Zone Read: The Rubik’s Cube of Realignment

It’s a busy time in the Arizona high school football world as colleges from around the country have invaded the state to make a final push with LOI Day just around the corner.

As some players mull over their future late-summer college destinations, one high school team in the Valley already knows of one stop they’ll be making.

So much to get to so without further delay, here’s this week’s “Zone Read.”

Trading Places

It’s tough to say what irks some high school football coaches more, players transferring from school-to-school at an increasing rate or conference realignment which saw a few tweaks this week. 

In fairness, this is a delicate balance for the AIA. The term “competitive balance” is one we hear frequently and I feel, for the most part, they have done well moving schools up or down, as well as have been fair placing teams in divisions where they have a chance to compete.

One coach who wasn’t particularly happy was Paradise Valley’s Greg Davis.

Notre Dame Prep, one of the top football programs in 5A the past several years, won their appeal to stay and not move up to 6A, despite a large varsity roster of over 70 players. The Saints were bumped up to 6A last month but argued their small student enrollment at the private school (just over 800 students) would put them at a significant disadvantage against 6A schools with up to three times their enrollment.

Again, you just can’t make everybody happy. 

Irish Eyes

Few can argue Notre Dame Prep will have the most scenic season-opener when they take the field for the first time in 2020.

The Saints will tangle will fellow Catholic School, Fenwick High School from Oak Park, Illinois in late August.

“We were approached by global football almost a year ago about the possibility of playing in Ireland,” NDP head coach George Prelock told the “Zone Read.” “We are extremely thankful for this amazing opportunity to represent our school, community and Arizona football overseas. This will be an experience of a lifetime as our student-athletes will be able to create lifelong memories.”

NDP was upset at home in the 5A state semi-finals by Campo Verde but still finished 11-2. They’ll be replacing a number of key players next season including Oklahoma State signee Cade Bennett, leading rusher Dominick Mastro, as well as defensive mainstays Brock Locnikar, Connor Butt and Matt Malloy. 

No Train, No Gain

Bijan Robinson has scripted his remarkable, final chapter at Tucson Salpointe and now the torch has been passed to Canyon del Oro’s Stevie Rocker to sit atop the list of returning star running backs in southern Arizona.

CDO is no stranger to standout ball carriers as Rocker follows brothers  Ka’Deem and Elijah Carey.

Rocker is hoping his senior season with the Dorados is both productive, as well as injury free. Last year the 6-foot, 185-pounder was limited to just six games after suffering a high ankle sprain which essentially cost him the first half of his junior season as CDO finished 8-3.

Even in January, Rocker appears locked in for a big senior year.

“I think it will be a different off-season as he doesn’t have to be concerned with his personal exposure as far as recruiting and combines but simply making the weight room a number one priority,” CDO head coach Dusty Peace told the “Zone Read.” “He is working at a different level already and that will allow him to be his best.”

Peace believes growth and strength will allow him to elevate his game to another level this fall.

Rocker’s numbers dipped significantly in 2019 due to the injury but I’d expect a return to his sophomore numbers (1163 rushing yards, 12 touchdowns) if he can stay healthy. 

Less is More

I’ve had a few parents reach out to me recently frustrated and confused why their kids aren’t getting more attention from college coaches. 

Look, there isn’t an exact science when it comes to this. Some of it is simply luck, some timing and some the reality of the situation: your student-athlete may not be “good enough” to play after high school.

The most common misperception is the difference between a talented and productive high school player and one skilled enough to play in college — at any level.

Parents, you can spend your money any way you’d like but I’d advise against using any of these local “recruiting systems” who, as I was told by one parent, “do nothing more than re-tweet some of my kid’s stuff. We’ve really gotten very little out of it.”

Also, don’t waste your finances and time sending your kid to school he has zero chance of ever playing for. As one coach told me:

“My advice always for kids is to go to college camps they realistically think he can play at. Sending a 6-foot, 280-pound offensive lineman to USC camp is dumb.”

Sound advice for sure.