Faced with rebuilding an untested offensive unit, Wickenburg High School’s football team has been ranked No. 17 in an early unofficial poll of competitors in the Arizona Interscholastic Association’s (AIA) 3A Conference for this coming fall.

There are 40 schools that compete in the 3A Conference.

The Wranglers, who finished second to eventual 3A state champion Northwest Christian in the West Region standings last year, lost to graduation about 95 percent of their starting offense that capped the 2018 campaign with a 5-1 region record and 8-3 season mark. That season’s highlight was qualifying for the 3A state playoffs for the third consecutive year as the conference’s No. 8-ranked team — bowing out in the first round to eventual quarterfinalist and No. 9-ranked Benjamin Franklin.

The initial No. 17 ranking was published by the website AZ 3A Statz, created by former Wickenburg Sun publisher Kevin Cloe. He has produced unofficial pre-season and early-season rankings of 3A Conference teams for at least the past four seasons. The only official rankings, which determine state playoff qualifiers, are published by the AIA as the season progresses.

Despite the reconstruction of their offense, the Wranglers still are favored to finish second in the 3A West Region (behind No. 4-ranked Northwest Christian). Coach Mike Mitchell’s defensive unit, however, returns some key players from last year — i.e., junior defensive back Bryson Alder, after his six interceptions last year; senior linebacker Michael Flinn, the team’s leading tackler last season; senior defensive end Wyatt Grantham, with his five quarterback sacks last year; junior lineman Jett Uldrickson (6-foot-1, 195-pounds); and senior returning linebackers Clay Watson and Tyler Ness.

The AZ 3A Statz initial ranking puts last year’s state runner-up Yuma Catholic in the No. one spot — returning its quarterback and top running back/receiver. Among the top four include East Region powerhouse Snowflake, Tucson-area Sabino, and Northwest Christian.

If the Wranglers hope to earn their fourth consecutive invitation to the state playoffs, they will have to finish the season ranked No. 16 or better.

The accompanying rankings list each team’s top returning stars (with their 2018 statistics).

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