Spring ball has concluded, and new coaching staffs have bonded with next year’s on-field leaders. There are a handful of new head coaches taking the helm of programs on the verge of breaking into the state tournament. Across the west side, check out some of the new leaders and the challenges coming to these faces in new (or sometimes not so new) places.
La Joya Community – Devin Dourisseau
He may not be a new face, but it’s a new place in the coaching staff for the La Joya Community Fighting Lobos. Former head baseball coach and defensive coordinator, Devin Dourisseau, is taking over for Josh Mitchell in Avondale.
The culture change over the past seven years has turned this team into a tournament contender. Dourisseau coached with Mitchell during his seven-year tenure working to flip the culture of the program and get involved in the local community.
“We have spent time and effort changing the culture of the program over the last 7 years,” Dourisseau told Best in the West. “I am ready to take the program to the level and get us over the hump.”
— La Joya Community Football (@LJLobosFootball) April 30, 2019
With the introduction of the new Open Division Playoff, La Joya might be sitting in the catbird seat of the 6A Tournament after missing last year’s state tournament by just three spots in the rankings.
Dourisseau looks to returning linebackers Zachary Blackwood and Ricardo Ramirez as well as quarterback Michael Valdovinos alongside receiver Carlos Fernandez to lead the team to their first tournament appearance in over a decade.
Ironwood – Chris Rizzo
Over the past graduating class, the Ironwood Eagles have improved in power rankings every season. This past season saw the Eagles get as close to the state tournament as you possibly can, ending the year 17th, one spot out of the final tournament sport.
With the departure of Ian Curtis, Chris Rizzo inherits a team that looks to keep growing in order to make the tournament in his first year. Rizzo spent one year as a defensive assistant with the Eagles before taking the reins this season.
— Eric Newman (@enewmanwrites) May 18, 2019
Senior quarterback, Devante Wimbish led the way offensively for the Eagles with 25 touchdowns in 2018, 20 of those rushing into the endzone.
With the graduation of Wimbish, offensive leaders will need to step up this fall for offensive production. The Eagles will need to compete on both sides of the line with teams like Cactus, Sunrise Mountain, and Centennial in 2019, all sister schools to IHS.
The Eagles last made the state tournament in 2011, Curtis’ second season at the helm of the program.
Verrado – Shawn Copeland
Once at Raymond S. Kellis, Shawn Copeland will lead the Verrado Vipers into the 2019 season behind a team that finished 23rd in the 5A Conference this past season.
Verrado got hot wrapping up the 2018 season on a three-game winning streak. While there will be a new QB in the backfield, the Vipers return leading rusher, Logan Gingg, for his junior season.
The offensive line can be the most vital part of a team, and Copeland has confidence in a line filled with veteran returners, led by senior Blake Gamez.
I know Blake Gamez was big…but not THIS big. Totally dwarfing the defensive lineman. pic.twitter.com/YeBalavnhC
— Jordan Hamm (@JordyHamm) May 14, 2019
The Vipers missed the state tournament last season and look to return to their success from 2017 when the team made the 5A Tournament and won the Desert West Region.
Apollo – Aaron Walls
Out in Glendale, the Apollo Hawks are starting from the ground up with new head coach Aaron Walls. Walls comes from the world of offensive line coaching from over the past decade.
While the 2018 season brought a 3-7 record, the schedule set matchups against powerhouses like Sunrise Mountain, Casteel, Notre Dame Prep, and Centennial. The Hawks will see three of those teams at home this season.
Donte Gordon hits Tyler Brown with a TD pass in Apollo’s Spring Game. pic.twitter.com/dsEjFVGlVS
— Gridiron Arizona (@gridironarizona) May 18, 2019
Walls recognizes the tough slate ahead this fall and looks to rebuild the program back to state tournament contention.
“We will be very young and have a schedule that will challenge us throughout the season,” Walls told Sports360AZ. “The new staff is looking forward to starting from the ground up with technique and fundamentals.”
The Hawks ended 2018 ranked 24th in the 5A Conference, ending their chances at back-to-back state tournament appearances.
Mountain Ridge – Doug Madoski
A slew of knowledge and experience is now at the helm of the Mountain Ridge program as MRHS welcomes former Scottsdale Community College head coach, Doug Madoski, to lead the program into 2019.
From the recently terminated Fighting Artichoke program, Madoski brings over a decade of junior college coaching experience to the west valley.
— Sean Sisco (@SeanSisco2) May 4, 2019
The Mountain Lions haven’t finished over the .500 mark since 2010 but had a history of tournament appearances over a decade ago.
Mountain Ridge is the only team to ever make the state title game as a 16-seed. It is MRHS’s lone championship appearance, falling to Hamilton in 2004.
School is out, and summer is here but everyone is still looking forward to the beginning of football season in August. Be sure to keep it tuned to Sports360AZ as we get closer to the 2019 edition of #FridayNight360AZ.