Zone Read: AZHS Spring Storylines 3.0

Hope everyone is having a great week and an early Happy Easter to all my ‘Zone Read’ peeps (see what I did there?). 

We can almost taste spring football as several schools around Arizona will be starting up next week following the holiday weekend.

Here are a few more spring previews, as well as a couple of notes which caught my eye.

 All Saints

One spring later the script has flipped at Notre Dame Prep. Last year head coach George Prelock was tasked with replacing every single defensive starter and nine more on offense. With the help of mega star Jake Smith and a number of new regulars, NDP returned to the 5A state championship.

While Smith is taking taking his talents to Texas, a deep, senior supporting cast remains in north Scottsdale.

“We have seniors like, Cade Bennet, Brock Locnikar, Dominick Mastro, Connor Butt, Jackson Wiles, Spencer Roy, and Trey Cartledge,” Prelock said to the ‘Zone Read.’ “All had great seasons last year as juniors.”

The next junior class features Jame Jaquint, Sean Lehman and middle linebacker/fullback JD Roberts who is coming off a knee injury. Another player to watch is sophomore Gavin Smith who will start next season on varsity according to Prelock. 

NDP will miss the steady leadership of quarterback Jake Farrell but expectations remain high for a deep playoff run later this fall. 

The schedule is more than manageable with four of the first six games being played at home on picturesque Bemis Field.   

Engi-‘Neering Another Run?

The Pinnacle Pioneers keep getting one step closer.

Last year the ‘Neers ran into a white-hot Perry offense which ended Pinnacle’s quest one game short of reaching their first state championship game. It was the same Puma squad which PHS handled easily at the beginning of the season.

The overhaul is significant in terms of sheer playmakers lost. Gone are Spencer Rattler, Kaleb Covington, Quinton Powell, Jack Jepson, Amelec Juntunen, Kyle Bryant and others.

However, this is far from a rebuild when you consider quarterback JD Johnson, wide receiver Marcus Libman, massive offensive lineman Tosh Baker, defensive lineman Drew Anchor, linebacker Alonzo Maya and tight end Shane Sunday all performed well on the big stage last fall. It also doesn’t hurt star running back Kenji Roland is back from injury. 

“I’m hoping to see our experience from last year show,” head coach Dana Zupke said to the ‘Zone Read.’ “We had a lot of juniors that saw a lot of playing time, including eight starters on both sides of the ball so expect to see that experience show up and hopefully bring along the younger guys that will be there to fill in.”

The early-season schedule is well…unforgiving. The ‘Neers open at Perry, then travel to Mountain Pointe, host improved rival Horizon and then square off with power Eastside Catholic (WA) in the Pacific northwest. The Crusaders have lost five games in the last four years combined and shutout Peoria Centennial in December.

Operation: Three-Peat

The more things change, the more they stay the same at Centennial. The most dominant program in the west Valley and one of the best in the state, doesn’t ever seem to “start over.”

The two-time defending 5A State Champions lose offensive playmakers Tawee Walker and AJ Jackson, as well as defensive standouts Dylan Wampler, Eric Fields II and Marquis Walker but return veteran pieces at key positions.

Let’s start with quarterback Jonathan Morris who was not only efficient (19 touchdowns, just four interceptions in 202 attempts) but clutch. The senior-to-be usually played his best when the stakes were highest.

Then there’s do-everything two-way stars Jaydin  Young and Eric Haney, as well as the usual Centennial big bodies up front spear-headed by 6-foot-6, 318-pound road grader Oscar Abundis.

As spring camp opens, head coach Richard Taylor’s message to the ‘Zone Read’ was simple.

“We will be working on basic fundamentals and looking for leaders.”

I’m sorry, 5A.

Devin 2.0?

A couple of weeks ago I hinted the quarterback situation at Queen Creek is far from settled.

Well, now there’s another signal-caller in the mix after Devin Brown (Class of 2022) recently transferred in from nearby Casteel. 

This kid can flat-out spin it.

Regardless of who wins the job, it obviously won’t be easy following in the footsteps of Devin Larsen who is on his way to Iowa State.

AZ Ballers

To those who have followed the steady rise and growth and high school football here in Arizona it’s not a surprise a handful of AZHS alums will hear their names called in the upcoming drafts.

Arizona Cardinals general manager Steve Keim was asked about a pair of them earlier this week when addressing the media at team headquarters in Tempe.

Others expected to hear their names called include cornerback Jordan Brown (Paradise Valley HS/South Dakota State) and wide receiver Emmanuel Butler (Mountain Pointe/NAU), as well as possibly wide receiver Shawn Poindexter (Centennial/Arizona) and linebacker Dedrick Young (Centennial/Nebraska). 

The draft will be held in Nashville from April 25th-27th.

Too Much?

Sometimes I wonder if year-round football is already taking its toll on certain players and teams around the state. While many participate in other sports, some don’t. The rise of 7-on-7 tournaments, showcase camps, “informal workouts,” and other out-of-season activities may be hurting more than helping.

One coach I spoke with this off-season told me, “Most of last year’s team was more concerned about partying than winning.” 

Teenagers can be pulled in different directions and influenced so easily, maybe for some programs, less is more.