The County Line: 2018 Spring Edition

The County Line

Welcome back to The County Line, my blog on news and notes surrounding the athletic
programs we cover at CountyLinePreps.com.

It’s been a long absence, but as the “traditional” part of spring football practice begins in earnest this week and next, I thought now is as good as any to get back at it.

So, let’s get after it…

Movin’ On UpIn my first-ever blog last fall, I wrote about Queen Creek’s then-upcoming matchup with Hamilton and the Bulldogs’ anticipated move to 6A. Throughout last season, I queried head coach Travis Schureman several times for his thoughts about moving up from 5A. At the time, he declined to talk about “next year,” feeling that discussing it would and should be viewed as a disservice to last year’s team, which was competing for its own championship. Now that “next year” is here, he finally agreed to share some thoughts, including the following:

1. Queen Creek, as school and a district, knew the move to 6A was inevitable and only a
matter of time. As a result, he’s glad the anticipation is over and the time to compete at
the highest level is here.

“I believe if you are a competitor you welcome the challenge of doing it at the highest
level, and in Arizona high school football that’s 6A,” Schureman told The County Line.

2. The Bulldogs’ players appear ready as well, something Schureman is proud to see. His
players have been engaged and committed throughout the offseason, which could be
attributed to the opportunity to gauge where they’re at in a Week One tilt versus 6A
defending champion Chandler.

“I’m excited for our kids because they are looking forward to facing the challenge of a
6A schedule head on,” Schureman said. “I sense our guys feel they want to prove
something – a little chip on their shoulder – and I like it.”

3. Schureman will continue to do things The Queen Creek Way, a credo in which the
Bulldogs’ players are expected to follow and have faith in. It includes competing for and
winning championships.

“That’s never going to change as long as I’m the head coach here,” Schureman said.
“We’ve always respected our opponents and that will continue, but we don’t care what
division or conference we’re in when it comes to competing for and winning
championships, and our players understand that.”

First Look – I made it out to Apache Junction High School last week where the
Prospectors were hosting a six-team, nine-unit 7 v 7 and Lineman Challenge event. I was there to primarily watch Combs and Poston Butte. A few of my takeaways include:

1. Both Combs and Poston Butte had several underclassmen getting reps, including some that will be JV players. Head coaches Travis Miller and Dain Thompson spoke with me afterwards about the new AIA rules, sooner 7 v 7 competition, and year-round
accessibility to players.

2. Of the four teams I saw the most, the player who stood out in my eyes was Apache
Junction junior quarterback Gibson Limongello. The 6-foot, 170-pound, left-handed
throwing gunslinger zips a very sharp spiral with accuracy. I saw him make several
throws in tight windows, and his receivers displayed some quality skills as well.

3. Full disclosure and a bit of a tease…One of my objectives in making out to Davis Field
was to look at a player that has 2018 Bucket List potential. My eyes did not deceive me. I
witnessed the two-way player, who was a mid-year transfer a year ago from an SEC-
country high school, in action and can confirm he’ll be worth a look in the fall.

4. It’s hard to form many hard and fast takeaways, I’m just saying. A few players were
making their first appearance at anything related to football following the conclusion of
track & field state qualifying the day before.

One and done? – In my opinion, it’s been a less-then desirable offseason for the 2017 2A Metro East Region Champion San Tan Foothills’ football team, which won’t get the chance to defend its title. Region Coach of the Year George De La Torre led the Sabercats to an 8 – 3 record in his first year at the school, including an undefeated (6–0) region record. The Cats’ season ended with a 36–14 first-round playoff loss at St. Johns.

Since then:
1. The Cats saw their starting quarterback transfer.
2. Find their best player perhaps in limbo after he also transferred but has since left the school and is now back at STFHS.
3. Lost one of their top assistants, Eric Hjalmarson, who was recently named the head coach at Safford.
4. They were moved up a level to 3A after appealing to remain in 2A for anther block.
Making the transition even tougher was their placement in the 3A Central Region, arguably the most competitive region in the conference that includes 2016 State Champion American Leadership Academy – Queen Creek, 2018 state-title contender Benjamin Franklin, which handed the Cats’ their worst defeat (34–0) last season, and Florence. All three were playoff teams a year ago and should be again this season.

The two transfer players, both sophomore starters at key positions in 2017, enrolled at Campo Verde in January. Region Offensive Player of the Year Amahri Bailey, a running back, and Honorable Mention quarterback Zachary Herrera definitely would’ve helped make the Cats’ transition easier and likely more competitive.

Bailey, who was/is a two-year varsity starter for the Cats, rushed for nearly 1600 yards and 27 touchdowns in addition to two receiving scores. Herrera started every game last season and appears headed toward a solid varsity career, following in the footsteps of his older brothers, who are now at the University of Dubuque.

