Zone Read: The Countdown Begins

At this time next week, there will be high school football games being played in Arizona kicking off with Canyon del Oro hosting Flowing Wells Thursday night in Tucson. The next night the fun really starts with teams around the state taking the field.

With that as a backdrop, here are some storylines and tidbits which caught my attention since the last time this column dropped.

Without further ado, this week’s Zone Read.

Passing the Torch…You’ll be hard-pressed to find a school in the west Valley who had more production from dual threat quarterbacks than Sunrise Mountain. First it was Chase Cord who carved up opposing defenses and lit up defenses like Christmas trees. He’s now the front-runner to start at Boise State as a redshirt sophomore this fall.

Then it was Cord’s understudy and good friend Keegan Freid who amassed over 7600 total yards and 101 combined touchdowns during his four years on varsity. He’s now a freshman wide receiver at Air Force.

So the logical questions is: who’s next?

“Alex Gianoli will be the next quarterback in the system,” Decker said to The “Zone Read.” “He fits exactly what we’re trying to do. Smart kid. Great football IQ. We’re very excited to see him play this year and keep the tradition of quarterbacks going for us which I believe he will.”

At 6-foot-2, 180 pounds Gianoli has the size and skill set to make an impact behind center this fall as a senior after playing safety last season. Making his transition easier will be an experienced offensive line and Chase’s little brother, junior Bryce Cord, who has close to 500 rushing yards and five touchdowns at tailback.

Defensively, the Mustangs’ strength is at linebacker with Micha Scott, Tommy Arnold and Justin Wilda all coming back with varsity experience. 

The schedule is challenging but Sunrise does get Williams Field, rival Liberty and good ‘ole Centennial all at home this season.

All Knight Long…In an area littered with talented players, Kellen Gibson may not be a name you hear much about in the southeast Valley but you probably will over the next two seasons.

The Arizona College Prep linebacker had 59 tackles on varsity as a freshman. Last fall that number jumped to 125, including 20 for loss. The 6-foot-2, 210-pound wrecking ball also registered seven sacks, caused two fumbles and recovered two more for the Knights.

“I really feel that Kellen is one of the top players in the state,” ACP head coach Myron Blueford said to The “Zone Read.” “He has size, grades, on field production and the work ethic to do something great with this game.”

Regardless of what happens on the field, Gibson’s 4.7 GPA is already opening doors to his future.  

The Knights host nearby Chandler Prep to open their season a week from Friday.

 

Northern Exposure…The 4A Grand Canyon Region will be an interesting one to follow according to The “Zone Read’s” northern Arizona insider, KAFF Radio News/Sports Director Dave Zorn.

“[This] could be the best year, top to bottom, for football in years,” he explained. “Loads of talent.”

He feels Prescott, with big-time two-way prospect Aaron Greene returning, will be the team to beat. The Badgers lose quarterback Austin Clark who rushed for nearly 2000 yards last year but new offensive coordinator Joe Kersting is expected to keep the offense moving. PHS went 7-4 and advanced to the playoffs last fall.

โ€” Aaron Greene (@aarongreene47) May 8, 2019

Just down State Route 69 sits Bradshaw Mountain. I chronicled the Bears magical ride in 2018. BMHS is young but returns quite a bit of talent under Chuck Moller, including junior running back Josh Grant (327 yards, five touchdowns) and stud middle linebacker Noah Shaver (team-high 115 tackles, 14.5 for loss, eight sacks).

The Flagstaff schools, according to Zorn, have their most skill and depth in quite some time. Flag High returns 1,300-yard rusher Luis Jaramillo for first-year coach Todd Hanley, while in-city rival Coconino also has a new head coach in Mike Lapsley and a talented back in Zack Bennett (over 1200 yards in 2018).

One team who could have a bounce back season is Lee Williams in Kingman. The Volunteers went 3-7 last fall but return a slew of talented defensive players.  

Crown Jewell…It’s going to be fun watching Jason Jewell pace the sidelines next week when his Brophy Broncos jump feet first into the season hosting the always tough Liberty Lions at Phoenix College.

“We came out of fall camp healthy, which is important,” Jewell said to The “Zone Read.” “I like the character of our kids. They are approachable and play hard. We start off with a tough one against Liberty. We will know where we stand very quickly.”

Nobody knows for sure how Jewell will be as a first-year high school head coach on the field but he’s already made a positive impression on campus and, as we all knew he would, brought in numerous college programs to check out the Broncos’ student athletes.

As I’ve said in this column before, I’m far more interesting in the people of Arizona high school than I am the process (wins/losses, etc.) and you won’t find a better person around than Jason Jewell. 

Appreciate the Greatness…One of my friends recently asked me what makes Centennial such a consistently dominant program year in and year out. The list is a long and extensive one but I simply stated to him, “they make you play their style on both sides of the ball and when you do, the game is over.”

Sure, the Coyotes have been blessed with skill players and back-end defenders who have gone on to play big-time college football (far too many to list–just check out the walls of their weight room) but Taylor’s old-school philosophy won’t ever change: win in the trenches.

A couple of years back I was talking to Taylor and assistant coach Steve Isaac after a spring workout and they told me the previous year (2017) Centennial ran the ball “around 70 percent of the time.”

I can only imagine being an opposing defensive coordinator and knowing what’s coming but still not being able to stop it. Quite a different approach from your now mostly traditional spread attacks you see being used.

Outside of their 17-0 loss to Eastside Catholic (WA) last season, the Coyotes scored at least 35 points in every game. They manhandled annual heavyweights Vail Cienega, Higley and Notre Dame Prep by a combined 163-27 in their last three playoff games. 

Overall, the ‘Yotes have performed well against national teams. This year’s BIG test is Mater Dei (CA) on September 6th in Peoria. Tighten up the chin straps for that one.