But now departed running backs Kevin Fain (East Carolina signee) and Steve Walker (walked on at Ariz. St.) shouldered the load.
"Defensively, we were unorganized, young, and gave up big plays too often. We would shoot ourselves in the foot like no other! Special teams wasn't special and there were too many penalties," added LaBate. It's safe to say that the Scottsdale staff and returning players have tried to put 2002 behind them.
Head Coach: Ken Giovando (since 1972)
2002 Record: 3-6 (first win was against an unsanctioned opponent and technically didn't count)
Returning Starters: Off 8, Def 7 plus one PK
First Game: At home vs. Copper State All-Stars on Aug. 30 (7:00 p.m.)
2003 Outlook: "Positive" is the word used by LaBate to describe his outlook for Scottsdale's upcoming campaign. The young players who saw action last year have matured mentally and physically. There are five new and dedicated coaches in the fold who are emphasizing the need for discipline. And the offensive scheme will be more wide open, designed to take advantage of speed at the skill positions.
There are no early signs of a quarterback rotation this year as Brian Giovando (6-3, 210) has won the job. He is the head coach's son and offensive coordinator's younger brother. Giovando has a strong arm and gained experience in the rotation last season.
As camp opened, Scottsdale's offensive line was considered a strength with all five starters considered by LaBate to be D1 prospects. But the injury bug bit hard in recent weeks. Two starters, Jason Bays (6-8, 330) and Chris Meadows (6-3, 300), will miss the season. Huge offensive tackle Robert Nelson (6-10, 350) got dinged up early in camp and may miss the first couple of games. Picking up the slack in camp have been Chris Driving Hawk (6-3, 285), Cade Becher (6-3, 310), and Mike Allred (6-3, 290) as well as several promising freshman.
If the line overcomes the early injuries, then Giovando will have time to find his talented receivers. Myron Jefferson, Jr. (5-9, 170) is a speedy (4.4) playmaker, who looked terrific at last spring's JCFootball.com WSFL Combine. "He's exciting. Fun to watch. He can go deep or catch it over the middle," said LaBate. The deep receiving corps also features two other D1 prospects in Anthony Carter (5-11, 185) and Shamus McKoy (6-1, 190).
Offensive coordinator Mike Giovando will undoubtedly miss running backs Fain and Walker this year. The running duties will fall upon the shoulders of hard-working sophomore Kenny Jenkins (5-11, 185) and a freshman.
"Defensively we'll be more aggressive. It's shaping up (in camp) better than expected," said LaBate.
One strength on defense is the defensive line, which is led by returning all-conference sophomore strong side end Adam Garday (6-3, 260) and rush end Tyler Paytas (6-3, 260). Newcomer Curtis Luckett is one to watch on the inside.
The linebacker corps is another strong area. Sophomore Buddy Bloomgren (5-11, 210) is strong and has good instincts. Middle linebacker Jamal Jackson (5-11, 245) showed nice speed and strength at the JCFootball.com WSFL Combine last spring and will probably be the defensive leader.
LaBate says that the secondary is high on potential but perhaps a bit low on experience. Nate Pittman (6-0, 200) returns after sitting out a season and is battling sophomore Kevin Hertko (5-11, 185) for the starting free safety spot. The corner spots will probably be manned by redshirt or true freshman.
Placekicker John Goss is a potential 'secret weapon' for Scottsdale. The 6-4, 225-pound sophomore from Ohio can put kickoffs out of the endzone and will be a real asset if he finds the consistency on field goals that coaches hope for.
"Our goal is to win and go to a bowl game," said LaBate about this year's goals. "We just have to continue progressing, keep our cool, and do what we're coached to do. As coaches we need to take advantage of the talent and do our jobs on all levels."
Player to Watch: Tight end Toussaint Henderson (6-5, 245) has joined the team after several years away from the gridiron. "He's an animal. Chiseled. He has great hands, can jump, and beats linebackers," according to LaBate.