Best in the West: Rising in Spring

Just because flowers are blooming doesn’t mean athletes aren’t already on the gridiron putting in work for fall. While the 2019 season is far from kicking off, teams are already looking to improve upon the past season’s results. Even though two west valley teams hoisted championship trophies in November, several squads are battling to earn an improved outcome from 2018.


Stallions Stampeding

Teams such as Liberty and Queen Creek seemed to thrive moving from the 5A to the 6A Conference last season. Squads such as Chaparral, Camelback, and Carl Hayden were among others who were moved into the AIA’s top Conference, and the transition was smoother for some rather than others.

A 4-1 non-region schedule sent Surprise Shadow Ridge into Southwest Region play with momentum in their first season in 6A. The season ended, though, with a winless region schedule that left them ranked 27 in the conference. The promise the Stallions witnessed does bring a competitive fire in 2019 looking to build upon the foundation set last fall.

“We knew from last year moving up to 6A we needed to get bigger, faster and stronger,” head coach Bob Chappelle told Sports360AZ. “I think we have done this with great effort from the players. Now the exciting part of spring ball is to see how it looks on the field. We know it’s not fall camp, but we want to see the improvements we have made is strength and speed.”

Chappelle and the Stallions return junior QB, Kaiden Lansford, who was at the helm of the offense last season. His arm threw 1,400 passing yards and 19 TD’s over 2018, but his versatility as a competitor will place him on both sides of the line in fall.

“Kaiden has a very strong arm but his best asset is he is a great athlete,” Chappelle said. “That’s why we are going to play him on defense this year as well.”

Shadow Ridge also brings back two-year starter, Isaiah Mercado, who will battle on the offensive and defensive lines in 2019.

“Isaiah is one of the most physical players I have coached, when he gets engaged he finishes blocks,” Chappelle said. “I think he will open some eyes playing defense as well this year.”


Strides in Aztec Nation

Copper Canyon’s 2-8 record doesn’t do justice to the strides made by the Aztecs last year, as shown by their ranking of 28. CCHS was slated to battle against strong tournament teams such as Liberty, Brophy Prep, and Westview in 2018 and will face them again this fall.

Even though the Aztecs won three fewer games than two seasons ago, head coach, Sean Freeman, and his squad learned from battling against some of the best in the AIA.

The team will be full of multi-sports athletes from baseball, basketball and soccer, but what excites head coach, Sean Freeman, will be a strong WR core with veterans.

A notable athlete that will lead the defense this year is linebacker Troy Moreno, who enters his senior season. Freeman notes his athletes will see playing time on both offense and defense in fall and must be conditioned into shape this spring in the weight room and on the field.

The Aztecs 2018 final ranking of 28 was the highest to end the season in over a half a dozen years.


Lobos Keep Fighting

It came down to the wire for the La Joya Lobos in 2018 but they fell just three spots shy of a tournament appearance. Last season was an incredible improvement following 2017 where the Lobos only scored two wins over the course of the year.

La Joya will be hungry after nearly tasting their first tournament appearance in over a decade. A new face will be coaching the Lobos following the departure of Josh Mitchell, though, it’s not a new voice at the helm. After seven years of being with the La Joya program, former defensive coordinator, Devin Dourisseau was promoted to lead the Fighting Lobos this fall.

“We have spent time and effort changing the culture of the program over the last 7 years,” Dourisseau told Sports360AZ. “I am ready to take the program to the level and get us over the hump.”

Dourisseau has confidence in returning linebackers Zachary Blackwood and Ricardo Ramirez to lead the defense, but veteran leadership also leads the offense. The Lobos return QB Michael Valdovinos alongside receiver Carlos Fernandez. The duo connected eight times of the course of last season for touchdowns, according to MaxPreps.

Dourisseau is looking to incorporate the community into the Fighting Lobo football culture in 2019 by inviting local business and families to meet the La Joya staff. Fall brings a new staff, continued culture, and new motto;

“Respect all, fear none.”


More Two-Way Athletes

The Lions of Alhambra enter year number two under head coach, Chris Crockett. Alhambra ended 2018 with a 2-8 record, ranked 32 in the 6A Conference.

Jaden “Chico” Crockett takes over the QB helm in 2019 as a junior and will have weapons upon weapons stored on both sides of the field. Tony Miller, Isiah Sanchez, and Mike Villarreal are all two-way receivers anticipating the beginning of their senior years. Jonzee Washington will be another senior on both sides of the line, but in the backfield as the running back on the offense.

Growth on offense could lead to a large increase in production for the Lions in fall.

With many two-way players leading Alhambra, the most exciting athlete might be the 5-9 220 lbs Cesar Morales battling in the trenches.

“Cesar Morales is the strongest player on our team and will serve as the anchor of our offensive and defensive line,” Crockett told Sports360AZ. “ [Morales is] really tough and will be ready after a junior year cut short by injury.”


We’re just about four months from the beginning of the high school football season and teams have already been preparing to improve upon 2018. Read up more across the state with Eric Sorenson’s Zone Read and get ready for #FridayNight360AZ come August.