Wrangler football team similar to Cardinals prior to Thursday scrimmage against Tonopah Valley?

Senior Troy Adamo, the second leading receiver for the Wranglers last year, is expected to be one of the targets of quarterback Bryson Alder’s passes this coming season. Alder, by the way, was the Wranglers’ leading receiver last year and occasionally could still be on the receiving end of passes in Head Coach Mike Mitchell’s versatile offense.

By Kevin Cloe

Sun Correspondent

The comparisons are interesting.

First, an untested young and elusive quarterback.

Second, a handful of hopeful receivers.

Third, rebuilding of the offensive line.

What Wickenburg High School’s football team is facing this coming season appears to mirror the same issues challenging the Arizona Cardinals’ professional football squad. The Wranglers will test that comparison when they visit Tonopah Valley at 6 p.m. this Thursday, Aug. 22 in a preseason scrimmage.

The Cardinals are relying on first-year quarterback Kyler Murray, the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s (NCAA) Heisman Trophy winner who was drafted as the No. 1 college football player last year. Small for his professional position (5-foot-10 and 207 pounds), some critics claim his size will limit his capabilities at the pro level and he’ll take a beating from oversized defensive opponents. Plus, critics also doubt that Murray’s ability to scramble out of trouble won’t be effective at the passing-happy pro level.

Meanwhile, the Wranglers are turning to junior quarterback Bryson Alder (5-10, 160) to ignite their offense this coming season without any experience in that position at the varsity level the past two years. He was the Wranglers’ leading pass receiver last year (32 receptions, 320 yards and five touchdowns) as well as leading the team in pass interceptions (six) as a defensive back.

Alder, though, is known for his ability to elude would-be tacklers … a trait Head Coach Mike Mitchell thinks is comparable to those of last year’s quarterback, Michael Mindnich, who was selected as the 3A West Region Player of the Year. Although his arm strength and throwing accuracy haven’t been tested in varsity game situations, Alder has impressively demonstrated that skill in spring practices and summer passing competitions with accuracy and distance.

And who would be Alder’s targets in the passing game this season? Since he’ll be delivering the pigskin instead of receiving it (except for an occasional variable play call from the sidelines), the next most likely receiver would be senior Troy Adamo. He was the team’s fourth-leading receiver last year (14 receptions for 146 yards and three touchdowns) behind Alder and graduated seniors Isaac Olson and Kegan Lindsay.

Then there’s utility athlete Michael Flinn, a senior this season who was occasionally used as a running back and receiver last year. Also in the mix is expected to be junior tight end Clay Watson, who caught only two passes for eight yards last year but is expected to be key to the Wranglers’ success on defense from his linebacker position (fourth leading tackler on the team last year).

After that, the Wranglers will turn to a young corps of possible targets — impressive sophomores Calergero “Ro” DiCamillo, Korbyn Dowdy and Vinny Lorefice.

The Cardinals, in the comparison, return 16-year veteran fan favorite Larry Fitzgerald and second-year pro Christian Kirk as key receivers but will be looking for production from untested newcomers. They have 12 wide receivers listed on their roster, with more than half of them being rookies or second-year prospects.

In the offensive line, the Cardinals are hoping to provide more protection for their quarterback after a difficult showing last season.

The Wranglers, meanwhile, are also rebuilding their offensive line after losing some beef at those positions last year due to the graduation: Will Solper (6-3, 260), Daniel Cushman (6-4, 270) and Garrett Branch (6-2, 225). Offensive line coach Jerry Watson said he has been impressed with a corps of newcomers to work with returning senior Wyatt Grantham (6-3, 230) and junior Jett Uldrickson (6-1, 195).

The one contrast in the comparison will be the success of the Wranglers’ defense compared to the Cardinals’ unimpressive showings in their 17-13 victory against the Los Angeles Chargers and their 33-26 loss to the Oakland Raiders in their first two preseason games. In fact, the Wranglers’ defense is expected to be the team’s strength this season — returning key players in impactful positions (more on that unit later).

Also unlike the Cardinals’ 88-player roster, the Wranglers are still attempting to add to their growing 52-player roster. Coach Mitchell recently urged his seniors to convince more of their schoolmates to put on the uniforms and to stress those who are already on the roster to attend practices more consistently.

The Wranglers hopefully will find more early success than the Cardinals, who split their first two preseason games with an up-and-down performance by quarterback Murray, a Swiss cheese defense, and an offensive line still searching for effectiveness.

The Purple and Gold will open the season at Parker next week. For local fans who want to catch some action this week involving Wrangler opponents, Parker opens its season at Chino Valley and defending state champion Northwest Christian hosts Fountain Hills at 7 p.m. this Friday.

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