Thursday, Aug. 28, 2008 | 2 a.m.
Bishop Gorman (6-0 division, 14-0 overall)
Western (5-1 division, 8-3 overall)
Spring Valley (4-2 division, 7-4 overall)
Sierra Vista (3-3 division, 3-8 overall)
Clark (2-4 division, 3-7 overall)
Durango (1-5 division, 2-8 overall)
Bonanza (0-6 division, 2-8 overall)
Pahrump (0-8-1 overall, played 3A schedule last year)
By The Numbers
1 — Combined league wins last season by Southwest Division veterans Durango and Bonanza, with the one being a 36-35 victory by the Trailblazers against the Bengals.
4 — Amount of Southwest teams who will feature new head coaches out of the league’s eight teams.
6 — Number of games in which Southwest Division newcomer Pahrump Valley scored seven points or less last season without any 4A opponents on its schedule.
23 — Sacks recorded by Bishop Gorman defensive end Justin Chaisson as a junior last season to set an unofficial state record.
1,255 — Yards gained last year by Sierra Vista’s Akil Sharp.
By returning a strong nucleus from last year’s undefeated state title, Bishop Gorman is still the squad to beat in the Southwest Division, the league’s other coaches agree.
The Gaels lost many of their skill position players from the champion roster, but return four offensive linemen starters and arguably the state’s most dominant player in defensive end Justin Chaisson, who is committed to Oklahoma.
Gorman’s returning personnel is common knowledge among the league’s other coaches, and it appears the Gaels will have a target on their backs once again.
“We’re used to that,” Gorman coach Bob Altshuler said. “You just have to prepare week in and week out and not overlook anybody. We will be everyone’s big game, but at the same time, we like to be in that position.”
After the Gaels, the division’s pecking order is wide open.
One team that would have been expected to succeed is Sierra Vista, but the Mountain Lions’ roster was ravaged by the opening of Desert Oasis. The new school, which will begin play in the Southwest in 2009, took four returning varsity starters from Sierra Vista and much of its junior varsity team.
Spring Valley could be another contender after finishing last season 7-3. The Grizzlies, however, must break in a new coach in Kelly Murphy as well as a new game plan. But they won’t be alone.
If there is a theme to the division, it’s a wave of first-year coaches.
Western has one in John Isola, who assumes his first head job after years assisting at Desert Pines. The Warriors only lost one league game last year, but Isola must replace several starters.
A third Southwest school with a new coach is Durango as Gary Maki takes over. The Trailblazers went 2-8 last year, but Maki has experience turning around programs. He led Rancho to a 5-5 record a year ago to snap a 17-game losing streak.
Two of the division’s weaker teams in recent years — Bonanza and Clark — may show the most improvement.
Bonanza went 2-8 last season while breaking in new coach Shawn Dupris. But a strong number of returning players with a year of experience in Dupris’ system should yield better results.
Clark, meanwhile, is building confidence after winning three games a year ago. The Chargers’ had lost 42 consecutive contests prior to 2007.
“After Gorman, I think it will be a tight horse race on who finishes second, third and fourth,” Sierra Vista coach Mark Sauve said. “It should be very interesting all the way through.”
Pahrump Valley, who will make its debut at the 4A level, didn’t win a game last fall in the 3A and could struggle.
Players to Watch
Justin Chaisson, defensive end, Bishop Gorman — The 6-foot-4, 250-pound Chaisson had 23 sacks last fall in leading Gorman to the state title and lists surpassing that total as one of his goals for this season.
Terry Kilfian III, lineman, Clark — Kilfian and a group of Clark’s 15-plus seniors argue one player won’t make its season. While Kilfian and others will lead the way, they feel it will take a team effort to reach their ultimate goal of the playoffs.
Tom Krysztof, linebacker, Spring Valley — Spring Valley graduated most of its top players from last year, but Krysztof returns at linebacker to give the Grizzlies a solid foundation. The 5-foot-10, 190-pounder had 89 tackles and four sacks last year.
Akil Sharp, running back, Sierra Vista — Sharp posted the third highest score nationally last spring in the Nike SPARQ rating, which tests prospects in speed and strength drills. He was clocked at 4.3 seconds in the 40-yard dash.
Christopher Drexel is a reporter for the Home News. He can be reached at 990-8929 or email@example.com..