Coach: Don Willis (12-15 entering fourth season)
2021 record: 2-6
Playoffs: Lost to Basic in the first round of the 4A state playoffs
Breakdown: Despite a struggle at times last season, the Cowboys accomplished two main goals: beat rival Eldorado in the Cleat Game and make the playoffs.
Most of their top players from last year graduated, leaving wide receiver and defensive back Michael Diggs as their most versatile and dynamic threat. Chaparral will look to improve on a defense that allowed 39 points per game last season.
Cheyenne Desert Shields
Coach: Frank Galvan (first season)
2021 record: 2-7
Breakdown: New coach Frank Galvan said the team’s focus is to be competitive in every game and not take the foot off the gas no matter the situation.
Galvan has a young team and expects most of the Desert Shields’ starters to be sophomores and juniors.
He expects seniors Thailand Turner and Randell Zackery to be reliable targets as receivers and called Zackery a tweener that he’ll move around to multiple positions on offense. Senior defensive end Javon Holloway should also be a leader.
Coach: Shane Kanie (8-12 entering third season)
2021 record: 4-6
Playoffs: Lost to Sierra Vista in the first round of the 4A state playoffs
Breakdown: The Spartans have an experienced group with nine starters returning on both sides of the ball.
They hosted a first-round playoff game, a loss to Sierra Vista, and that experience has motivated Cimarron-Memorial throughout the offseason.
Quarterback Michael Sabina and wide receiver Andrew Overland are back to lead the offensive skill positions. Samuel Ponce and Adem Slay should stand out on the offensive and defensive lines.
Desert Oasis Diamondbacks
Coach: Brant Smith (7-3 entering second season)
2021 record: 7-3
Playoffs: Lost to Durango in the first round of the 4A state playoffs
Breakdown: There wasn’t a more pass-happy team than the Diamondbacks, and that won’t change much with new quarterback Brandon Lussier at the helm.
He’ll have reliable targets in Elijah Darwin and Zion Gonsalves, and Coach Brant Smith expects defensive lineman Tyler Winterrowd to do big things.
Smith expects to run the ball a little more than last season, which could allow the defense more time to rest. The Diamondbacks were small on defense last year, and Smith said they’re a little bigger and stronger this year.
Coach: Andy Ostolaza (65-44 entering 13th season)
2021 record: 12-0
Playoffs: Defeated Shadow Ridge in the 4A state championship game
Breakdown: The Skyhawks cruised through the first year of 4A with an unbeaten record and outscored their opponents 628-128.
They are the favorite to win the title again, thanks to returning some of the top players in 4A. Quarterback Brandon Tunnell threw for 1,942 yards with 27 touchdowns and six interceptions.
He’ll hand off to running back Caden Harris (1,051 yards, 12 TDs), while Donavyn Pellot (592 yards, 10 TDs rushing; 632 yards, seven TDs receiving) will once again be deployed all over the offense.
The Skyhawks also return 4A Defensive Player of the Year Chris Federico (125 tackles, four for loss) and defensive back Shyne Johnson (six interceptions).
Sunrise Mountain Miners
Coach: Chris Sawyers (first season)
2021 record: 0-7
Breakdown: Coach Chris Sawyers returns to Sunrise Mountain, where he was 16-24 from 2014 to 2017.
He inherits a rebuilding job after the Miners went winless last season and will need to find a way to kick-start an offense that scored just 38 points in its seven games.
Coach: Jeff Cahill (78-65 entering 15th season)
2021 record: 5-5
Playoffs: Lost to Coronado in the 4A state quarterfinals
Breakdown: The Wolves came on at the end of the season and won a playoff game, and they’re loaded to make another run this year.
Basic has about 20 players back from last season, including seven offensive and five defensive starters. Wide receiver, cornerback and kick returner Marcellus Moore will likely be the Wolves’ top weapon, and defensive tackle Domingo Cleveland anchors the line.
Coach Jeff Cahill said the team’s biggest strength will be its skill players on offense and speed on defense. The Wolves have two quarterbacks vying for the starting position, and they’ll get plenty of help while they settle into the role.
Coach: Deumaine Reeder (6-4 entering second season)
2021 record: 6-4
Playoffs: Eliminated by forfeit after the first round of the 4A state playoffs
Breakdown: The Chargers have put together back-to-back seasons with playoff appearances. A third is possible, but they will need some young players to grow up fast.
Clark lost a huge senior class and will need to rebuild its offensive line after losing all of its starters from last year. The Chargers do have quarterback Weston Petty back, and he’s taken on more of a leadership role this season.
The good news for Clark is it likely will only need one league win to make the playoffs, and it won’t face the league’s giants in Basic and Las Vegas until late in the year.
Del Sol Dragons
Coach: Clint DuBose (1-6 entering second season)
2021 record: 1-6
Breakdown: The Dragons were the odd team out of the playoffs after going winless in league play.
They will be young on defense with only two starters returning, but they have seven back on offense. Quarterback Austin Morville took some lumps as a sophomore but has more expected of him as a junior. His brother Collin will man a tight end sport, and Keiyon Simpkins will handle running back duties.
Linebacker Julien Senkbeil and defensive back Eldron Johnson are senior returners from last year on defense.
