As the heat pounds down on players at Verrado High School, its football team’s senior captain Jonathon Parks said younger players are bringing the excitement to the field.

“As a sophomore, I was able to play varsity my first year, and it was fun,” Parks said. “I’m excited to see some of the guys go out there.”

Parks, a 6-foot-4 defensive end, will return to tackle this year. He previously played that position as a freshman.

The team went 8-3 last year, and made the playoffs. It lost the first playoff game to Marana, 35-33. It kicks off the season at 7 p.m. Friday, August 17, at home against South Mountain High School.

“High intensity” is how quarterback and senior captain Titan Widjaja described his coaching staff.

“They yell a lot, they scream a lot, but they’re funny,” Widjaja said. “I mean, it’s serious when it’s business time, but it’s fun when we want to have fun. You don’t want to just be out here strictly business. We want to have fun while we’re balling. So, it’s just kind of a happy medium.”

Widjaja and running back Lateef Hampton are among the 20 seniors on the team. They’re also among the few returning varsity starters. He is ready to help his team.

“I kind of treat it as if I get my orders and I pass my orders on,” Hampton said. “So, I don’t really see myself as a leader. I see myself as a messenger to my team, to my friends, to my family.”

The most notable part about its 2017 season is it went 5-0 in section games.

Cody Miller, a senior wide receiver and safety, who also started at tight end last year, knows why they were so effective in those matchups.

“I think section games just bring out the rivalry in everyone,” Miller said. “When we used to play (Desert) Edge, and now we have Millennium; our rivalry, our district games just bring out the energy in everyone.

“Everyone’s ready for those, unlike the start of the season when you haven’t seen those kids before. You know the kids you’re playing in your district games.”

In the last few weeks of the offseason, Tom Ward is thinking “identity.”

“We have to find our identity,” he said. “We knew what our identity was last year. We knew the seniors. We knew what we were going to be. We’re trying to find who we are as an identity. What do we do best? What do we do best defensively? What do we do best offensively?

“And that’s what we’re trying to discover right now. With the younger kids not having played varsity ball before, the games are a little faster than what they’ve seen, and we’ve got to hope that they come around in a hurry.” 

Verrado High Senior Marcus Rivera, left, celebrates his winning overtime touchdown last season with teammates junior Lateef Hampton and sophomore Nicholas Vargas. (West Valley View photo by Jordan Christopher)