“I did not get to show what I can do my sophomore year,” Herrera answered when asked about his decision to transfer. “The offense we ran just didn’t fit me as a quarterback.”

“Campo Verde runs an offense that fits me perfectly,” he added. “Campo is also a great school academically. I’ve been at (there) for about three-and-a-half months now and the culture there is amazing, the coaches are great, and (our) players get bigger, faster and stronger every day.”

Not the type of start to a new season that any team wants to encounter.

A-Maignan! – The Florence football team had more than its share of skill players and
playmakers on both sides of the ball a year ago, including 2018 members Nolan Susel, Shane Mathis, Shelton Mathis, Jared Wood, and more. Perhaps less familiar to outsiders among that deep group of Gophers is 2020 receiver and cornerback Josh Maignan, who also saw playing time at running back.

Maignan, a 3A All-Region Second-Team selection last year, finished second on the team with 1,286 all-purpose yards, behind Susel’s team best 2,337. Maignan rushed for 597 yards, caught 35 passes for 641 yards, and had 14 touchdowns combined. Defensively, he recorded 57 tackles and added a pair of interceptions. Further evidence of Maignan’s potential was being named Running Back MVP at the recent EXOS Select 50 Camp.

— Joshua Maignan🇭🇹 (@joshua_maignan) April 23, 2018

To be sure, Maignan will be the man for the Gophers and the player opponents’ will fear most, this year and next. Out on a limb – Benjamin Franklin’s appearance in last year’s 3A football semifinals may have been surprising to some but maybe not to those who followed the team all year. Following a season-opening loss to than defending State Champion American Leadership Academy – Queen Creek, the Chargers won their next seven games, on their way to 11-game winning streak, by a combined score of 331 – 62, including two shutouts. Not many will be surprised to see that happen again this year, especially me. I’m going on record right now to say the Chargers are my pick to win the 3A State Championship.

I’ll explain the reason behind my belief as we progress.

In the meantime, I’ll share some of head coach Dave Jefferies thoughts as his team heads into spring practice. Like Lou Holtz, the former head coach at Notre Dame, Arkansas and South Carolina among others, Jefferies is very convincing that his team is David versus most other opponents – Goliath.

“We will have to fight, claw, and scratch just to compete in these games, much less win them,” Jefferies told The County Line about scheduled freedom games against Northwest Christian, Sabino and Snowflake. “We need to prepare to play tough games week in and week out in order to earn an 11th game this year.”

For a team that went 11–2 a year ago and returns two of the most dynamic running backs – Zach Jefferies and Chandler Miles – in the conference, in addition to a new quarterback – Danner Bowen – who I’ve been told has the potential to take an offense that averaged nearly 34 PPG to even greater heights this year, an 11th game is a near certain, barring injuries.

So is a 12th, 13th and 14th in my world.

According to Jefferies though, I should slow my roll.

“We need some of our seniors-to-be and even juniors-to-be to step up and fill the void left by some great leaders that are graduating,” he said.

Sure, the Chargers are losing offensive linemen Brandon Teuscher, Sean Crandall and Anthony Marquez. Two-way standout Seth Hamblin also departs as does All-Conference defensive end Powell Skiba, who signed in February with Southern Virginia University.

— Powell Skiba (@powellskiba65) February 7, 2018

Each of those players will be missed, no doubt, but it’s the returning players that fuel my belief that this is the Chargers’ year. Jefferies and Miles accounted for 85 percent of the team’s rushing yards and 42 of its 54 rushing touchdowns. Miles is also the leading returning receiver, hauling in five of the Chargers’ 10 receiving touchdowns a year ago. I should mention Miles also had a pick-six and two kickoff returns for touchdowns as well.
McCalister McLoving (the best name in Arizona high school football) and Jordan Kemp – if he doesn’t return to his natural tight end position – return along the offensive line.

On defense, junior-to-be middle linebacker Cade Mcafee led the Chargers’ defense with 107 tackles. Kemp, Miles, Bowen, and Grant Reeves, in addition to Mcafee, return to the defensive unit and account for five of the top seven tacklers from a year ago.
The trio had three picks apiece a year ago – nine of the team’s 16.

“(I’m) interested to see who emerges as our team leaders,” Jefferies said. “We need to instill in our team that just because things went well last year doesn’t mean they will automatically go well again.

“We have created a much tougher schedule for the next two-year block as we belong to what I feel is the toughest region in 3A.”

Seven of the 10 teams on the Chargers’ schedule reached the playoffs a year ago. Another –ALA – Gilbert North won the 2017 D-III CAA State Championship. The Chargers face a
gauntlet of a schedule, no doubt. All of it means the Chargers will be battle tested by the time the playoffs roll around. Sword optional.