Coach: Frank Pelton (first season)
2021 record: 5-5
Playoffs: Lost to Shadow Ridge in the 4A state quarterfinals
Breakdown: The Trailblazers reached the playoffs and won a game, and they should have a stingy defense.
Their top two tacklers from last year were seniors, but six of their next seven were sophomores or juniors. That includes junior defensive lineman Andre Washington, who had 45 tackles and five sacks.
The offense will be led by junior QB Maverik Cormier, who had his ups and downs as a sophomore. He threw for 1,898 yards and 10 touchdowns but was intercepted 14 times.
Las Vegas Wildcats
Coach: Erick Capetillo (22-20 entering fifth season)
2021 record: 7-4
Playoffs: Lost to Shadow Ridge in the 4A state semifinals
Breakdown: Coach Erick Capetillo said this is the strongest team he’s had in the weight room, and he hopes that transfers over to the field.
The Wildcats gained valuable experience with their run to the state semifinals. Cepetillo said Las Vegas has a lot of players who can be used in multiple positions offensively, led by wide receiver Andrew Bowen. Elijah Espinoza will be back as a sophomore at quarterback after starting every game last year, and Capetillo expects the passing game to go to the next level.
Linebacker Garrett Hughes leads the defense, and Capetillo expects speed and toughness to make up for a lack of elite size.
Coach: Keith Jones (2-16 entering third season)
2021 record: 1-7
Breakdown: The Bengals are starting almost from scratch, as coach Keith Jones said they only have five returning players at the most.
While they will be young and inexperienced, Jones has been pleased with the commitment level he’s seen. He hopes to have a balanced offense, led by Almiang Raising, who will be moved all over the offense.
Caii Thompson will anchor both lines, and Jones said he’s a big kid who is pretty solid, and Raising and James Jermon will handle two of the linebacker spots.
Coach: Fred Biletnikoff Jr. (12-9 entering third season)
2021 record: 7-3
Playoffs: Lost to Silverado in the 4A state semifinals
Breakdown: The Cougars lost 30 seniors from last year’s state semifinal run, but coach Fred Biletnikoff Jr. expects them to be strong defensively.
That’s where most of their experience returns. Jeremiah Kunitake had 51 tackles and four interceptions, while Collin Mosteller added 56 tackles and 4.5 sacks.
Coronado will be young on the offensive line and is breaking in a new quarterback. But the Cougars have a strong contingent of skill players, led by wide receivers Isaiah Bottley and Brady Kennedy and tight end Michael Floyde.
Coach: Wes Pacheco (4-4 entering second season)
2021 record: 4-4
Breakdown: It was an up-and-down season for the Rattlers. They started with three straight wins, including the first installment of the Air Space Showdown against Sunrise Mountain.
But Mojave dropped four straight games after that to see its playoff hopes evaporate before a win in its finale.
The Rattlers have a big target back in 6-foot-3-inch, 230-pound tight end Donte Hookfin, who will also play defensive end.
Shadow Ridge Mustangs
Coach: Travis Foster (28-31 entering seventh season)
2021 record: 9-3
Playoffs: Lost to Silverado in the 4A state championship game
Breakdown: The Mustangs are expected to be in the mix for the title again after reaching the state championship game last year.
Coach Travis Foster said that run helped build trust from the players that what it does works, and he expects the extra games the Mustangs played to pay dividends.
Running back JaQuieze Holland is back for an encore after rushing for 1,865 yards and 23 touchdowns, and quarterback Coen Nicholas Coloma ran for 693 yards and 15 touchdown and threw for 753 yards and 12 touchdowns with four interceptions.
Shadow Ridge has its entire secondary back, but it will have plenty of new faces on the defensive line and linebacking corps.
Sierra Vista Mountain Lions
Coach: Devin Jones (first season)
2021 record: 4-8
Playoffs: Lost to Las Vegas in the 4A state quarterfinals
Breakdown: The Mountain Lions have the best of both worlds, with a team that has some experienced playmakers that are still young.
Tarrance Masnica is back at quarterback after a mixed sophomore campaign. He threw for 1,082 yards but completed only 44 percent of his throws and threw seven touchdowns against 13 interceptions. He’ll get help in the backfield from Omari Evans, who had 1,183 yards and seven touchdowns rushing and from what coach Devin Jones said is a good receiving corps.
Johnny Baker is back at linebacker after leading the Mountain Lions with 79 tackles.
Spring Valley Grizzlies
Coach: Marcus Teal (42-62 entering 12th season)
2021 record: 4-6
Playoffs: Lost to Silverado in the 4A state quarterfinals
Breakdown: The Grizzlies will have an experienced group with 17 seniors and several juniors who received playing time last season.
Defensive lineman Kelze Howard, an Oregon State commit, is back after a junior season with 38 tackles, nine for loss, 5.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. Coach Marcus Teal called Howard the top dog, but he’ll have help from fellow captains in outside linebacker Colton Jones and quarterback Ti’Shaun Ereaux-Jackson.
If there’s an issue for the Grizzlies, it could be depth. Teal said the first-line players are strong, but if anyone goes down, the experience level would drop quickly.