Zone Read: January Musings

Weight room workouts and 7’s.

Ah yes, the Arizona high school football calendar has shifted from the season to, well, the second season.

It was great see winter preps get started this week and hopefully 2021 brings more safe, positive experiences to not only the student-athletes but the parents, coaches and support staffs at all our high schools around the state.

Here’s what caught my attention in this week’s “Zone Read.”

Young and Restless

About this time last year Jaydin Young wasn’t quite sure what to do.

The then-Centennial High senior safety/running back/athlete had just wrapped up an accomplished three-year varsity career which included 252 tackles, nine interceptions, 30 pass breakups on defense. Offensively, he tallied close to 30 touchdowns and several personal, as well as academic accolades. 

Young helped the Coyotes win two state championships (2017, 2018) and held offers from a number of schools including Purdue, San Diego State, Colorado State, Nevada and a handful of others. 

But the recruiting game can be a tricky one – one which forced Young to pivot on his college choice and accept a preferred walk-on offer from Arizona.

“It just didn’t plan out the way I expected it,” he explained to the “Zone Read.” “Something just happened on National Signing Day and I couldn’t sign with the school I wanted to…the recruiting process was tough. You have all these people talking to you. You don’t know if they’re telling you lies or telling you the truth.”

With that being said, everything happens for a reason and after then defensive backs coach Paul Rhoads left UCLA to take over as defensive coordinator in December of 2019, the two reunited in Tucson after Rhoads showed interest in Young while with the Bruins.

As the Cats’ depth started to shrink early last fall due to various reasons, the 6-foot, 182-pound true freshman PWO found himself with the opportunity of a lifetime: playing Power 5 football in the secondary in nickel and dime packages against blue blood programs like USC.

The strong safety appeared in four games, registering six tackles and cementing his belief that he is every bit a high-level college football player, even as a preferred walk-on.

He also got some advice from older brother Dedrick, a Centennial legend, who became a four-year starter at linebacker for Nebraska.

“He was like, ‘Football is real simple. It’s just tackling and running to the ball,'” Jaydin recalls most from their conversations. “That’s really all it is. Just keep it simple and go out there and do what you know how to do.”

Now, with entirely new staff on place, Young must prove himself all over again, especially considering the way head coach Jedd Fisch and his staff have attacked the transfer portal the past few weeks, adding talent and depth to the program across the board.

For every college prospect who may find themselves in the same situation Young was a year ago, he offers this simple, yet essential, advice. 

“Believe in yourself,” Young noted. “Believe you can play at these top-tier schools. Believe that you can walk-on and play. Believe that you can get a scholarship. Having that belief in yourself is a big part of college football.”

From Canceled…To Champions

You’ll be hard-pressed to find a better story from the 2020 AZHS season than what happened at Chaparral.

The Firebirds took the early-season lemons (their first three varsity games canceled due to COVID) and turned them into the sweetest lemonade, hoisting the 6A State Championship gold ball in Ahwatukee last month.

It all started with their head coach who shared his transparent reflection.

“I feel like I learned a lot in growing through this difficult season,” Brent Barnes said to the “Zone Read.” “I grew in the areas of being flexible, understanding, patient and [showing] compassion for what everyone was going through emotionally. It brought forward the joy of the game again and how not to take things for granted.”

Barnes continued.

“Sometimes we as coaches get caught up in the pursuit of perfection and forget to just enjoy the process along the way.”

Big picture perspective: it’s so much bigger than the wins and losses. Only a handful of teams are lucky enough to end their playoff run on top.

ChapTown is still celebrating and maybe this state championship is the sweetest, considering how the season started.

Todd’s Tempe Takeover

Family brought Todd Hanley down the I-17 and back to the Valley.

Now the likable, former Flagstaff High head coach is ready to get Tempe High back to their winning ways after going 0-7 in 2020.  

“I’ve always thought Tempe could be a destination school in the Valley,” Hanley said to the “Zone Read.” “The kids are great, the principal and athletic director are supportive and I just really feel I’m the right guy for the challenge. I can’t wait to get out there and compete.”

As a child, Hanley attended sporting events at TUHS with his father and has “a lot of positive memories” about the school.

Hanley went 10-7 in two seasons as Flag’s head coach – leading the Eagles to their first playoff appearance in 13 years. 

There is talent both on Tempe’s campus and, obviously,  in the area. The Buffs return their starting quarterback and top two running backs in 2021. Despite a winless fall, Tempe posted back-to-back 7-4 seasons in 2018 and 2019. 

Hanley and his wife Sonia relocated to the Valley to be close to her ailing father after resigning as head coach in early December.

It’s A Numbers Game

I’ve spent plenty of time in this column talking about the high number of college football prospects Arizona produces – at all levels. 

Sure, we all know the State 48 household names littered across the Power 5 landscape (enter Brock Purdy, Spencer Rattler, Bijan Robinson, Kedon Slovis and many others) but there are dozens of other who either are, or will be, playing at the next level.

For 2022 players who are building their college football resumes now – remember, college coaches have to evaluate you on your word. Many expect and anticipate you to “stretch the truth” but that certainly doesn’t make it right and could keep you from fulfilling your aspirations of playing at the next level.

It’s important to show your measurables and speed work (think 20-yard shuttle, 40-yard dash), besides what you put on Hudl.  

There are particular said measurables recruiters, at every level, are looking for. As mentioned, it’s truly a numbers game.

Are you a legit 6’3 or are you 6’3 in cleats and a helmet? 

Big difference.

It’s a risk “Zone Read” doesn’t suggest you make.

Bet on yourself, your skill and your heart, as opposed to betting on being able trick college coaches.