Zone Read: AZHS Spring Storylines 2.0

I decided to pick up where I left off last week in ‘Zone Read.’ Here are a few more team previews and players to watch for as we close in spring football. I guess you could say it was so nice, I decided to write it twice.

There’s much to discuss so let’s get to the line of scrimmage and start slingin’ it.

Scorpion King(s)?

Outside of Centennial, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more consistent program in the west Valley than Desert Edge.

The Scorpions lose long-time holdovers Nassir Sims and Milton Rogers but have enough pieces in place to potentially improve on their 9-4 2018, considering they were one of the youngest teams in the state last year.  The trio of cornerback Steven Ortiz, Jr., wide receiver Jihad Marks and sophomore-to-be quarterback Adryan Lara add explosiveness on both sides of the ball.

The loss of Sims, arguably one of the top players in program history, is tough but look for RJ Roberts to help fill the void in the middle. The 6-foot-2, 290-pounder is quick and has the ability to wreck offenses much like Sims. Fellow big man Isaiah Williams will play a big role this fall, as well.

 “Defensively we expect to be fast and physical,” head coach Jose Lucero told the ‘Zone Read.’ 

Edge will also have the luxury of a new on-campus facility which will benefit the entire program moving forward.

The schedule out of the gates is tough. After opening against Prescott, Edge plays Salpointe Catholic, Peoria and Saguaro in consecutive weeks.

On The Rise

Building a program takes time. Twins Mark and Marcus Carter won one game at South Mountain in 2016. That number jumped to five a year later and six last fall. 

Entering year four the expectations are even higher at South who ended 2018 winning five of their last six to finish 6-4.

Last year I featured two-way star Devontae Ingram who returns this fall. The 6-foot, 170-pound wide receiver/cornerback averaged 22.6 yards per catch (including eight touchdowns), while also intercepting five passes on defense.

Other key pieces returning on offense are quarterback Luis Manzanaras, running back K’Rashee Smith (787 yards, 10 rushing touchdowns) and wide receiver Travis Gammage (team-high 36 receptions, five touchdowns).

Second-leading tackler Xavier Palmer is back, as is 6-foot-4, 285-pound veteran offensive lineman Elian Suarez.

“Each year we’ve progressed,” Mark Carter said to The ‘Zone Read.’ “We don’t see any reason why this year wouldn’t be any different. We have more buy-in from the players, staff and community which helps a great deal. This summer will tell us a lot.”

The Carter’s continue to use the hashtag #CTC (Change The Culture).

No question, they’re well on their way at South.

Cienega Start Over?

Recent success has been easy to come by for Vail Cienega. The Bobcats have gone 33-4 the last three seasons. 

2019 brings plenty of fresh faces at key positions for one of southern Arizona’s top programs.

“This will be a different Cienega team from the past few years,” head coach Patrick Nugent explained to The ‘Zone Read.’ “We have been loaded at the skill positions but need to replace all skill positions this year with very little varsity experience.”

The strength of the ‘Cats will be in the trenches with the return of a host of two-year starters including Damaggio Strevay, Tyrae McKinney, Chase Iverson, Andrew Husfelt and 6-foot-3, 275-pound nose guard Hunter Schlegal.

Strevay had 44 tackles (five for loss), while Schlegal added 29, six for loss last fall. 

Cienega makes an early-season trip to the Valley to take on Sunnyslope before hosting 5A monster Centennial the next week. The Coyotes have knocked the Bobcats out of the playoffs two of the past three years.

Every Game Counts

One subplot for the new Open Division playoff format passed back in January is strength of schedule. For the usual higher division powers this may not be an issue but it certainly puts more pressure on 4A heavyweights like Saguaro and Tucson Salpointe.

Their two respective sections obviously don’t have nearly the strength of several 5A and 6A groups so the Sabercats and Lancers out-of-state “showcase games” become extra important when it comes to the computer ranking system format which dictates which teams play in the open division.

The Sabercats will travel to San Diego to face Cathedral Catholic and the next week take on Faith Lutheran in Las Vegas as part of the Polynesian Classic at Bishop Gorman High School. The Lancers will make a trip to Texas to take on Del Valle in El Paso.