Zone Read: Football Is Coming…For Most

We are just about cleared for take off…fingers crossed, of course.

For the first time in 10 months I can feel the build up for Arizona high school football — which is nearly indescribable considering the uncertainty of all fall prep sports just a few weeks ago.

Hope everyone is having a great week and appreciate all the people who consume this column on a weekly basis.

Here’s this week’s “Zone Read.”

The Road To Success

Way back in April “Zone Read” brought you the story of an Arizona high school football coach leading a program from 100 miles away.

Little did we know back then, Mingus Union head coach Doug Provenzano’s journey to the Verde Valley was just beginning.

As the Marauders prepare for their season opener (for now) 67 miles north on I-17 against Flagstaff, Provenzano is learning the ins and outs of the interstate himself during his six-day-a-week commute from his west Valley home to the Verde Valley.

“The plan is to eventually transition up this way,” he explained to the “Zone Read” before a recent workout. “Right now I’m doing about a three-hour, 20-minute-a-day commute.”

That’s right, the first-year coach is spending just under one full day a week in his vehicle and logging over 1200 miles to try to turn around a once proud program who went winless in 2019.

His timeline over the past six months is almost as remarkable as the fact he’s daily commuting from Phoenix to Cottonwood.

Provenzano first met his team in-person in early June. What followed was a three-week stretch of workouts before the metrics in the area spiked and everything was shut down again. The last week of July, Mingus returned to Phase One before eventually transitioning to Phase Two and now Phase Three.

“Nothing ever feels normal anymore,” he explained. “I’m just happy that the kids have a set schedule and we have something to look forward to.” 

He admits, the “buy in” has been difficult at times but Provenzano’s message has been clear since he was named head coach back in mid-March.

“We just started training,” he said. “I just let them know this is what you’re going to need to do mentally, physically, spiritually and this is my expectation. Every day you need to show up.”

Part of those expectations even involved the way players dressed each day. Whether it be all red, all gray or a combination of the Marauders’ two colors, the goal was to establish unity and a blueprint of success moving forward.

There are key pieces in place, including 6-foot-4, 215-pound tight end Zach Figy, a converted middle linebacker who broke his collar bone last year as a junior. Running back/linebacker Drew Meyer rushed for over 600 yards and four touchdowns last fall and Provenzano believes slot receiver/running back Johnny Sanchez is poised for a breakout season. Quarterback Zach Harrison gained valuable experience starting 10 games last season as a sophomore.

One head coach told the “Zone Read” recently Mingus “should have a sneaky good team this year” with enough talent to possibly contend for the Grand Canyon Region title and who are we to disagree, considering the job Provezano executed rebuilding Goldwater High School and helping lead Liberty to a 6A State Championship last winter at Sun Devil Stadium as a lead assistant.

High School football is all about the student-athletes.

Thank you Coach Provenzano for continuing to set the standard. 

The Bigger Picture

As nearly every school in Arizona prepares for play on October 2nd, the Tucson public high schools are three steps behind the rest of the state.

Monday schools were finally allowed to wear helmets and enter Phase 2. Thursday’s updated southern Arizona COVID numbers brought more discouraging news as Tucson went back to red (105/100,000) as the latest data was revealed.

However, the players and coaches are together again, in-person, for the first time in several months.

There is still a sliver of optimism as the summer has turned to fall but some coaches, regardless of if/when games are played, are looking at the bigger picture.

It’s a non-football life lesson and teaching moment for Canyon del Oro’s Dusty Peace.

“The main message for our program is gratitude,” he told the “Zone Read.” “What a lesson every person in the world experienced the last six months and…we are social beings and need others to be our best, as a team and individual. We will certainly cherish every moment we are together this season.”

Schools like CDO, for now, are still in a non-contact phase until districts give them the green light to proceed.

A Step Behind

A common theme the “Zone Read” has noticed during fall camp tours, and understandably so, is “being behind” as a couple of head coaches lamented.

The unthinkable dynamics of COVID-19 have put coaches and players in unique and unchartered waters as evidenced by what you’ve already read in this week’s column above.

Ready or not, games are one week away. 

“These are unparalleled challenges in a very fluid environment,” former 14-time region champion and 2013 State Champion Tucson Salpointe head coach Dennis Bene explained to the “Zone Read.” “Repetition is so fundamentally vital to “teaching,” especially in the beginning of the process. Then by continuing those habits and core principals, a team is built.”

Bene continued.

“All of the coaches’ principals and the program’s pillars get engrained into the players through this routine. There is no way around this…ultimately you hope the team is rewarded and finds success through this process.”  

Will play be sloppy in Week One? Probably.

Will we see more turnovers and mental error penalties than maybe in “normal” seasons? Likely.

Every day of 2020 has been a learning experience and the fall high school football season here in State 48 will be no different.