The County Line: Southeast Valley Summer Sizzle

Welcome back to The County Line, my blog on news and notes surrounding the athletic programs we cover at CountyLinePreps.com.

It’s time to check back in after visiting a few teams on the Maricopa side of our coverage area during spring football practice. Additionally, I’m going to name three players on my 2018 Bucket List here.

More details on that later as we start moving the line…

Larsen’s Leadership – I first interviewed Queen Creek senior quarterback Devin Larsen before his first game as the Bulldogs’ starter. Back then, I asked him what he was most excited about as he prepared for his varsity debut as a sophomore.

“The seniors we have, they’ve been encouraging me and helping me out with everything, pushing to be my best for the season and the team,” Larsen answered in 2016. “(Coach Germaine) has helped me a lot. He’s helped with the plays and given me tips on how to make all the reads.”

After throwing for almost 5,000 yards in addition to 55 touchdowns since that interview, I was interested to know Larsen’s answer to a similar question now that he’s the senior.

The Bulldogs’ signal caller says he still wants to improve what he and Germaine started two years ago – reading defenses. It seems it’s a never-ending quest to see it all from the eyes of a quarterback.

Larsen also commented on how his role as a leader has changed in two years:

He would know – I had the opportunity to catch up with new Hamilton defensive coordinator Rodger Schenks during the Sports360AZ event at Chandler’s Valle Luna Mexican Restaurant a few weeks ago.

I had the pleasure of covering Schenks’ teams during his very successful stints at San Tan Foothills and later ALA – Ironwood (where he won a CAA State Championship). Considering he is someone who has coached against Queen Creek and several other 6A powerhouse programs, including two-time defending champion Chandler, an opponent on the Bulldogs’ schedule this season, I thought he’d be a useful source to ask a few questions about what the Bulldogs’ can expect in 6A.

Here is a transcript of our conversation:

CLP:  What were your thoughts or takeaways from Queen Creek’s performance against Hamilton last season?

RS:  It’s a Travis Schureman team – tough, physical and big. They’re going to hit in you in the mouth. We both are from Mountain View, so I know where he’s coming from, and he’s got that old-type tradition that he’s instilling out there in his kids. They’ll play all 48 minutes, and if you don’t show up with your lunch pail you’re going to get hit in the mouth and get beat.

CLP:  When you think about the Bulldogs moving from 5A to 6A, how do you think they’ll measure up with other 6A teams?

RS:  Travis is going to have them prepared, and I think their kids out there (have been) excited about it for a couple of years. They knew that they were going to moving up, so I think they’ve been gearing towards it. The brand of football that they play is hard-nosed, so that’s going to be different from a lot of these (6A) teams that have to get used to that type of football. (Queen Creek) is built for (the move) and it’ll be top-eight type of team even going into their first year (at 6A).

CLP:  What is something that Queen Creek might not be used to when it comes to playing a team like Chandler?

RS:  The speed. The speed is going to be the difference. Chandler has a bunch of (players) over there who are very explosive and can run. I think in the front seven (Queen Creek) can match up well, but it’s going to be (about) how well it can take care of the skill kids.

Welcome Back, Kemp – Benjamin Franklin multi-sport senior Jordan Kemp was asked last season by football head coach Dave Jefferies to move from tight end to offensive tackle for the betterment of the team. Displaying a “team first” mentality, Kemp obliged.

During my visit during spring practice I asked both parties about Kemp’s position on offense heading into this season.

“Right now, we have him back as a tight end,” Jefferies said. “In our offense, the base offense, the tight end might be a hair more important only because we still need a big powerful body, but one that can move around and catch a ball, which Jordan can do.”

Kemp said he enjoyed the opportunity last year, but he’s looking forward to moving back to his natural position.

“The line was great last year, I had a lot of fun,” Kemp said. “I learned some great blocking techniques, but I’m just excited to catch some passes again.”

Bold Predication – This one was not made by me, but I do believe there’s a better-than-average chance it comes to realization.

While at ALA – Queen Creek’s spring practice, I saw 6-foot-6 junior-to-be Devon Brooke lined up at safety, calling defensive signals during the 7-on-7 portion of practice. I knew that Brooke was the Patriots starting point guard as a sophomore, when he led the team in minutes per game and assists per game, in addition to ending the season third in scoring and fourth in rebounds.

I also knew he wasn’t on the football roster last year.

When I asked if that in fact was Brooke, football head coach Rich Edwards confirmed that it was, while also informing me that Brooke was part of the program as a freshman quarterback, a position he apparently didn’t care for.

Since then, Brooke has sprouted and turned himself into a legitimate basketball prospect at the next level. Adding muscle to his current 190-pound frame would continue his ascension up the prospect ladder.

Brooke approached Edwards about returning to the gridiron, knowing the Patriots work in the weight room would benefit him on the court as well.

Offensive coordinator Max Hall had Brooke run some routes as a receiver, where he impressed Edwards and the other coaches. So much, in fact, that Edwards told me he wouldn’t be surprised if Brooke was among the best receivers in the 3A Central Region by season’s end.

