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August 6, 2010

No.9 Hamilton has high expectations

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Dallas Jackson is the Senior Analyst for RivalsHigh. Email him your question, comment or story ideas to DallasJ@Yahoo-Inc.com and follow him on Twitter.

RivalsHigh.com has begun its 2010 countdown, ranking the teams from No. 1 through No. 100.

We started at No. 100 on July 26 and will release two groups of five teams per day. Then, we'll do a daily countdown from No. 10 to No. 1. Our top team will be unveiled on Monday - two weeks from the start of the season.

After that, we will wait until Sept. 1 for the next rankings, then have them every Monday during the season.

The team rankings were compiled by high school sports senior analyst Dallas Jackson, the Rivals AMP team, football recruiting analysts and the entire RivalsHigh network of publishers.

In case you missed it: Previous ranking groups | Post your thoughts about the rankings

Top 100 countdown
No. 9 Hamilton, Arizona
COACH: Steve Belles
LAST SEASON: 14-0, Arizona Class 5A Division I State Champs
FINAL 2009 RANKING: No. 16 in RivalsHigh 100

Chandler (Ariz.) Hamilton coach Steve Belles has a simple philosophy for his team.

"Team first, me second," he said. "If we think like that we will all win in the end."

Having a team that is loaded with seniors, several high-profile players, and lofty national expectations keeping the focus narrow can be hard to do.

"You know it has been great, really," he said. "We have a heck of a senior class. There is uncharacteristic chemistry within them. I just got back from senior camp and goal setting. The kids are all on the same page and really focused. That is exciting."

The excitement is for good reason.

The Huskies are one of the best teams in the country and begin the preseason ranked No. 9 in the RivalsHigh 100.

They are coming off a state title and are looking to continue build their national name.

"We bring back five starters on both sides of the ball and a lot of depth," Belles said. "We are already working hard."

The hard work for Hamilton actually got to start a week before the rest of the teams in Arizona because the Huskies will be taking on Las Vegas (Nev.) Bishop Gorman - the No. 51 team nationally in the RivalsHigh 100 - on Aug. 21 at Northern Arizona University as part of the Barry Sollenberger Kickoff Classic.

"We like these big time games," Belles said. "We have been to Ohio and Florida too. These types of games are great for the kids."

While the Huskies' two other big trips have been split, a 35-26 loss to Washington (Ohio) Massillon in Sept. 2006, and a 37-19 win over Miami (Fla.) Booker T. Washington in Aug. 2008, Belles welcomes those challenges.

"Ohio was a good lesson for us," Belles said. "It was only my third game at the school, which isn't an excuse because they beat us, but I didn't do so well at that game. We learned a lot about us and about the history of Ohio football on that trip. The trip to Florida showed us a lot of team speed and we learned from that too."

The learning experience has made him better as a coach and helped point the Huskies in the direction to transcend perceptions of Arizona football.

"So much of high school football comes down to matchups now," he said. "I think we could go into Texas and beat some teams and I think there are teams that can beat us."

He would welcome the chance to find out which teams would be on the ends of that spectrum.

"You know, we are a NIKE school," he said. "If they called us and said 'Hey, you're playing this team from Texas,' we would. We are talking about playing [Olney (Md.)] Good Counsel in 2012, but we would welcome games in Texas."

While 2012 is still off in the distance, the sights for 2010 are set on a state title.

"Last year was darn good for us," Belles said. "But we have the potential to be better this year. If we work hard, we can achieve our goals."

The reason for the optimism is the potential to have one of the best offensive lines in the country, let alone Arizona.

The Huskies have two Division I commits as bookend tackles. Christian Westerman is one of the best players in the nation. The 6-foot-5, 288-pound tackle is ranked the No. 12 overall prospect in the country and is committed to Texas. On the opposite side is 6-foot-6, 260-pound Tyler Johnstone. Johnstone is an Oregon commit and a three-star prospect in the Rivals.com database. Those two anchor one of the best lines nationally.

Its job will be to open holds for Jai Johnson, Malcolm Holland and Cedric Parker at running back.

"For us everything will start up front," Belles said. "Those two big tackles set the table. We are blessed to have Malcolm come back and Cedric, too."

With all the stars on the team, the senior captain is still its quarterback, Kyren Poe.

Poe, at 6-foot-2, led the Huskies to a state title last season and has the respect of his teammates.

"Just like most other schools, the kids vote for their captains," Belles said. "Kyren really is our leader."

Currently, Poe only has an offer from Northern Arizona, but Belles expects that to change as the season progresses.

But the Huskies are not a one-trick pony. The defense also returns five starters as well as its best player, Tyler Rutt.

Rutt, a 5-foot-11 linebacker, is on pace to break all the defensive records at Hamilton and is a three-year starter for the Huskies.

Even with that on his team's plate, Belles continues to preach preparing with blinders on.

"The rankings, the recruiting, the 'this, that and the other' are things we can not control," he said. "We can just control how hard we work and how we play on the field. The rest takes care of itself."



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