Zone Read: Changing Things Up

Back at it for another edition of “Zone Read.” 

We’ve seen quite a few moving parts already this off-season so let’s start off there.

Hamilton Hook

Over the past two years the Hamilton Huskies have re-emerged as one of the premiere high school football programs in Arizona as evidenced by a trip to the Open Division Semifinals in 2019 and a heart-breaking, last-second loss to Chandler last month in the Open Division Championship.

Yes, we can finally anoint the phrase, “Hamilton is back.”

With that being said, there were bumps along the way the past two seasons – most notably in certain situations on offense.

So, after taking some time to process the Huskies’ 8-2 season where they finished 35th in the nation, head coach Mike Zdebski did some staff shuffling the past few weeks. Long-time HHS offensive line coach Mark Tucker was promoted to run game coordinator, Jeremy Kitamura was elevated to passing game coordinator and Derrick Stinson to screen and draw coordinator.

The in-house movement is in hopes of balancing the Huskies’ offensive consistency.

“We can always do a better job of what we’re doing,” Zdebsky said to the “Zone Read.” “We’re striving to improve with everything – from game management decisions to personnel decisions. We just want to make sure our scheme blends with our personnel…if you don’t win every game than you need to go back to the drawing board and figure out why and try to improve upon that.”

“Zone Read” feels there will be more staff shakeups coming.

The offense hit lulls at inopportune times – most notably on the final drive against Chandler in the Open Championship when it came to time management.

There were also offensive playmakers who simply weren’t involved enough. NAU athlete signee Brady Shough saw his production fall from 36 receptions as a junior to just 19 last fall. 2022 Power 5 tight end recruit Michael Masunas managed just seven receptions for 57 yards and a touchdown in 10 games.

The flip side to that is the Huskies scored at least 34 points in seven games but for a high-end progam looking to take the final step in 2021, Zdebski felt some tweaking was necessary. 

The spotlight will be even brighter on senior-to-be quarterback Nico Marchiol – a four-star prospect who flashed promise in his first season as the starter but also made an ample amount of mistakes after transferring in from Colorado after the 2019 season.

“We want to do everything for him that our scheme matches his strength,” Zdebski explained. “Put him in a position to be successful all the time. I feel he’s one of the best quarterbacks in the country and, with that, we can have a lot of success.”

Lastly, don’t be surprised to see stud 2023 cornerback and return specialist Cole Martin see some snaps on offense, as well.

The Inner View…of an Interview

We here at the “Zone Read” have pulled the curtain back on a whole bunch of neat stuff over the years but always wondered what exactly went into a head coaching interview at a big-school program.

When you peel back the onion, the hiring of a varsity football coach is arguably one of, if not, the most important a principal can make. If you don’t believe me, just look at the national traction schools like Chandler, Hamilton, Saguaro, Centennial, Perry, Williams Field, Tucson Salpointe and many others have received because of their consistently successful programs and the leaders in charge over the years.

So we sifted through the ‘ole cellular phone and found an AZHS coach who interviewed for an upper division head coaching position this off-season.

He agreed, off the record, to take us inside from his own personal experience.

“Not only am I interviewing for the job but I’m listening to what they have to say,” he explained. “If I go in there and the first question they ask is, ‘How can you win us one more game?’ I’m leaving.”

This candidate said it was a 12-person interview committee (TWELVE!!) and lasted just over an hour. It was held on campus in a private room at a large conference table. 

“It’s nerve-racking but here’s the deal,” he continued about the overall process. “You’re on the sidelines and there’s thousands of people in the stands, you have to make a call in a split decision. That kind of atmosphere is a representation of how you might deal with pressure or some sort of adverse situation. It’s also a good thing to see how you interact with people when you don’t know them.”

He said the interviewing committee will sometimes give candidates the opportunity to see the line of questions shortly before it begins, while at other times is simply a pop quiz – with the main focus of answering each clearly and thoughtfully.

This particular interview, in many ways, was tiered. He was asked about everything from “building a culture,” to developing a blueprint, to his five-year vision and his peers, who he would see in and around the halls.

“Ultimately, there’s going to be a teaching job attached to it,” the candidate noted. “There are teachers in [the interview] asking about how you’re going to utilize your class time during a football class. What are you going to do with that time? What is that going to look like?”

What struck us here at the “Zone Read” as most interesting is the committee, who in this case were allowed to ask the candidate one question, stretched all the way from the athletic director, to the head athletic trainer, to the booster club president.

It’s not uncommon for current players within the program to be involved in the process, as well.

Arizona high football has become a high-stakes game so it’s understadable why these schools want to make sure they get not only the right coach, but the right person, as well.

Next Men Up

Last season was a good one for the two Flagstaff schools.

Coconino rolled through the Grand Canyon Region unbeaten and advanced to the 4A playoffs. The Panthers were led by stud running back Zach Bennett who ripped off over 1200 yards and 15 touchdowns in just nine games. He finished his CHS career with over 4,000 rushing yards and 52 touchdowns in three varsity seasons.

Down the street at rival Flag, Bennett’s childhood friend, Luis Jaramillo helped the Eagles go 4-2 in region play and reach the post-season, as well. The thick 6-foot, 210-pounder tallied over 1100 yards and 13 tochdowns in 2020. Jaramillo’s final prep numbers were 3280 rushing yards and 43 scores. He also lettered three times.

With all that being said – all good things must come to an end and now both schools will look to find ways to pick up the offensive production left behind by two of the best players to play high school football in Flagstaff.

We figured we’d go straight to “Zone Read’s” high country source for the details.

“For Flag, keep your eyes on Marcus Salcido who figures to be the feature back with Jaramillo graduated,” KAFF Sports Director Dave Zorn said. “For Coco, two sophomores – Jacob Clouse and Cooper French will battle for the spot left behind by Bennett, the schools’ all-time leading rusher.”

As a junior, Salcido rushed for 138 yards on 23 carries and two touchdowns. As a sophomore, French posted similar numbers for the Panthers (117 yards on 13 carries and a score). 

Have a great weekend everyone and please stay safe.