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The Fountain Hills High School football team will return to the field this Friday, Aug. 23, against Northwest Christian with a more experienced and stronger roster than the team has fielded over the past couple of seasons.

Head coach Jason Henslin, who has been with the program for three years now, said he is thrilled about the possibilities that having an older varsity team this year will provide.

“I feel like I tell everyone this but last year we played 21 freshmen and sophomores, which is way more than you would like to play on varsity,” Henslin said. “This year, however, we more than likely won’t play a single freshman [at that level] because we have enough depth in the upper three classes. We’ll have about 10 sophomores and the rest will be juniors and seniors.”

Along with having experienced seniors and juniors returning to the team, the addition of some first-timers like Will Eggert and Tyler Grieco have brought some new energy into the varsity program during the off season, Henslin said.

A lot of the Falcons’ off season has been spent in the revamped weight room where they have focused on building up their physical strength.

“This year we remodeled the weight room and brought new equipment in because that was a big priority,” Henslin said. “We went from having five squat stations, where you can squat and bench press at, to having 10. So we’ve slowly added more and more so that we can fit a lot of people and not have five or six people lined up for one station. We also had a lot of buy-in from the players. We were averaging about 30 players in the weight room daily during summer.”

Along with having a bigger team, another benefit of having an older returning squad for Henslin is that practices and camps become more productive.

“They are more efficient, that is for sure,” Henslin said about practices. “We (coaches) have figured out how best to utilize the time. The guys know what we expect now, too, so there is less of us explaining ourselves and more chance for us to focus on getting them really good at what we are working on.”

Along with new players, Henslin has also brought in some new coaches to help him out this season.

Bob Sampson is taking over the Falcons’ offensive line for his first year of high school coaching. Rob Ripley, who has been the Falcons’ strength coach in the past, is now taking a more active role on the field by working with running backs and wide receivers.

Finally, the Falcons’ new special teams coordinator is Danny Groener, a Blue Ridge alum who also was a walk-on at ASU.

Fountain Hills’ opening game this Friday will be a chance for the team to fully turn a new leaf and rewrite history, as they will face off against the team they started against in the 2018 season, Northwest Christian.

Back in the 2018 season, the defending state champions beat the Falcons 63-0, so Henslin believes that the players who were there will have some extra drive going into Friday’s game.

“There is definitely drive for the guys who played last year to prove that the loss was a fluke in terms of, yeah, they were a good team, but we shouldn’t have lost as badly as we did,” Henslin said. “We are really focusing on making sure the team is more prepared and we think we have a better product to put out on the field.”

The season opener for the Falcons is this Friday, Aug. 23, away at Northwest Christian. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.