniors and 25 juniors on the roster, with the bulk of the team growing up together the past two seasons, allowing the players to bond and learn more about each other.
Monticelli returns at quarterback after throwing for five touchdowns last season, but Legacy must replace its leading rusher (Robert McCoy) and leading receiver (Devin Conway).
• Coach: Tyrone Armstrong, sixth year (20-29)
• 2007 record: 8-3 (5-2 Northwest)
• Returning starters: One offense, one defense
• Top players: RB/LB Maurice Cotton (Sr.); RB/DB Mike Montgomery (Sr.); QB/LB Preston Robinson (Sr.); OL/DL "Big" Omar Sanchez (Sr.); OL/DL "Little" Omar Sanchez (Sr.); RB Josh Cabrera (Sr.); WR/DB Tory Mitchell (Sr.)
• Outlook: The Rattlers graduated 19 seniors and have only one true returning starter, though Armstrong has seven players who saw significant varsity playing time last year. Surprisingly, Mojave is senior-laden again this season.
"We see things beginning to come together and really take shape," Armstrong said. "These are all kids who had to go up against those seniors last year. I don't think they think anybody they'll see is as tough as those guys last year."
Mojave could have two players with the same name on the line in "Big" Omar Sanchez (6-5, 385 pounds) and "Little" Omar Sanchez (6-2, 270).
The Rattlers are hoping to reload for another strong season.
• Coach: Darwin Rost, 13th year (83-34)
• 2007 record: 12-1 (7-0 Northwest)
• Returning starters: Five offense, six defense
• Top players: QB/DB Jahari Selmon (Jr.); RB/DB Sidney Hodge (Sr.); RB/DB Torin Harris (Sr.); QB/DB Kelly Zurowski (Sr.); FB/LB Tyrone Blake (Jr.); TE/DB Alex Bonczyk (Sr.); RB/LB Chaz Thomas (Sr.); OT/LB Liloa Nobriga (Sr.); G/LB David Castro (Sr.)
• Outlook: The Panthers are loaded at the offensive skill positions but have questions on the offensive line, where they've shifted a former fullback (Castro) and tight end (Nobriga) and will start two players who were on the junior varsity last year.
Yet with more than 3,000 rushing yards and 40 touchdowns returning in the backfield, Palo Verde's offensive focus will remain the same -- hand it off and let them run. Thomas is healthy after nursing injuries last year, and Harris and Hodge can be just as explosive.
The Panthers' defense, while not big, disrupted teams with its speed last year. And with nearly the entire linebacking crew and secondary back this year, that's not likely to change.
If both lines play reasonably well, there's no reason to think Palo Verde can't repeat as league champion.
• Coach: Gabe Gledhill, second year (3-7)
• 2007 record: 3-7 (1-6 Northwest)
• Returning starters: Three offense, three defense
• Top players: LB Cameron Raynor (So.); RB Zach Hill (Jr.); G/LB Miguel Martinez (Sr.); WR/CB Darryl Tootle (Sr.)
• Outlook: The Mustangs are trying to replace a good senior class that included three players who are in Division I programs this year. Among that group was quarterback and current UNLV freshman Chris Jones, who threw for 1,109 yards and 11 touchdowns.
"We're not as talented, but they're a better unit in terms of chemistry," Gledhill said. "Their work ethic is really good."
Shadow Ridge's strength appears to be its speed as the Mustangs aren't a big team.
Raynor and Martinez have the potential to be leaders on defense. Gledhill said many of the remaining positions are up for grabs.
"Our first goal is to win our first game," he said. "From there, we want to try to find our way into the top four in the league."
INDEPENDENT DESERT OASIS
• Coach: Matt Jenkins, first year
• 2007 record: None
• Returning starters: None
• Top players: ILB Roycen Shepherd (Jr.); OLB Zach Knudson (Jr.); DT Michael DiMauro (Jr.); SS Thomas Whitney (Jr.); RB C.J. Hunt (Jr.); WR Elijah Mitchell (Jr.); FB Dominique Banks (Jr.): TE Cameron Jefferson (Jr.)
• Outlook: In their first year of competition, the Diamondbacks will play an independent schedule against mostly smaller schools.
Though his team won't be eligible to compete in the postseason, Jenkins has stressed the importance of this inaugural campaign.
"This year matters," Jenkins said. "We want to go 9-0."
Unlike most first-year schools, Desert Oasis will start the season without any players going both ways.