And away we go.
Here’s this week’s “Zone Read.”
Birds of Prey
It was early Wednesday afternoon when I received a text from a well-connected source in the Arizona high school football circles.
“Hey, so I’m hearing…”
Sure enough, within hours that smoke turned into an all-out blaze as the Scottsdale Unified School District confirmed what I was hearing: the Chaparral High School junior varsity and varsity programs would be quarantined for 14 days after a player tested positive for COVID-19. The Firebirds’ season opener at rival Saguaro and their Week Two matchup with O’Connor were both canceled.
BREAKING: @ChapfootballAZ vs. @saguarofootball game Friday has been canceled after one Firebirds’ player tested positive. The entire Chap football team is now in quarantine. ‘Birds will also not play their Week Two game at O’Connor. @Sports360AZ @AZHSFB @gridironarizona
— Eric Sorenson (@EricSports360AZ) October 1, 2020
Later I talked to someone close to the situation at Chap who said it’s likely their Week Three game against Hamilton won’t happen either as the ‘Birds would return to practice just one day before playing their fellow 2019 Open Division participant.
The layers of Thursday’s developments go well below the surface of the initial shock when word spread.
For Chap, an already shortened regular season will likely be almost cut in half. A team with plenty of talent and lofty goals of returning to the Open Division post-season will not only likely miss three games, they’ll miss matchups against two elite programs with opportunities to stack Power Points which are oh so important when it comes to the Open Eight.
Peel the onion back even further and it puts the three teams they were set to play at a disadvantage, as well. For Saguaro, months of summer training in the heat without the benefit of their own weight room (due to COVID restrictions) was the necessary grind and buildup to an opportunity to make it four in a row against Chap. That’s gone.
For O’Connor, now the clock is ticking on finding an opponent for next Friday. Twitter has been buzzing with possibilities, most notably Desert Edge, but until a game is officially set the Eagles have another thing on their plate to deal with – in no fault of their own or Chaparral, for that matter.
Two weeks down the road Hamilton will likely be playing someone else. Tucson Salpointe, being a private school, is allowed to play but only has four games scheduled. One is an Open Division rematch with Pinnacle in the north Valley on October 16th so that doesn’t appear to be an option for the Huskies to fill that void the same night.
What’s done is done but that doesn’t mean I still don’t think about all those players, coaches and staff members impacted by the virus and this week’s events.
Expect more cancellations as the season progresses.
At this point, there’s simply no way around it.
While head coach Jason Mohns is certainly the face of Saguaro football, many inside the program believe Frank Ruben is the backbone.
Mohns’ assistant head coach has seen the best…and worst of Sabercat football dating back close to two decades now.
In a state littered with excellent coaches who are, even more importantly, great people few have taken the time to get to know me quite like Coach Ruben. His glasses, which sit towards the edge of his nose, a clipboard and the trademark pencil behind his ear have become an old-school staple for the blue collar #SagU program.
For a school as successful as Saguaro’s, Ruben’s the straw which perfectly stirs the drink — filled with Division I prospects and the highest of expectations year in and year out.
“I’m all over the place,” he said to the “Zone Read” when asked of his “role” earlier this week. “I do a lot of the Hudl stuff, a lot of the logistics. It never gets old. I’m always of the mindset, ‘Wherever you need me.'”
Thanks to Saguaro HS in Scottsdale, AZ today and in particular asst coach Frank Ruben for spending some time with me this morning. The school has some outstanding underclassmen several being nationally recruited. pic.twitter.com/2PEzy8zNFs
— Tom Lemming (@LemmingReport) March 12, 2020
A popular figure not only with the football team but on-campus, as well – Ruben finds great satisfaction being around his 18-year Sabercat family.
“I still get up and no matter what kind of day I have,” he noted. “I come out [to the field] and it’s all good.”
Surprise visit by Byron Murphy and Caleb Park at the SagU Girls Tennis match today! Thanks for stopping by! pic.twitter.com/N6JH1lZJgx
— Frank Ruben (@altimtedmik24) April 17, 2019
Besides being the biggest proponent and loudest voice for promoting Mohns from offensive coordinator to head coach in early 2012, Ruben has made a number of impactful improvements, most notably a safer on-campus weight room.
SagU’s rise to national prep football prominence hasn’t been an easy one, dating back to the early 2000’s.
“The hardest challenge has been growing the program,” Ruben said. “It was a struggle. We were always thin and typically had nine two-way players for the first five or six years. But we won with those guys. 2006 is when it really started to take shape.”
The ultimate end game for Ruben and the entire staff is to prepare and help elevate the student-athletes to play at the next level.
“It makes it all worthwhile to see kids do something after high school because that’s what we want,” he explained. “Any kid that has an opportunity or wants an opportunity to play, we’ll find a place for them. It doesn’t have to be Division I.”
“When they’re here, they’re all Sabercats. That’s the key.”
Catholics vs. Catholics
A sneaky good Week One matchup which “Zone Read” doesn’t believe is getting enough love is Brophy at Notre Dame Prep.
The two private Catholic schools will be playing for the first time ever under the picturesque backdrop of the McDowell Sonoran Preserve just east of NDP.
BCP and NDP combined to go 17-3 in the 2019 regular season but both believed they had the talent to go deeper in the playoffs. The injury-riddled Broncos fell to Mesa Mountain View in the opening round of the 6A playoffs, while the second-seeded Saints were upset by six-seed Campo Verde in the 5A semifinals.
It’s a new year with new opportunities for both as they prepare to hit somebody else under the lights this weekend.
Clearly, Friday’s going to have some extra juice in north Scottsdale.
“This has been an event that we’ve been looking forward to for a long time,” Saints head coach George Prelock said to the “Zone Read.” “I know both schools are finally excited to play each other. Hopefully, this will be something that happens on a yearly basis.”
Jason Jewels agrees.
“It’s super exciting,” the second-year BCP head coach said. “When I got the job I knew I wanted to make this game happen. I think it’s a game that’s good for Arizona high school football. I know our kids are really excited.”
— Jason Jewell (@jason247scout) September 25, 2020
The two head coaches verbally agreed on playing the game at a Catholic School In-service Day both were attending. The contest, which is being referred to as the #HolyBowl on social media, was finalized by both administrations by the end of that same day.
Brophy and Notre Dame compete for students and a number of BCP players live in and around the surrounding area of NDP’s campus just a mile or so east of the Loop 101 and Bell Road.
Adding a little extra juice is student-athletes from both teams played youth football together, as well.
Enjoy the Moment
10 long, unexpected, uncertain and certainty scary months since the Chandler Wolves hoisted the first ever Open Division Championship trophy on that rainy Saturday night at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe.
We’ve all learned so much over those 300 days.
I know I have an even greater appreciation for the game but, maybe even more importantly, the players, coaches and staff members that pour everything they have into their school and their team.
Whether it be the student-athletes who miss social opportunities with their friends to get in that late-night lift, polish their craft on the field or watch extra film, to the coaches who spend just as much time – if not more – mentoring their teams than they do spending time with their families.
The life lessons of sacrifice and compromise have been magnified during COVID-19 more so than ever. I tip my cap to each and every single one of you because this journey, which still has no real road map as we saw Wednesday night with Chaparral, has been an extremely difficult one.
In so many ways which, we’ve already discussed in this column, this Friday night may have a “different look” around Arizona but the purity of the game and what makes it so special, will never be overshadowed.
After everything we’ve been through to this point in 2020, I’m optimistic we won’t allow it.