FALL PREVIEW: Havasu football sets sights on new region
Three years removed from its 2015 semifinals run in the state tournament, the Lake Havasu football team is looking to return to its winning ways with a new stadium, new conference and a few new opponents.
The Knights are already on their way after beating Lee Williams 34-14 in Kingman on Friday night. Interestingly enough, the last time Havasu faced the Volunteers was in that 2015 season that saw the Knights finish 11-2 overall and 6-1 in regional play.
It’s 2018 though, and while the Knights would want nothing more than to return to the playoffs, finishing the season with a winning record is the main goal.
Besides a few key players the Knights lost to graduation, the majority of Havasu’s roster consists of returning players with the intention to reach that goal after a losing season that saw Havasu go 4-6 overall and 1-4 in the Desert West region of the 5A Conference.
This year, Havasu dropped down to the 4A Conference along with Goodyear Desert Edge and Glendale Deer Valley. Glendale Cactus and Peoria round out the new West Valley region and is expected to still be highly competitive.
“We were in a competitive division last year,” Lake Havasu coach Karl Thompson said. “We did a lot of good things and there were a lot of close games. What happened to us is, other teams depth caught up to us where we were not very deep in positions.
“So this year it’s going to be just as competitive but we are playing schools that are more even number wise with us. The kids have put in a lot of great effort this summer, so we are excited about things to come.”
Senior Cole Wade is back in the starting quarterback position for the second year in a row after leading the Desert West region in passing yards with 2055 while throwing 14 touchdown passes last year.
Despite the numbers, last year was about grasping the position for Wade. This year is about putting that knowledge to work.
“Last year I was kind of guessing most of the time,” Wade said. “I think that year gave (all the guys) more chemistry. Our timing right now is really good. We are all more mentally prepared.
“We’ve improved a lot. Offensively, we have some skilled guys and run deep in the positions. Our offensive line, I think it’s all going to fall on them. If they step up, we can compete with the best of them.”
There is a bit a reshuffle happening on the offensive and defensive line for the Knights this year. After graduating three key players in Adriaan Putman, Trey Kalauli and Sal Galan who all started the past three years, Thompson is now going to have to put trust in new names to get the job done.
Confidence is not lost either, on returning seniors Jacob Schafer, Jonathan Perez, Max Warner and junior Jace Taylor on the ability to fill the shoes of key receivers and running backs the team graduated last year.
“The positions where we lost important players from last year we got back right away with this team,” Schafer said. “I feel like our receivers are a lot better this year. We are all just going to have to step up where we need to and fill those roles.”
While guys on the defensive side of the ball might not be the biggest the Knights have seen, they just might be the fastest with a good linebacking core according to Thompson.
Inside and outside, Havasu has a lot of experience coming back to fill the linebacker positions. Seniors Peyton Luzzi, Jorge Balsuto, junior Josh Nelson and Brandon Lamacki who is coming up from the junior varsity squad are just a few names to look out for.
Havasu will look to stay in the win column when it travels to Flagstaff to face Yuma Cibola at the Northern Arizona Univesity Walkup Skydome.
The first homestand is against rival Mohave for the 50th annual Golden Shovel game in which the Knights look to retain the shovel for the sixth straight year.
It’s fitting the most anticipated game of the year for Havasu also marks its first-ever home game at the new and improved, $8 million Lee-Barnes Stadium.
“I’m especially excited because it’s our senior year and we got this new stadium,” Perez said. “To play our home-opener against Mohave is very important to us. It’s a very big rivalry and we plan to keep that shovel at home.”
The homecoming game is Sept. 14 against Phoenix Moon Valley.
West Valley region play kicks off on Oct. 5 at home against familiar foe Deer Valley. The Knights then hit the road for Cactus a week later. Then come home for senior night against Peoria. Havasu ends its regular season on Oct. 26 against Desert Edge in Goodyear.
Unlike last year, this year’s schedule for the Knights sees them playing teams either in the same conference or up in conference. Should Havasu win more than it loses, its record would benefit from power points when the time comes for playoffs.
However, the Knights will be put to the test as most of their games this season are on the road as opposed to only four home games including the Golden Shovel game.
Without a doubt, the expectation this season from the Knights is to win as many games as possible. Regardless of how the season turns out though, the coaches expect their players to go undefeated in the classroom.
“Every week we do always want to go out and try to win but it’s not always on the field,” Thompson said. “We want to win in the classroom every week, make sure the players are eligible and learn to do the right thing in-and-out of class. So just teaching them those life skills, whether it’s getting up early for your job or making sure you do your part. That’s the grind of balancing football with the classroom.”