Zone Read: It’s Getting Closer

Arizona Sports News online

How ya’ll doin’ in this summer sizzle?

Be brave, there is football coming soon (for now).

Let’s jump into this week’s “Zone Read.”

Words of Wisdom

There are few better on the high school and college platform when it comes to processing life-altering situations and advising student-athletes than Pac-12 Network Analyst Yogi Roth.

A former Pitt wide receiver – his roommate back in the day was a lanky kid from Minnesota named Larry Fitzgerald.

Roth’s resume’ includes a four-year run as USC’s Quarterback Coach (2005-09) as well as noted author, film maker, story teller and advisor working at the high school level with Elite 11.

Through this mouse maze of football confusion and uncertainty the past six months, Roth has once again provided structure and sound advice at all levels.

“I talk to a lot of players who are juniors in high school, heading into their season year,” Roth said to ring leader Brad Cesmat in a Skype interview on Wednesday. “I stay connected to these guys. I tell them all the same thing…just pause for a minute. We all want answers.”

Roth’s tone became despondent when asked about prep players entering their final season with still so much uncertainty around the country in the coming weeks, possibly months. 

“I feel more for rising seniors in high school than I do for rising seniors in college,” he explained. “To the young man who has already committed. It’s hard because you haven’t been to the school most likely. You haven’t been coached at a summer camp by your coach which I think is a huge part of it. He hasn’t coached you. You don’t have that relationship.”

He also opined on uncommitted prospects.

“How can you get creative with your recruiting? How can you showcase your personality? You have to market.”

Further, Roth had a message for the Pac-12, Big 10 and every other conference who’s postponing football this fall.

“How are you leveraging football now? You’ve got time. Are you leveraging the alumni base at ASU? Are you leveraging it at UofA? Let’s get creative.”

Finger on the football pulse, per usual. 

The Game Has Changed

COVID-19 has made football pivot at all levels.

As we speak, there is no end game – simply a complexity of opinions from around the country as we continue the push-pull of when to start and, likely, when to stop playing football again in the coming months.

Tuesday’s decision to postpone Pac-12 athletics in 2020 hit everyone hard, including Cal Special Teams Coordinator and recruiting expert Charlie Ragle, who won three-straight State Championships at Chaparral High before leaving to join Rich Rodriguez’s staff at the University of Arizona.

“It’s been an emotional rollercoaster for everybody,” Ragle somewhat dejectedly told the “Zone Read.” “At the end of the day your heart hurts for your kids. It’s tough to put into words right now.”

Since the pandemic hit back in the early spring, the personable 44 year-old has, like the rest of us, gone virtual.

“Everything is over Zoom,” he said. “For me, fortunately, I’m all about the relationships and I’m a talker (laughing).”

While Cal – like nearly every other school – has been closed for prospect visits, there may be a silver lining to all the hard work Ragle and the entire Golden Bears’ staff is doing – going the extra mile with virtual full campus and facility tours, despite the limited hand they’ve been dealt.

“I think what it does is it gives you a comprehensive look at our entire program,” he noted. “It makes you take note at just how big the [recruiting] process is and all the little things that go into it for sure…you focus on what you can control in-house and everything else will usually take care of itself.”

Ragle has certainly taken care of his former state in terms of attracting players to the Bay Area. Nine Arizona prep standouts litter Cal’s 2020 roster – including this year’s class: Tommy Christakos (Chaparral) and Aidan Lee (Desert Ridge), as well as 2021 commits Kai Millner (Higley) and Hunter Barth (Queen Creek).  

‘Jacked Up

If you didn’t know who Hendrix Johnson was, you probably do now after the former versatile Boulder Creek High star burst on the scene last fall at NAU reeling in 60 catches for a freshman team-record 828 receiving yards and five touchdowns. 

His immediate success as a true freshman at the college level seemed to catch even himself by surprise.

“Going into the season I wasn’t sure what sort of impact I would have, I just wanted to get on the field any way I could,” the Freshman All-American explained to the “Zone Read.” “Looking back on it, it’s really cool to see what I did.”

Uh, yeah.

Johnson credits much of his success transitioning to the grind of college football to his former coach in Anthem.

“My high school coach prepared me very well,” he said. “A lot of the workouts were exactly the same as soon as I got up here. The conditioning was exactly the same. Coach Cass (Tony Cassarella) did a great job getting me ready for NAU and just college, in general.”

Johnson’s also been instrumental in boosting the Lumberjacks’ recruiting profile when it comes to helping attract some of Arizona’s top high school players to the City of Seven Wonders.

“Whenever a [recruit] is supposed to come up on a visit or they get an offer, I’m reaching out to them,” Johnson said. “A lot of people see me as someone they want to ask a lot of questions to. Especially coming from Arizona, a lot of those kids reach out to me so I’m able to [connect] with them. I’m blessed to be here at NAU. It’s an amazing situation with the best staff in the nation.”

Johnson will look a little different when the Jacks hit the field next spring. He’s already added 10 pounds of muscle to his 6-foot-1 frame during the pandemic. After playing last year at 185, he’s hoping to be at 200 or so for the upcoming season.    

This kid is a total dude…with three years left in Flagstaff.

Best wishes to all you Big Sky defensive coordinators.

Sooner, Than Later

You can add a fourth name to the list of 2020 Tucson Salpointe graduates who will be playing Power 5 football in the coming years.

H-back/tight end Jackson Sumlin is an Oklahoma Sooner after taking a walk-on opportunity to join the national heavyweight.

Jackson’s dad, Arizona head coach Kevin Sumlin, was an assistant in different capacities under long-time OU head coach Bob Stoops from 2003-2007 before becoming the head coach at the University of Houston.

“Coach [Cale] Gundy got in contact at the end of the season and told me he wanted me to come to OU,” Jackson Sumlin said to the “Zone Read.” “I love it here in Norman.”

The 6-foot-2, 239-pounder played just one season for the Lancers after moving to Tucson to live with his dad. He averaged 16.8 yards per reception and had three touchdowns last fall.

Sumlin’s biggest adjustment may be off the field, not necessarily on it, for the five-time defending Big 12 Champions. 

“The people here are nice and the weather’s good,”  he noted. “I don’t know how I’m going to do in January though, because I’m not a fan of the cold.”

“Zone Read” thinks you’ll be just fine Jackson.