The Bulldogs will see a familiar face across the field when they scrimmage the Round Valley Elks in Winslow on Friday.
Former Bulldog mentor Russ Semore has taken over the helm of the Elks and will likely install the wide open aerial attack that has been his forte over the years.
Winslow is coming off one of its best season in decades. The Bulldogs won the 3A North Region Championship, going undefeated in regional play. Winslow lost its opening game at Snowflake to a strong Lobo 11 that also reached the state semi-finals. Snowflake had played the week before meeting Winslow, a fact that may have influenced the results.
The Bulldogs did not taste defeat again until the state semi-finals when they fell to eventual state champion Show Low.
The Bulldogs return a plethora of talented players. Seniors Lucas Armenta, Carlos Quesada and Orlando Vargas play important roles on both offense and defense.
Unfortunately, Armenta is recovering from an injury and not likely to play until the fifth game of the year.
Quarterback Jordan Payne is only a junior and is also one of the best defensive backs in the state. He, too, is recovering from an injury and will likely miss the scrimmage. He should be available for the season opener.
The list of players who start on both offense and defense is impressive. Junior Nick Anderson is expected to be a major force on both the offensive and defensive lines. Justin Powell is just a sophomore, but is expected to start at tackle on both offense and defense. Mike Zaites is a senior transfer from Peoria who is expected to start in the backfield on both sides of the ball. Anthony Martinez and Matt Oso are juniors who are expected to start as receivers and defensive backs. Clint McLain is a junior who is expected to start in the line on both offense and defense.
Tim Merritt is a sophomore who is expected to start as a receiver and see playing time at quarterback. Junior Adrian Smith is expected to start as a defensive back. Dillon DeWitt is a sophomore who is expected to start at linebacker. Sophomore Mark Armao is a likely starter at cornerback. Sophomore David Young could start on the offensive line as could junior Corey Dean. All of these players and the injured junior Josh Stago could see action on both offense and defense.
Winslow Coach Matt Gracey has guided the Bulldogs back to the type of respectability the team enjoyed in the 1950s, 60s and 70s.
Gracey enters his fifth year as the head man at Winslow High with a record of 33 wins and 11 losses. His teams have finished with 10-2 records and reached the state semi-finals in each of the last two seasons. He is ably assisted by B. J. Little, who works primarily with the defense. Gracey had high praise for Little’s work as he did for junior varsity and line coach Adam Larsen.
Arlen Rogers coaches the special teams and Steve Sartain is the freshman coach.
Semore came to Winslow from Ganado and returned there to rejuvenate the Hornets’ program after leaving Winslow. His teams at Ganado featured devastating passing attacks and solid defense. He moved to Hopi for a brief stay as the Bruins’ mentor and installed a passing attack and commitment to defense that breathed new life into that program.
Round Valley has been down for several years and had several coaches fail to restore their previous glory.
Winslow will open the regular season at Camp Verde on Aug. 27. The Cowboys were originally scheduled to be Winslow’s scrimmage opponent, but that was changed to a regular season game.
The change should help prepare the Bulldogs for their state championship quest.