Although the rules, circumstances and atmosphere were far different from any game I covered or attended in 2019, being back under the Friday Night Lights last week was both rejuvenating and in many ways, therapeutic.
The crowd was sparse at Notre Dame Prep and without a band (NDP doesn’t have one, anyway), the vibe was a bit stale at times but seeing high school student-athletes being able to compete was a much-needed change of pace from what all of us have experienced the past eight months.
I’d implore each and every one of you who consume this column on a consistent basis to please be mindful and respectful of the rules put in place so we can all enjoy the remainder of what is already shaping out to be an exciting, albeit, somewhat abbreviated season of Arizona high school football.
Here’s this weeks “Zone Read.”
Eye of the Tiger(s)
Another season, another season of Derek Zellner doing more with less at Gilbert (1-0).
While the Tigers never seem to have the pure bulk numbers of nearly every surrounding school (their MaxPreps roster shows 49 varsity players), the Tigers seem equipped to once again be more than competitive in a stacked 5A East Region which features Saguaro, Notre Dame Prep, Horizon and Campo Verde among others.
“The bond that has been forged over the past months has been tremendous,” Zellner explained to the “Zone Read.” “All they care about is each other, playing for one another and the goals we set as a team. That’s what makes this 2020 team special.”
There’s also great synergy with Zellner’s staff who will look to make it two in a row when they travel to nearby Mesa to take on the 6A Jackrabbits (0-1) this week.
Shout To All of Our Gilbert Tiger Football Coaches ~ Appreciate All That You Do For The Program ~ Coach Z Couldn’t Ask For A Better Group of People To Work With ~ ? ~ Thank You!! TigerStrong!! pic.twitter.com/lhz0WWyBCh
— Coach Z (@zdawgzilla) September 20, 2020
For the first time since 2015 there isn’t a starting quarterback named Plummer behind center for Zellner. Jack, a redshirt sophomore is expected to compete for the starting spot at Purdue after breaking his leg last season against Nebraska, while younger brother Will is a true freshman at Arizona.
The head coach got a boost in the season-opener from two players he’s quite familiar with, senior linebacker Wyatt and sophomore running back Cooper Zellner. The duo played big in the Tigers’ season-opening statement win over Millennium, the same team who knocked them out out of the 5A playoffs last fall. Wyatt tallied 15 tackles (three for loss), while Cooper carried 18 times for 153 yards and a touchdown.
Sophomore Sean Fogel completed just six of 15 attempts for 31 yards in the opener. He threw a touchdown and was intercepted once. Regardless of who starts as the season progresses, help will be on the way in Hamilton transfer Gavin Goulette. The 6-foot-3 senior pro-style quarterback has both the skills and experience to be a difference maker when he becomes eligible in Week 5.
A New Week
One of the more eye-popping scores from Week One was Sunrise Mountain’s 48-7 road thumping of a talented Cactus team.
Sunrise Mountain intercepted 4 passes and recovered 2 fumbles in a 48-7 win over Cactus. On offense, the Mustangs started Travis Ward, a Nevada transfer. He had 3 TD passes and ran for another score.
— Gridiron Arizona (@gridironarizona) October 7, 2020
The Cobras’ coaching staff knew they had a tall task replacing departed standout quarterback Conner Cordts who tallied 42 total touchdowns last fall. Sophomore Will Galvan started against the Mustangs and struggled, completed just 12 of 27 attempts. He was intercepted four times as Sunrise Mountain jumped out quickly and never looked back.
However, with a new week comes new opportunity as the Cobras look to get right this week against rival Peoria (0-1).
The blueprint is simple.
“Reset and refocus on the mistakes we made,” head coach Joseph Ortiz said to the “Zone Read.” “It’s Peoria week. We can’t dwell on what happened [against Sunrise Mountain]. [This is] a big 4A matchup with seeding implications. We will be much improved.”
Friday’s game against the Panthers will also be the region opener for both teams so the stakes are even a bit higher in this long-standing west Valley showdown.
“Zone Read” kept close tabs on Queen Creek-Perry last week as a new era of Puma football took over at quarterback.
Back in April head coach Preston Jones quipped of senior Dane White, “We’re excited to finally have a good-looking quarterback,”We’ll see how it all plays out on Friday nights.”
“Don’t Mistake Silence For Weakness. Smart People Don’t Plan Big Moves Out Loud…”
— Dane White (@dane_white16) August 13, 2020
The post-Purdy Era got off to a more than promising start against one of the more talented defenses in the state.
White finished an efficient 20-25 for 191 and two touchdowns. He also rushed 13 times for 40 yards and two scores. He was intercepted once on a great read by QC stud Hunter Barth. The Pumas’ comeback effort fell just short 35-28 but his efforts certainly didn’t go unnoticed.
“Dane played very good for his first varsity start,” Jones said to the “Zone Read.” “He was poised and made some great decisions. Dane managed the offense like an experienced quarterback and put us in position to have a chance to win. I’m excited to see him grow as the season progresses.”
— King of the Game (@KotgMedia) October 8, 2020
Replacing over 20,000 combined total yards and 239 Purdy brother-produced touchdowns isn’t easy but White’s opening act doesn’t deserve to go unnoticed.
The task gets even tougher with a trip to Hamilton to take on a Huskies’ defense which completely dominated Centennial in Week One.
Fresh off their $2.5 million weight room which was constructed this off season, the Chandler Wolves unveiled their sparkling new team room Thursday afternoon.
Would like to thank Dr. Casteel, Marcus Williams, Jim Culver, Roger Murdock and Eric Richardson for making this dream come true with CHS FB… One of the finest Team Rooms in American HS FB! #SOC pic.twitter.com/xXNOafmf6F
— Coach G (@GarretsonRick) October 8, 2020
“It’s a state of the art facility that allows our players to develop in leadership, academics and football,” head coach Rick Garretson told the “Zone Read.” “We take pride in developing the entire student-athlete both on and off the field.”
Chandler football not only continues to be the most dominant program on the field, but one of the most modern off the field, as well.
Really feel for former Hamilton standout cornerback, now Nebraska Cornhusker redshirt freshman Javin Wright who saw his season come to a premature end with a torn right ACL he suffered recently with the Huskers ramping up to their season opener at Ohio State on the 24th.
Surgery day!!!! Let’s get it
— BUDDHA (@javinW33) October 6, 2020
“Zone Read” featured Wright waaay back in the spring of 2017.
The rangy, now 6-foot-4 Wright had been moved to linebacker NU defensive coordinator Eric Chinander and was expected to compete for consistent snaps in the inexperienced group which lost leading tackler Mohamed Barry to graduation.
Wright, who missed most of his senior season with a dislocated knee, rooms with fellow AZHS alums and current Huskers Noa Pola-Gates (Williams Field) and Ty Robinson (Higley) in Lincoln.