Zone Read: Different Year, Same Obstacles

Well, we’ve hit even more turbulence as we enter 2021.

There’s reason for optimism on the horizon and we can all only hope for a more “normal” season of fall football but, as of today, the reality is the virus continues to spread at an alarming rate and we’re all, essentially, held hostage to it until more vaccines are distributed and people change their social habits.

With that off of mind, here’s this week’s “Zone Read.”

Swing Vote

2020-21 Arizona high school basketball, meet 2020 AZHS football.

While this column is 99.999% dedicated to in-state gridiron news and notes, I couldn’t help but think about the AIA’s 180-degree flip earlier this week.

Tucson board member Jim Love reversed course, re-voting in favor of winter sports which flipped the original 5-4 decision to cancel. Could his change of heart have stemmed from the fact nearly all of Tucson’s public high schools played few, if any, high school football games last fall? Maybe. 

There are pros and cons involving this lighting rod decision to ramp up high school basketball and other in-season sports this coming Monday. Like we saw late last summer with football, AIA Executive Director David Hines and his staff were at the mercy of COVID-19 and got zero help from Governor Doug Ducey who continues to make absolutely nothing of substance a priority when it comes to curving, much less stopping, the spread of this deadly virus.

The rules in place for winter sports, most notably participants wearing masks during competition, is a smart idea but you’re still going to have perspiring athletes in full contact with one another and the risk of players not being able to catch their breath. Throw your mask on and jog around your block. It certainly changes everything. 

Will the masks actually help? No one knows but the AIA’s hands were tied on this from the jump (no pun intended) and now high schools must conform…again. They promised to hold everyone accountable but who’s going to be the AIA whistle blower with hundreds of winter sporting events taking place simultaneously around Arizona in the coming weeks?

Bravo to Hines and his fellow decision makers for allowing leniency with basketball transfers. These student-athletes deserve flexibility from the AIA during these continued times of uncertainty. Some players, like Sunnyslope 7-foot star Carson Basham, already left their high school to play for their club team like the Pepperdine commit did to AZ Compass Prep in Chandler.

The winter sports decision will turn out one of two ways, but we haven’t been able to forecast the direction of the pandemic for nearly a year now and “Zone Read” doesn’t see that changing anytime soon.

This hits the nail on the head.

Great big picture perspective.

Fathering A New Journey

As Jedd Fisch and his staff are making big strides in turning around the perception of Arizona football, former UofA coach Rich Rodriguez is back in the coaching circles, as well…with a familiar face taking on a new challenge in The Bayou.

It’s funny sometimes how the college football world works. 

“I’m excited to coach my son,” Coach Rodriguez said to the “Zone Read.” “[As] well as help a friend with a great challenge.”

Rodriguez will serve as the associate head coach and offensive coordinator under Terry Bowden who was hired two days before Christmas as the Warhawks new head coach. He was the head coach at Auburn and previously served the last two seasons as an offensive analyst at Clemson under Dabo Swinney and is the son of Florida State coaching legend Bobby Bowden.

I applaud Rhett for taking taking the high road and sticking it out in Tucson through the Kevin Sumlin era. He’s always been a team-first leader dating back to his days as a standout at Catalina Foothills High in north Tucson.

Now, he has a chance to play for his pops again.

Good for the Rodriguez’s.

Speaking of Arizona…

…Fisch and his staff have been busy meeting and greeting high school coaches from around the state.

This olive branch will go a long ways in re-establishing Arizona here in State 48. While Fisch has yet to coach a single a game in Tucson, he’s connecting with all the right people, as well as hiring an accomplished staff with similar mindsets.

Hopefully, somewhere Sumlin is taking notes.

A Year of Reflection

2020 taught all of us plenty of lessons.

Lessons in adversity.

Lessons in patience.

Lessons in selflessness.

Lessons in hardship.

Most prep football programs were lucky enough to play a full season – or close to it – last fall. Others, like Saguaro, saw their successful year cut short at the most inopportune time, while rival Chaparral’s started with a COIVD thud but ended in a 6A State Championship.

Others, simply didn’t play at all.

The Phoenix Union district fell somewhere in-between.

Teams like the Central Bobcats saw their season schedule start the day before Halloween and end just two weeks later.

Chandler Hovik rode the rollercoaster from one extreme to other – starting last summer.

“2020 taught me a lot about myself as a coach and a person,” the Central head coach explained to the “Zone Read.” “First and foremost you realize how much more it is than just the game of football. You really focus on the big picture and realize why you do what you do.”

“[I] had current and former players in very tough situations,” Hovik continued. “Including a former player homeless the past few months due to the pandemic. We understand as coaches we need to do anything in our power to make these boys feel safe and be that positive influence in their life right now.”

“We will come out stronger together during these tough times.”

Stay positive and stay safe everyone.