Zone Read: AIA Bracing For COVID-19 Impact

Here’s hoping your week is going well and, more importantly, you and yours close to you are staying safe and being respectful for those around you. 

Whether it’s spiked COVID-19 numbers or wild fires, Arizona is once again under the microscope and the trickle down effect is in the high school football cross hairs as we creep closer to July.

 Here’s this week’s “Zone Read.”

COVID-19 Player Protection Plan

AIA Executive Director David Hines went unplugged with “Zone Read’s” boss Brad Cesmat earlier this week on a number of topics and scenarios, including possible fall season start delays and/or postponements, transfer eligibly guidelines and the great unknown of high school football – even being played at all, with the Coronavirus spreading throughout the state. 

One notable talking point from Hines was the AIA’s stance on if a student-athlete. who is competing in sports, tests positive for COVID.

“If you do test positive, the quarantine would take place,” Hines explained to Cesmat. “With that you notify the school that, ‘I have tested positive’ and then the CDC does their contact checks to [make others aware]. We wouldn’t be quarantining the whole group. It would be basically on individual basis as the CDC recommends.”

This is an ever-evolving situation with no clear end game sight.

Bush Push

‘Tis the season for wildfires and here in Arizona our brave front-liners are fighting these blazes with no help from our usual dry, windy June climate.

The human-caused Bush Fire about 25 miles northeast of Mesa has already ravaged nearly 90,000 acres, feasting on tall grass and dry brush. The blaze, as of Thursday, was only 5% contained and led to evacuations in the small community of Sunflower and the surrounding areas.  

For Payson High School head football coach Bryan Burke, a 2009 PHS graduate and three-sport standout athlete for the Longhorns, the fire is a top priority and one filled with uncertainty.

“Right now our main concern is for our players and and students who live in the affected areas who have been evacuated or who will be evacuated soon,” Burke said to the “Zone Read.” “The fire is moving fast and has already caused a tremendous burden because many of our students live in the Tonto Basin [and] Sunflower areas. We are praying for the safety of their families and homes.”

Burke said he has had conversations with all of his players who live in the area impacted, or potentially impacted, by the fire.

Through it all, the players are still working out in small groups on-campus. Burke said his team is doing small group weight room activities, as well as up to 30 players doing outdoor, no-contact equipment less drills.

Although, thankfully, the Bush Fire hasn’t crept into Payson, it’s impact is still felt on the Longhorn football program.

“The issue we are seeing now is, depending on the day,” Burke explained. “The smoke is very heavy in town and really limits the intensity of the workouts we can do outdoors.”

Payson went 8-3 last season and made the 3A playoffs. It was their best season since 2008.

The ‘Horns return a host of talented play makers such as quarterback/defensive back Trevor Cline, linebacker Travis Christianson and defensive lineman Connor Faust.   

Meanwhile, In Tucson…

…the Bighorn Fire has burned over 31,000 acres since a lightening strike on June 5th caused the blaze. The top of Mount Lemmon and Oracle are presently the two biggest areas of concern.

The fire started only a few miles from Canyon del Oro High School.

“Some of our boys are having some scares now that live in Oracle,” CDO head coach Dusty Peace said to the “Zone Read.” “I reached out to them [Wednesday] night and their area was ok but things are changing rapidly.”

None of the Tucson public high schools have started workouts. The superintendents collectively agreed to re-access things after the July 4th holiday.

The private high schools in the area have been allowed to train on-campus.

Phase Two (For Some)

As our COVID numbers continue to climb, some districts, like the Paradise Valley School District, have moved into “Phase 2” this week.

Essentially, the “next step” allows teams to have more players outside and they can use a ball for workouts. One assistant coach in the district said “not much changed” from last week.

To the credit of the three schools “Zone Read” visited in recent days – Pinnacle, Horizon and Paradise Valley were all following protocol and cognizant of each players’ and coaches’ surroundings during drills or weight room sessions, as noted in PV’s weight room reminder to your left. 

One coach believes the strict disinfectant guidelines will actually help keep facilities cleaner and thus, safer when the dark COVID cloud passes – whenever that may be. 

PVUSD entering Phase 2 is a stark contrast from other districts, like Phoenix Union, who still aren’t comfortable opening schools for workouts. Some would argue this gives a “competitive advantage” to the districts who have already accelerated through Phase 1. Other coaches feel veteran teams will be at an even greater advantage (if games are played) because of their experience and familiarity with systems and schemes.

— Coach Davis (@FBCoachDavis) June 17, 2020

Some inside high school football circles aren’t as confident we will have a season this fall with so much uncertainly around the virus. Even if schools open, as expected, that doesn’t solve the issue of athletic competition and the numerous risks involved.

In short, the longer coronavirus concerns remain in the forefront, the more likely the season will be either pushed back or canceled in full. Some teams may not even be cleared to tackle until early August which, in itself, is a major safety concern. The first games are scheduled for August 21st.

Elite Company

If you don’t believe Arizona high school football isn’t on the map for their rising talent level, check out MaxPreps just released Top 100 Teams.

Sure, the football-rich trio of Texas, California and Florida will always be dominant (mainly due to their sheer size), but State 48 is positioned quite well with Chandler (10), Saguaro (42) and Hamilton (80) breaking the Top 100.

The three in-state representatives equal the number from Washington, Louisiana and Alabama – three high-end high school football states.

Further, 10 of the top 12 2021 Arizona prospects, according to 247Sports.com, have already committed to Power 5 programs. Saguaro defensive lineman Quinton Somerville will soon make it 11 of 12. 

The word nationally is most certainly out.