Best in the West: Next Men Up

Something that always fascinates me going into the season is which freshmen will step up to the plate and make an impact in their first high school season. There are always surprises every year as to where these talented freshmen pop up on varsity and the 2022 class is no different.

As we head into the deep end of summer, here are just a few of last year’s freshmen who made an impact and to keep an eye on as their sophomore season begins in August.


Jax Stam – Liberty – DB

Many athletes can say they played against Oklahoma’s Spencer Rattler. Only a fraction of those can say they held a healthy Rattler team to only 14 first-half points and a completion percentage to nearly 50%. Now members of Cal football, Braxten Croteau and Ryan Puskas led the way for Liberty but came up just one point short against the Pioneers.

Watching closely behind Liberty’s two Golden Bears and making an impact himself was freshman, Jax Stam. As a frosh, Stam had a multi-interception game against Copper Canyon, composited nearly 60 total tackles, and threw down the game-winning sack against Sandra Day O’Connor.

The 2022 grad had a taste of tournament success making 15 tackles in two games before getting upset by Highland in the quarterfinals. With the Open Division Playoff in 2019, the Lions may have an opportunity to be one of the competitors in the new eight-team bracket or have a high seeding in the 6A Tournament.

With major departures on the Lion defense, Stam could be a vital part of LHS’s defense moving forward, much like Puskas was in his four years of varsity play for coach Mark Smith.


Cameron Mack – Peoria – RB

It’s difficult to rack up yards as a running back when the two seniors in front of you run for over 3,000 yards and 36 TDs. Yet somehow, Peoria coach, Will Babb, still lined up three running backs in some plays with freshman Cameron Mack backing up Malachi Potee and New Mexico State’s Juwaun Price.

Mack’s athleticism would still find him breaking over 400 rushing yards and six touchdowns. The sophomore also caught for a touchdown and occasionally played on the defensive side of the line according to MaxPreps.

On many plays last year, there would be four athletes in the backfield for Peoria on a given snap. Three backs would keep the quarterback company with motion. With the starting QB and other backs graduated, Mack may possess the most snaps of any Panther in the backfield heading into 2019.

Peoria completed a 9-2 season but was upset in the first round of the 4A Tournament. Youngsters will have to step up to replenish the Panthers and make a tournament run.


Isaiah Williams – Desert Edge – DL

Desert Edge is built to last through their youth. You’ve probably heard of offensive lineman, Gavin Broscious, and the sophomore’s offer to play at Arizona State. Soon-to-be sophomore, Adryan Lara, will once again be at the helm of the offense after a season featuring nearly 1,500 pass yards and 20 TDs. Blink twice and you’ll miss the youthfulness of defense DEHS has as well.

Coach Jose Lucero will ask several defenders to step up after defensive standouts graduated in 2019, including San Diego State Aztec, Nassir Sims. Isaiah Williams will be one of those asked to make an impact come August. Lining up alongside juniors, Steven Ortiz Jr, CJ McDowell, Isaibien Ramos, and Cameron Steele, there will be plenty of ways for DEHS to frustrate offenses.

Williams racked up 43 tackles from the d-line in 2018 including 14 tackles for loss. Desert Edge was ranked third in the 4A Conference but was no match for Saguaro. With the Open Division Playoff, the 4A Conference could shake things up pertaining to the 4A powers.


Brenden Lawrence – Glendale Prep – C

When you’re playing in the 2A Conference, typically the roster can be pretty small. As in, maybe enough to have a complete second string playing full 11-on-11. Often, there are positions with no backups, no returners, and there can be players completely new to a given position.

Robert Addicott is taking over the program at Glendale Prep for the 2019 season and has some great returners all around. The offensive line is arguably the most important part of the team, protecting the backfield. Seniors Andrew Lam and Elijah Mizysak are slated anchor the O-line in 2019 for GP. Meanwhile, the center position was a complete unknown. Taking the helm on snaps will be incoming sophomore, Brenden Lawrence, who coach Addicott notes is, “completely new to football.”

There are many athletes on the team new to the sport or who are coming off a break, but the offense is in good hands. Former Sunrise Mountain JV Coach, Chris Alvarez, has come out of retirement to join the Griffins as the Offensive Coordinator to help build up the program. Addicott says Lawrence has grown a lot over spring football and improved nicely through skills camp.

The Griffins lone win in 2018 was against Sedona Red Rock and it will be interesting to watch a young center alongside spunky veterans for GP and see this team grow throughout the season.


Blake Sparks – Northwest Christian – QB

Do I mention Northwest Christian and Yuma Catholic battled though triple-overtime for the 3A Title in 2018 too often? Probably.

Can you deny that the finish was one of the best conclusions to a season of AIA football in recent memory? Absolutely not.

While he won’t be starting for the Crusaders, sophomore quarterback, Blake Sparks, will watch his team fight for a title defense behind a senior quarterback battle all year. Johnathan Metzger and Easton Meier will once again share the helm of NCS after a season that saw over 1,700 pass yards and 29 touchdowns between the three gunslingers.

Sparks had opportunities as a freshman in 2018 with a few passes for 20 yards and a handful of snaps. The youngster will have some more opportunities this season and will be interesting to watch his progression as he awaits his turn to take over in 2020.


There is plenty of great young talent throughout the west valley and it will once again be interesting to see where the class of 2023 will step up in 2019. Be sure to keep it tuned to Sports360AZ as we get closer to the 2019 edition of #FridayNight360AZ.