It’s almost that time.
Some high schools are starting back up in just a couple of weeks and many teams are escaping the heat training at various locations in northern Arizona and parts of California.
Without further ado, here we go.
Flagstaff Fall Off
As many Arizona players and teams continue to improve throughout the state you’d be hard-pressed to say the same about the football in northern Arizona, particularly in Flagstaff where both Flag High and Coconino have suffered over the past several years. The Eagles have had one eight-win season in the past 10 years. The Panthers haven’t won more than six games in a single year dating all the way back to 2005.
The main reason for the decline depends on who you talk to.
Some believe the influx of affluent families, specifically from California, has led to those student-athletes focusing more on basketball and baseball as opposed to football. While some were moving into Flagstaff, others were moving out during the housing crisis nearly a decade ago when the city seemed to transform itself in many different ways.
Another issue stems from the coaching many Flagstaff area kids were receiving in youth football. Those poor habits can have a long-lasting carryover effect all the way into high school. The problem seems to have been rectified but the damage, as we’ve seen, was already done.
Still, there is underlying optimism for a high school football revival both on and off the field in Coconino County.
“If these teams start winning the [local] interest will skyrocket, I think,” KAFF Sports/New Director Dave Zorn said to Sports360AZ.com. “They have basketball set but it would be great to see football start winning. Both [schools].”
The ebbs and flows of rural schools in certain sports aren’t anything new but one would assume things are bound to improve in Flagstaff as both area schools have talent in the pipeline as Zorn alluded to. Flag’s junior varsity team went undefeated in 2016 and Coco’s freshman squad lost only once, coincidentally to their cross-town rival.
Showdown In C-Town
Few early season games will rival the buzz surrounding national power IMG Academy making the cross-country trip from Bradenton, Florida to take on Chandler August 26th.
The hype is real and head coach Shaun Aguano knows the Wolves will be up for the challenge under the bright, late summer lights in the east Valley.
“We at Chandler football talk about competing at the highest level on the football field and in the classroom,” he said to Sports360AZ.com. “We set high expectations and our kids at Chandler work hard and deserve to play in these big games. I know our kids are excited for this opportunity.”
IMG is loaded with talent across the field, including 11 of Florida’s top 50 prospects. Here are a few to keep an eye on next month: defensive end Xavier Thomas (Clemson commit), athlete T.J. Pledger (Oklahoma commit), cornerback Brendan Radley-Hiles (Nebraska commit), wide receiver Brian Hightower (Miami commit).
It’s been quite a year for Michigan State quarterback former Pinnacle High star Brian Lewerke. After redshirting as a true freshman in 2015, he saw limited action last season before suffering a season-ending broken leg on a tackle by rival Michigan’s Jabrill Peppers.
Healthy again it appears Lewerke has a pretty firm grasp on the starting position heading into fall camp. He went 25-44 for 305 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions in the spring game and his all-around improvement caught the attention of head coach Mark Dantonio.
“It’s been going real well,” Lewerke said to Sports360AZ.com. “My leg doesn’t bother me at all. I’m basically 100% now.”
Patiently waiting… the season can’t come soon enough 🙇🏼 https://t.co/ELMicVRfNA
— Brian Lewerke (@brianlewerke14) July 6, 2017
He also said he and his teammates don’t feel any added pressure to perform this season after slipping to 3-9, 1-8 in Big Ten play last fall. MSU went 12-2 in 2015 and played in the College Football Playoff Semifinals, falling to second-ranked Alabama.
“We know what we need to get done,” he explained. “I think we’re doing a good job of executing it now.”
This spring I brought you the story of two-way standout Elijah Carey who is due for a monster senior year on both sides of the ball down at Canyon del Oro.
As you’d expect, Carey has been busy this summer getting his mind and body ready for the grind of the season. One difference between he and other high school players is his daily training sessions involve an NFL player who happens to be his older brother, former CDO and University of Arizona star Ka’Deem Carey.
“We wake up at 6:30, go to our workout,” Eli said to Sports360AZ.com. “After our workout we go to yoga to work on our flexibility.”
The pair needs to be flexible later in the morning when they hit “the sand pit” in the back yard of Ka’Deem’s Tucson house. The area provides opportunity for both running backs to improve their footwork and lower body strength.
“My challenge to him this year is to take both sides of the ball seriously,” Ka’Deem said to Sports360AZ.com of his younger sibling. “Keep an eye on him this year!”
I don’t foresee that being an issue, Ka’Deem.
Sokol, So Cool
It’s pretty easy to pull for Cody Sokol. The former Desert Vista quarterback is a perfect example of good things coming to those who wait.
After his senior season at DV was cut short due to a broken foot back in 2009, Sokol played at Scottsdale Community College before choosing the University of Iowa over nearly 30 other offers. He was never the right fit in the Hawkeyes’ run-heavy offense so it was time for a change…again.
His next football journey took him south to Louisiana Tech where he threw for nearly 3,500 yards and 30 touchdowns as a graduate transfer in 2014. Sokol attended a few NFL camps but was back in the Valley coaching at SCC, trying to decide where the winding football road would lead him next.
Earlier this spring he was signed by the IFL’s Arizona Rattlers where he eventually won the quarterback battle and Saturday helped claim something far bigger from a team standpoint.
Champion mindset!!! 🏆🐍 https://t.co/MnsRyMPsSP
— Cody Sokol (@Coach_Sokol) July 9, 2017
He also became a father to a daughter back in May. Not a bad first half of the year for the Sokol’s.