Horizon football in pursuit of back-to-back 5A titles after ending 27-year drought

Horizon High School coach Andy Litten helped lead the Huskies to the 5A State Championship in 2021. Litten hopes to keep the same mindset heading into the new season, which begins Friday. (Photo by Grace Edwards/Cronkite News)

Senior wide receiver Cole Linyard prepares for his second season under Horizon coach Andy Litten. (Photo by Grace Edwards/Cronkite News)

Horizon football will look to make senior tight end Matthew Klopfenstein a focus of the offense after losing 19 seniors in the offseason. (Photo by Grace Edwards/ Cronkite News)

PHOENIX – “Embrace the change.”

When Andy Litten was hired as Horizon High’s football coach last year, he relished the challenge and tasked the team with those three words.

And his players took heed.

After 27 years without a state championship, Horizon’s football team hoisted the 5A trophy to close their 2021 season. It took only one season for Litten to restore the Huskies as a winning program.

Now, as the reigning champions prepare to kick off the season Friday night against Notre Dame Prep, Litten aims for a repeat run.

“I can’t give enough credit to the seniors last year, they had gone through a really rough year,” Litten said. “They had a new coaching staff, they openly embraced it and the rest of the guys followed.”

Litten is no stranger to success. Before arriving at Horizon, Litten spent three years as the offensive coordinator at Hamiliton. Before his move to the Valley, Litten coached Marana High School, the rival of his alma mater, Mountain View.

At Marana, he coached the Tigers to back-to-back 8-2 seasons in 2016 and 2017. Litten coached quarterback Trenton Bourguet, now at Arizona State University, at Marana, helping him reach his potential. Bourguet passed for 2,984 yards and 40 touchdowns during his senior season in 2017.

Before Litten came to Horizon, the Huskies had success under former coach Ty Wisdom in 2019 when they broke into the inaugural Open Division playoffs. However, in 2020, the Huskies found themselves with a 3-3 record and struggling through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Related story

With a COVID-19 outbreak on the team, Horizon only played six games during the 2020 season. After five years with Wisdom at the helm, the team was in need of a change and fresh, new start.

Enter Litten.

Litten hit the ground running from the moment he stepped on campus. The Tucson native’s intensity and everyday attitude turned the team around after a difficult year in the midst of COVID. For many players, Litten was a breath of fresh air.

“He told us all by Dec. 10 we will be playing in a state championship, I will never forget that,” said senior tight end Matthew Klopfenstein. “I remember thinking he is really hitting the ground running and then the following Monday we really started going and I remember thinking this guy is nuts.”

Thanks to the strong team culture built by Wisdom, Litten easily implemented his style of play from the start. The seniors led the way and embraced Litten’s style while the rest of the team followed.

“(Litten) really brings it and it fired us up and brought us into winning condition,” said junior wide receiver Cole Linyard.

The Huskies had 19 seniors graduate last year, including their starting quarterback Skyler Partridge. After losing a bulk of his senior leadership, Litten is focused on shaping the identity of the team yet again.

“We won’t be the same team as last year,” Litten said. “We had some really great (players) that all graduated, but we’ve brought back a lot of really big and strong kids.”

Although the goal remains the same–winning a championship–the Huskies will approach the game differently. The focus this season is on involving their tight ends more, including Klopfenstein, who committed to Baylor in April. Due to the departure of skilled players, the Huskies’ identity will be their size and strength.

“We really just need to make sure that we stay true to who we are, ride the waves of the up and down, which we talk about a lot,” Litten said. “There’s going to be ups and downs in every season and in every game and we need to make sure that we don’t get too high or too low and just come out and work.”

Madison Thacker mad-uh-sun thack-er (she/her/hers)
Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Madison Thacker expects to graduate in December 2022 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism. Thacker has interned as a reporter with The Arizona Republic.

Grace Edwards Grace Ed-words
Sports Visual Journalist, Phoenix

Grace Edwards expects to graduate in May 2023 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism, a minor in business and a certificate in sales and marketing. Edwards, who has interned as a social media correspondent for the Women’s Premier Soccer League, in her third semester with Cronkite News.