Zone Read: Welcome To 2021

Happy New Year to each and every one of you and here’s hoping the 2021 Arizona high school football ride is much smoother than what we all experienced the past 10 months or so.

With a new year, comes fresh notes, stories and topics for discussion so let’s jump into “Zone Read,” Volume One – for 2021.

Salpointe Statement

The fruit of Dennis Bene and his staffs’ labor while a Tucson Salpointe were on national display in 2020.

The long-time head coach, who stepped down in 2019 after leading the Lancers to the Open Division semi-finals, watched close this fall as a trio of his former players were major contributors at the college level.

Junior cornerback Derick Bush tallied 41 tackles, (4.5 for loss), seven pass breakups, two interceptions and a sack in helping lead Coastal Carolina to a remarkable 11-1 season and, at one point, a Top 10 ranking.

The Chanticleers quickly became the darling of the college football world and helped Jamey Chadwell win the Eddie Robinson and AP Coach of the Year awards.

At Texas, freshman running back Bijan Robinson capped off his first year in Austin by winning the Alamo Bowl Offensive MVP after shredding Colorado for 183 rushing yards and a touchdown. He also caught two passes – both of which went for scores.  

He has reminded many in Longhorn Nation of a young Ricky Williams and will most certainty be featured heavily in new head coach Steve Sarkisian’s scheme moving forward.

Meanwhile, Lathan Ransom’s season isn’t quite over yet. The Ohio State freshman safety has seen action in the back half of the Buckeyes’ secondary and is busy preparing for Monday’s CFP Championship showdown against Alabama in Miami.

Back in Tucson, Bene watched each excel with a sense of pride.

“I was really proud of Bijan, Lathan and Derick,” he said to the “Zone Read.” “Those three worked so hard for me at Salpointe and having the opportunity to play in these bowl games is just fantastic. I spoke with several of my former assistant coaches and all of us are just so proud of these guys and happy for their success.

I think my staff did a great job developing these guys so they could have an immediate impact at the collegiate level.”

From the Ground Up

For Patrick Nugent, it was simply something he couldn’t pass up.

Nugent and his 140 wins, second most among active coaches in the Tucson area, is off to Mica Mountain – a new varsity program, not far from Cienega, which could begin play this fall.

“Mica Mountain is a tremendous opportunity for me to start my own program and to work with (principal) Nemer Hassey and (assistant principal) Jay Campos will be special,” Nugent explained to the “Zone Read.” “As for Cienega, what a great run we had with some special kids and families. They will be deeply missed!”

The Bobcats went 48-14 in six seasons with Nugent at the helm and made back-to-back state playoff semi-final appearances.

Nugent’s long-time athletic director at Cienega, Whitney Holland, will be the new AD at Mica Mountain – which will compete in the 4A Kino Region. 

Pioneering A New Offense

The Pinnacle Pioneers, who failed to make the playoffs in 2020, have new play-caller with the promotion of Matt Hanshaw who takes over for Mike Brown who served in the same role for the ‘Neers the past four years.

Hanshaw served as the running backs coach and junior varsity head coach the previous three seasons at Pinnacle.

“Coach Hanshaw came to Pinnacle four years ago with an extensive playing and coaching background,” head coach Dana Zupke said to the “Zone Read” earlier this week. “He has had a great impact on the Pinnacle football program…and brings not only great knowledge, but also a great combination of intensity and enthusiasm. I am very excited about the direction our offense is headed under Coach Hanshaw.”

PHS is rich with young, but experienced skill players in juniors-to-be quarterback Devon Dampier, tight end/wide receiver Duce Robinson, running back Jacobie Rucker among others.

Three of Pinnacle’s four losses in 2020 were to Open Division participants Chandler, Centennial and Liberty. Their other was to 6A State Champion Chaparral.

Fisch-ing For In-State Talent

The verdict is still out on new Arizona head football coach Jedd Fisch but no one will argue the fact he’s hit the ground running since touching down in the Old Pueblo.

He and his remodeled coaching staffs’ finger prints are all over an evolving roster which has landed a number of AZHS transfers from successful Power 5 programs.

“Jeff Fisch emphasized the moment he accepted the Arizona coaching [job] that he would not only approach the transfer portal similarly to free-agency but also ‘swarm’ the state to keep the best prospects home,” Arizona insider, writer and ESPN Radio Tucson host Justin Spears said to the “Zone Read.” “He’s checked those boxes with the first recruits Arizona has snagged since he took the job.”

Spears continued.

“And not just graduate transfers that are a one-year rental, but players that will be with the program for 2-3-4 years,” he noted. “On top of that, he’s received commitments from guys who wanted no part of the previous coaching regime. Think about that – an unproven head coach was able to secure two players UA wanted initially, but couldn’t get with the previous staff.

That goes to show whatever this coaching staff is doing, these kids are buying in and it makes it that much sweeter that the players are from Arizona. This state is chock-full of elite talent year in and year out, and this staff knows that.”

Thursday morning brought even more good news as one of Tucson’s top prep players in the past decade had a change of heart about leaving home and the program he orginally signed with.

To say Arizona football needed a makeover after the Kevin Sumlin abortion may not be a strong enough word.

At least, for now, Fisch is capitalizing on all the talent this state has to offer.