Zone Read: The Time Is Now

The wait is officially over. 

This week, much like our Valley temperatures, Arizona high school football heats up with games everywhere.

Before I get started, I’d like to thank the following programs for having me out the past couple of weeks: Paradise Valley, Horizon, Saguaro and Pinnacle. I’m looking forward to visiting many more in the coming months but that quartet of schools, coaches and players always play great hosts. I thank you.

There’s plenty to get to so let’s not waste anymore time. Here’s this week’s “Zone Read.”

Batman & Robbins…You just never know who you’re going to see pop up on a high school sideline or in a coaches box. At Casa Grande High School, head coach Jake Barro is now boss of his boss. Well, sort of.

The Cougars’ athletic director, former University of Arizona star and eight-year NFL safety Randy Robbins, was recently hired as the CG’s defensive coordinator. He’ll work under Barro for his alma mater, replacing Tim Rutt who didn’t return after last season.

“Randy has been awesome to have on the field this year,” Barro said to the “Zone Read.” “He has been a mentor to me since he hired me in 2015. Having someone who has played and coached at every level of football really helps add credibility to the program.”

Robbins last coached at UofA in 2000 under the late Dick Tomey. He was a graduate assistant for two years starting in 1998 before being named the running backs coach. He played the majority of his career with the Denver Broncos before joining the New England Patriots for his final season (1992).

It certainly is an interesting dynamic and one to watch as the year plays out.

Casa Grande, who went 5-5 in 2018, open Friday at home against Tucson Palo Verde. 

Future In Focus…Israel Benjamin puts the “student” in student-athlete. The Saguaro High running back will be looked upon to help the Sabercats possibly (likely) crack and hopefully win the first ever open division playoff later this fall. The one-time Brophy Bronco rushed for 1675 yards (120 yards per game) and 27 touchdowns last year as a junior.

Benjamin, who sports a 4.79 GPA, is already thinking more long-term when it comes to his future after hanging up the pads.

“I have been around football since I was five years old and have always loved playing the game,” Benjamin said to the “Zone Read.” “But I’ve also always been very interested with evaluating players and the business end of the sport. So, for me, pursuing the career of a [NFL] general manager is a perfect fit.”

— Israel Benjamin (@Isbenjamin20) January 24, 2019

A team captain, the well-liked and respectful Benjamin has a laundry list of offers from some of the top academic institutions in the country including Ivy League members Brown, Princeton, Harvard, Dartmouth, Yale, Columbia, Penn and Cornell. Others include BYU, NAU, Army, Navy, Lehigh, Georgetown, Colgate and many more.

You getting all this, Arizona Cardinals?

Getting Defensive…Don’t be surprised if Pinnacle flips the script with an defense this season. The Pioneers certainly won’t be the biggest unit but they do bring back quite a bit of speed and experience under d-coordinator Andrew Hurley and his 4-3 base look.

Leading tackler Alonzo Maya, Trevor Crawford, Clay Zupke and Drew Anchor all return with a working knowledge of the system. Maya and rising two-way star Shane Sunday tied for the team lead with four sacks each last fall. 

The schedule is certainly manageable but the ‘Neers will be tested, starting Friday against old nemesis Chubba Purdy and the Perry Pumas. Pinnacle will also take on national power Eastside Catholic (WA) and make a late-season trip to #ChapTown for a showdown with Jack Miller, Tommy Christakos and the Chaparral Firebirds in north Scottsdale.

Showing Respect…Pretty cool seeing long-time Desert Ridge Head Coach Jeremy Hathcock’s tweet pop up on my timeline earlier this week.

I didn’t know Moro well but I have the utmost respect for what he did both on and off the field impacting so many young lives around Arizona. He won a jaw-dropping 13 state championships at Blue Ridge High School and had 318 career wins with the Yellow Jackets and 336 overall. Hathcock played under Moro at Blue Ridge, winning three state championships.

He passed away on January 26th in Gilbert after suffering a stroke. He was 66 years old.

A Simple Request…I’m so ridiculously excited for the high school football season to start. So many great coaches, players, storylines and moments to capture over the next four months. Here’s hoping certain instances, players, even media members don’t tarnish this beautiful game. 

Arizona is continuing to get better and better, as well as more respected nationally as one of the top prep football states in America…the numbers speak for themselves.

Let’s all do our best to keep it trending upward.

#FridayNight360AZ.