My 2018 Bucket List – Just about two years ago I came up with a “bucket list” of 10 football players I wanted to see during the 2016 season. I enjoyed writing about the players as much as I enjoyed watching them. With that in mind, I decided to identify a bucket list of 10 players for the 2017 season.

My list includes players, in no particular order or ranking, that may or may not make other’s rankings or lists. Simply, they are players I want to see in person before the end of the upcoming season.

I’ve identified players for this year’s list, but I’m going to release the names a little different from past years. The changes include increasing the number of players named to 15. Additionally, I’m going to release the players, three at a time, in The County Line, before the complete list appears on CountyLinePreps.com

I suggest you be on the lookout for these players under the Friday Night Lights:

Joshua Maignan (Jr), Wide Receiver/Cornerback – Florence High School (5’10, 185 pounds)

After appearing in a few varsity games as freshman, Maignan made people take notice as sophomore. He finished his first full varsity season with 1,286 all-purpose yards, including 597 rushing and 641 receiving, both ranking second most on the team behind Nolan Susel and Shane Mathis, respectively. Defensively, Maignan ended last season with 57 tackles and a pair of interceptions.

I saw Maignan in person during a first-round playoff game versus Show Low last year, when he rushed 63 yards and a touchdown in addition to a game-high 153 yards on seven receptions, including one catch-and-run he took 75 yards to the house.

Following the departure of nearly 20 graduating seniors, including Susel, Mathis and others, Maignan is the Gophers’ man this year and next.

I won’t miss an opportunity to see him.

You shouldn’t either.

Florence head coach Scott Howard: “We are going to try and get Josh the ball in different ways. He is such a talented kid, we have to get him the ball as much as possible. He definitely will shoulder the load but from multiple places.”

Chandler Miles (Sr), Running Back/Safety – Benjamin Franklin High School (5’8, 145 pounds)

It’s nearly impossible to think about the Chargers rushing attack without having some knowledge of the video game-type numbers Miles and the next guy named on The Bucket List put up a year ago.

Miles, entering his fourth and final varsity season, wasn’t only a star on offense, he got it done in all three phases. Of his 29 touchdowns, 21 were rushing scores, five more came via receptions, one was a pick six, and the final two came on kickoff returns.

His greatest contributions were on offense, where he rushed for 1,517 yards in addition to 307 receiving yards. Defensively, he finished with 49 tackles and three interceptions. As a kick returner, Miles averaged more than 35 yards per return and had two returns of 90 yards or more – a 94 yarder against ALA – Queen Creek and one for 91 yards versus ASU Prep.

If you get the chance to see this dynamic player in person, you shouldn’t pass it up.

I won’t.

I’d regret if I did.

Benjamin Franklin head coach Dave Jefferies: “Chandler is [speedy] and will make a move to set a defender up and then run right by him. Chandler would probably play wide receiver if we ran a standard offense, but he still runs very physical between the tackles.

“Defensively, Chandler has started in every varsity game since his freshman year. He is a solid ‘cover -2’ safety for us.”

Zach Jefferies (Jr), Running Back/Linebacker – Benjamin Franklin High School (6’0, 180 pounds)

Jefferies represents the other half of the Chargers’ offensive backfield, and according to his head-coaching father, “will be a kid that never comes off the field” this season after playing “some” on defense during his first two varsity seasons.

As a sophomore, Jefferies led the Chargers with 1,643 rushing yards and tied Miles for the team lead with 21 rushing touchdowns.

Jefferies played in 12 games last year, missing the semifinal playoff game against Pusch Ridge Christian Academy after a season-ending knee injury the previous week against Sabino. He eclipsed 100 yards rushing nine times a year ago, including three games in which he ran for at least 180 yards.

During my visit to the Chargers spring practice, I saw Zach lined up linebacker during defensive drills, which leads me to believe that is his new position on that side of the ball. I can also report that he was not limited as a result of last year’s injury, performing at full speed and without a brace.

If you are on the lookout for Jefferies during a game, he shouldn’t be hard to find.

Just look for the guy wearing jersey No. 24.

He’s usually running toward the end zone with opposing defenders in his rearview, losing ground.

Benjamin Franklin head coach Dave Jefferies: “Zach is a physical runner that will many times just try to run you over. (He) got a few more carries than Chandler, as he is our true running back, but it was pretty close to even. Zach ultimately wanted to be a read option quarterback and follow in the footsteps of Heath Motes out at Thatcher (2013 small schools POY).

“Zach has played some corner for us the last two years, but now as a junior, he will look to play a much bigger role on the defensive side of the ball.

“I’m proud of both of [Chandler and Zach] (and really the entire program) and the way they’ve embraced our leather helmet-style of offense. Many kids would frown on something that seems so outdated and doesn’t fit what THEY want to do.”

I am a husband, a father and a student @ASU. I am a board operator at Skyview Networks and cover HS Sports for the SEV Ledger and http://Copperarea.com