By Cuyler Meade
It’s a whole new world at Mesa Mountain View, where brand new coach Mike Fell is not only new to the school and the state, but to the entire time zone.
After 30 years coaching in Ohio (25 as a head coach), Fell comes to Mountain View and gives a team that’s struggled over the last several years – and more significantly their players – a clean slate.
“We’re excited about giving guys an opportunity,” Fell told Sports360az.com in a recent phone interview. “We’ve got a fresh start. There’s really no recurring starters or anything like that, so everybody’s got a brand new opportunity. It’s exciting.”
This means everybody’s got a shot. But that was already going to be the case at one of the most important positions on the field for the Toros.
“We kind of have a quarterback battle,” Fell said. “We have two quarterbacks, and that’s probably going to be fun to watch here. Two quarterbacks who each threw for about 1500 yards last year. Wheeler Harris and Tristan Askan. They were both good quarterbacks, and I’m a new coach, so they both will get that opportunity to show me what they’ve got.”
Fell has only seen Askan and Harris on tape and in the weight room so far, but he’s already got an idea of what he’s expecting to see with each guy.
“Both are doing a good job of leadership,” Fell said. “They both want the job. Wheeler’s a little bigger, a little faster, and he throws the ball, where Tristan’s a little more of a scrappy guy who gets the job done. I haven’t done a lot with them, but watching them on film, they do things. They’re pretty good. Both of them can play.”
Fell said he’ll let both players prove themselves throughout the spring and summer, and likely won’t make a decision until the fall, though his plan is to go with one full- time signal caller.
“They’ll both get the opportunity when we start the season, as long as they’re both doing everything they can,” Fell said. “They’ll get the opportunity to go with pads on. You’ve got to give guys the chance to be under fire, see how they respond with pressure. Guys look great without pads on, but when they get lit up a little bit, that’s what I’ve got to see. It’ll be a battle all the way through.”
What’s certain, however, is who they’ll be throwing the ball to. Whether it’s Harris or Askan under center, there’s no question they’ll be looking early and often to Curtis Hodges.
“He’s 6-8 and been starting for two years,” Fell said. “He’s someone who’s going to be a pretty exciting player. Should be our top receiver out there.”
Hodges was one of three receivers, and the only non-senior, who caught for at least 500 yards last season. No other returning receiver amassed more than 57 yards in 2015.
In Fell’s spread offense, which he compares to the Air Raid, it’s going to be key that whoever’s playing quarterback develop a strong relationship with Hodges.
That offense, which is new to the Toros this season, is another element to watch this spring.
“Back in Ohio you had the summer to do it, but now you have spring football where you can get it in and get the quarterback get on in his reads, get the tempo,” Fell said of the advantage of working in Arizona compared to where he came from. “It’s a tempo offense that gets up and down the field, and you know we should have it all implemented by the spring, and then in the summer time we’ll have a chance to work on it seven on seven. I’m excited for it. There’s plenty of time, for sure.”
But even with all that he’s got to figure out with a brand new team and a quarterback battle and a need to find emerging receivers, the top of Fell’s mind is occupied by the other side of the ball.
“We’ve got to get better defensively,” Fell said. “That’s the number one thing. Most important thing with this season. That’s going to be our defense.
“The way spread offenses are, you’re going to score points quickly or you’re going to go out quickly, so you’ve got to play a lot of defense. You can’t count on stopping them every time, but you’ve got to make your six to ten stops during the game and the get the ball back to the offense.
“We’ve got to find guys that will fly to the football,” Fell said. Between improving the defense and figuring out a new offense, Fell and his coaching staff have their work cut out for them, but they’re hoping they have the pieces in place turn things around after a rocky last few years.