2017 high school football preview: Horizon Huskies

The offenses and the defenses of the Horizon football team set in during a July 31 practice. (Independent Newsmedia/Josh Martinez)

For the past few years, the Horizon High School football team has been a work in progress.

Last year, the Huskies jumped from no wins in 2015 to a winning record of 6–4 overall record (2–3 region record), but fell short of the 6A playoffs after losing its last three games of the season.

The 2016 turnaround came in Head Coach Ty Wisdom’s first year as head coach. Gearing up for his second year, Coach Wisdom looks to continue the progression and push the Huskies to further heights.

“We just keep talking about taking that next step and we do that by just putting in the work everyday,” he said in a July 31 interview. “Right now, we’re just focusing on ourselves and then about a week from now, we’ll start looking at our first game.”

Stepping back, Horizon loses more offensive than defensive contributors to graduation, including quarterback Nick Gregory.

Defensively, the team returns several top tacklers with several returning to the defensive line. Coach Wisdom, however, sees the defensive backfield as the team’s biggest hole to fill after the loss of several defensive backs to graduation.

These losses leave opportunities for younger, inexperienced players to fill those roles. However, teaching them can be tricky.

“The biggest thing is just getting them out there, building confidence each week and it’ll come early,” Coach Wisdom said. “At the end of the day, we’ve got to be playing our best football in October. Again, continuing to get better each week.”

Coach Wisdom will also rely on his senior class to help, which he said is already stepping in and making an impact.

Horizon’s schedule features all opponents from a year ago, in the same order. The Huskies kick-off their season Friday, Aug. 18 against Cibola High School.

The Huskies open Desert Valley Region play Thursday, Sept. 28 at Mountain Ridge High School in Glendale.

Of Horizon’s 2017 schedule, three teams made the 2016 playoff including Westview High School, Chaparral High School and Pinnacle High School. Three teams on the Huskies’ schedule finished with winning overall records while two had .500.

Horizon will face rival Pinnacle Friday, Oct. 27 after the two played in an overtime contest a year ago with Pinnacle coming out on top 43–42 in overtime.

Looking at the schedule as a whole, Coach Wisdom says he sees a high ceiling for his team.

“A lot of things have to go right for us to reach our goals but the potential is there,” he said. “It all starts up front. When you got that O-line and D-line, it gives you a chance. I think the more game experience these guys get, the better.”

The Horizon offensive line staves off the defensive push during a July 31 practice. (Independent Newsmedia/Josh Martinez)

Offense

Coach Wisdom and crew will run a triple-option offense with a tight end about 95 percent of the time.

A year ago, the Huskies were balanced in their running-passing game, although they did accumulate more rushing (2,292) than passing yards (1,613).

“We hope that our run game is even more dominate to where people want to load up the box, we’ll throw it over the top of them with a few of the receivers we have that can go make some plays,” Coach Wisdom said.

A Horizon football player takes off down field with a blocker beside him during a July 31 practice. (Independent Newsmedia/Josh Martinez)

A critical part of any running game is the offensive line and Horizon brings in five seniors in Logan Funk, Justin Segura, Jonah Brownell, Hunter Weber and Isaiah Mursalet to open those holes.

According to maxpreps.com, Brownell, Mursalet and Segura are three of the team’s five captains.

Coach Wisdom said this group of linemen all played together last year so they have experience and familiarity with each other and they have solid talent.

“They just got great motors and it’s not very often your leadership comes from that,” he said. “Right now, our leadership comes from our offensive and defensive lines and that’s what excites me because that’s where it starts in our offense and defense.”

Another key returner is Dylan Lizarraga, who is working through a hamstring tweak Coach Wisdom said. Lizarraga was provided output in the rushing and passing games and Coach Wisdom looks to use him in a journeyman role.

At running back, Coach Wisdom will look to a trio of tailbacks in juniors Nash Giffin, Chris Grillo and senior Shane Andrews to fill the void left by Nicholas Brady, the team’s 2016 leading rusher.

With Gregory gone at quarterback, Coach Wisdom is looking to junior Isaac Enriquez, who played some minutes last year, and sophomore Jake Martinelli.

Coach Wisdom said Enriquez runs the triple option well while Martinelli has a good arm. Both quarterbacks are still competing for the job, Coach Wisdom said.

As far as receiver, no one has emerged as a frontrunner from a group of six to eight receivers.

“We’re looking for some receivers to step up,” he said. “We’re young at that spot. Talented but young.”

Seniors Grant Mileski and Brett Rudolph, both captains, contributed to last year’s passing game as tight ends and Coach Wisdom expects them to contribute in at the same position.

Defense

The Huskies defense will range from a three-man to a four-man front, depending on the situation, Coach Wisdom said. The defensive line will be a critical part of the defense because of how many are returning at those positions.

The Horizon defensive line closes in on the quarterback during a July 31 practice. (Independent Newsmedia/Josh Martinez)

Coach Wisdom is confident he can fill those roles but he will look mainly to Muleski, Brownell, Segura and senior Taliaehau Anau.

He also believes Segura is one of the top nose tackles in the state. Segura notched 50 tackles with team-highs in tackles for loss (nine) and sacks (four) in 2016.

With a talented group returning on the defensive line, Coach Wisdom expects those up front to make an impact throughout the defense.

“I think that will really help our secondary that is a little inexperienced by putting some heat on the quarterback, making sure he gets the ball out quickly,” he said.

Much like the receivers, Horizon is not returning many in the secondary.

Senior Nathan Bucko is making the change from outside linebacker to safety this year and will provide some experience and leadership to the defensive backs.

Coach Wisdom says he has a group of guys who can play in the secondary and are talented but he is waiting for them to step up into the role. He does have a lot of faith in Grillo, who will play safety.

This group is looking to fill the shoes of cornerback Blake Sprenger, among others. Sprenger led the team in interceptions and accumulated 43 tackles.

At linebacker, Rudolph, the team’s 2016 leading tackler, is returning as an inside linebacker. Giffin will join Rudolph as an inside linebacker.

Coach Wisdom also has Luke Zimmer waiting in the wing to move from outside to inside linebacker if Giffin needs a break because of playing both ways.

Also at outside linebacker will be sophomore Jay Rudolph and senior Erik Amundson.

With a host of experience on both the defensive line and at linebacker, Coach Wisdom is excited for what it can produce.

“Right now, they look really good on paper. A lot of them had experience last year so I’m excited to see what it produces on Friday nights,” he said.

“Hopefully that’ll take some pressure off our secondary that doesn’t have a lot of experience on those Friday nights.”

News Services Reporter Josh Martinez can be contacted at jmartinez@newszap.com or at 623-445-2738

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