Zone Read: Summer Football Sticking Points, Surveys

This rollercoaster ride through 2020 is approaching July with as much uncertainly now as when we entered the COVID-19 pandemic back in early March.

When will things be “normal” again? Likely not for quite some time here in Arizona with numbers continuing to rise around the state.

There is an equal amount of uncertainty when it pertains to high school football – with the regular season “scheduled” to start in less than 60 days (August 21st).

Survey Says…?

Will there be AZHS football in 2020?

At this point, it’s anyone’s guess. “Zone Read” believes starting the season on time is an extreme reach considering all the variables involved with several teams and districts on different, if any, workout schedules. 

Further, COVID-19 seems to be a game of tennis between the Arizona Interscholastic Association and their schools. 

Some have been more than outspoken in hopes of receiving additional direction, as well as more time, from the AIA. 

 

The Tucson public high schools haven’t even been cleared to work out on campus. That decision was made by the superintendents and will be re-examined after the July 4th holiday break.

Wednesday the AIA announced they would be sending out surveys to each member school principal, regarding football and fall soccer, to help gather information as to when each school plans to reopen for students and reinstate athletic teams. They will then be assessed by the AIA Crisis Management Committee,  which is made up of AIA employees, executive board members and representatives from all conferences. Another survey will go out two weeks later for badminton, swimming & diving, girls volleyball, golf and cross country which start practices later than football and soccer.

Some feel this will only muddy the Arizona high school football situation even more.

“To me, this is merely a ploy for the AIA to buy itself more time,” one coach said off the record to the “Zone Read.” “I’m all for being proactive but by the time all these surveys are collected and assessed, it will be a month before the scheduled season starts. This sense of urgency needed to happen weeks ago.”

Lost in all this at times seems to be the safety of the student-athletes, coaches and staff members involved. We all want our Friday night lights but only when it makes the most sense and is in the best interest of the individuals involved.

These are unchartered waters for all of us.

See You In July

Mike Peterson had simply seen enough. 

With COVID-19 numbers spiking Red Mountain’s head coach called an important audible last weekend shutting down his team’s scheduled workouts this week in Mesa.

“We’ve been at it a couple of weeks and we’ve got a lot of good work done,” Peterson said during a phone interview with  Sports360AZ.com boss Brad Cesmat Tuesday. “But it’s been real restrictive…this week the City of Mesa was going to be more restrictive on what we could do.”

“All of this thing is just a risk-reward for us that we just balanced out.”

This is a time where people everywhere need to take a step back and really dive deeper into the big picture – one on a much bigger scope than the sport I write about each week in this column.

“Maybe we’ve been lucky we don’t have any cases on our team so far,” Peterson continued. “Let’s just take a deep breath and see where it goes in the next couple of weeks.”

Bravo, Coach P.

Estrella Foothills Pop

We love shining light on players who deserve it but don’t always get it. So, when good friend of the “Zone Read” Ralph Amsden from ArizonaVarsity.com raved about linebacker Quinlan Popham, now felt like a good time to reach out to Estrella Foothills head coach Derek Wahlstrom for a little intel.

“Quinlan is the real deal as an athlete,” Wahlstrom said. “Physically, [he’s] six-foot-three and around 210 pounds. He runs a sub 4.8 40 [yard dash] so he has all the measurable.”

Over the last two seasons Popham has tallied a jaw-dropping 202 tackles, 112 coming last fall as a junior – which led the region. He was named an all-region performer the past two years and also has 22 tackles for loss, seven pass deflections, four forced fumbles and two pass deflections on his already impressive EFHS gridiron resume. 

Oh, did we mention he also plays basketball and participates in track for the Wolves?

Most importantly, Popham is a scholar baller who has an above 4.0 grade-point-average and was selected to the National Honor Society.

He was paid the ultimate compliment by his head coach.

“I believe that Quinlan has the ability to play at the Division 1 level,” Wahlstrom explained. “While having the intellect to fit in at an Ivy League classroom.”

The play-making linebacker already has lower-level college opportunities. 

Expect interest to intensify with a big senior season this fall.

Nationally Recognized

What can we say about now former Horizon quarterback Jake Martinelli that hasn’t been said already?

A true leader for the Huskies on and off the field, Martinelli was one of 82 scholar-athletes named to the 2020 Team of Distinction – as recognized by the National Football Foundation. 

He was selected from a pool of 3,500 candidates. 

“Making the NFF 2020 Team of Distinction makes me proud to be recognized for my priorities over the last four years: athletics and academics,” Martinelli said to the “Zone Read.” “These two things I’ve been so focused on since becoming a student-athlete…receiving an honor such as this one honestly makes me so happy.”

Understandably so.

The South Dakota School of Mines signee, along with all the other Team of Distinction nominees, will be part of a permanent digital display at the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta.

Tradition on Hold

Mountain Pointe head coach Eric Lauer knows the rich football tradition of the Ahwatukee school quite well. He served as an assistant for 12 seasons and was a part of MP’s overwhelming success which included several double-digit win seasons, as well as state championships.

However, since taking over for Rich Wellbrock this spring, Lauer and his staff have done some remodeling around the Pride’s meeting rooms and facilities.

Gone are the region and state championship banners from the past. The facility has fresh paint, to go along with a fresh attitude: don’t live off the success of the past. Create your own identity and legacy.

“We don’t want them eating off someone else’s kill,” Lauer said.

His motto moving forward is, “Embrace the Chase.”

You will see himself and his staff wearing wristbands sharing the message he hopes his team will adopt as they grind through the summer.

Lauer is well aware there will be bumps in the road this season but, so far, he’s been impressed with the effort and attention to detail his team has shown as they work through Phase 1.

One area which needs to improve drastically is at quarterback and simply scoring more points. During MP’s 1-9 2019, the Pride scored 13 or fewer points an alarming seven times.

Help is on the way in the form of Amir Boyd, the junior transfer from South Mountain, who blew up last season in his first year starting amassing over 2000 total yards and 28 touchdowns.  

He threw only four interceptions and had the second-highest completion percentage (.702) in 5A.