Zone Read: Getting in the Swing of Things

What’s good, Zone Readers? 

Here’s hoping everyone is refreshed and re-charged as we sprint towards the end of the March.

Without further ado, let’s hurry to the line of scrimmage and get up-tempo for this week’s “Zone Read.”

A New Passion

Over the years “Zone Read” has been lucky enough to follow Christian Kirk’s football fast track.

We first spotted the then-undersized Saguaro High sophomore wide receiver catch a quick screen in the slot and house it from roughly 80 yards out against Coronado back in the day. 

What followed was a jaw-dropping prep career for the Sabercats, an All-SEC, three-year stint at Texas A&M and an improbable return home to play for the Arizona Cardinals.

This past year Kirk decided to work on a new craft: golf.

“I honestly had always been somewhat interested in it,” Kirk said to the “Zone Read.” “It wasn’t until I actually started playing that I really found a passion to have it as a hobby. Spending a lot of time with Larry [Fitzgerald], Justin Pugh, Maxx Williams and other guys in the locker room – they were all pushing me to start playing.”

Like most of us, golf brings out a little bit of everything in the Cards’ receiver and punt returner.

“I would say it’s been fulfilling and frustrating,” he said. “One day you feel like you could go play on [the PGA] Tour and the next day you can’t get a ball off the ground. It’s something challenging and I always like challenges.”

“Zone Read” spies tell us Kirk can be spotted hitting balls for hours near his north Valley home – so much so his hands are frequently red and blistered from the countless swings. 

“It’s been a big escape for me,” he continued. “I get to disconnect, put my phone down and have genuine conversations and quality time with whoever I’m golfing with. I get to forget about all the other noise that comes with being a professional football player and just have fun competing at something else.”

For Kirk, competition has certainly never been an issue.

Hit ’em straight, Christian.

It’s Miller Time

Life is moving fast for Jonah Miller.

Tuesday afternoon the former Salpointe Catholic four-star offensive lineman left his home in north Tucson and in a matter of hours arrived in the Pacific northwest.

Miller’s next chapter will likely be his most exciting one as he officially begins life as a student-athlete for the Oregon Ducks.

“It became a surreal moment sitting down on my bed and looking out my dorm window realizing I’m over a thousand miles away in a totally different state,” Miller said to the “Zone Read” while stocking up on college necessities at a Eugene Target. “It was scary but also very cool because all the work I did in high school finally paid off.”

Did it ever.

Miller’s grind the past two years started in the weight room and with an improved diet (he lost 80 pounds after his sophomore season) and ended in the classroom, paving his way to play Power 5 football for one of the nation’s top programs.

“I went to two college [prep] schools, essentially,” Miller explained. “I went to Salpointe and then took classes through APEX Learning (this past year). Those gave me an understanding of how college is supposed to work in terms of the school aspect. Definitely, those two programs were a huge help in getting my academics in place and what the expectations are going to be. It pushes you out of your comfort zone.”

Miller’s comfort zone on the field may take a little getting used to, as well. Not only is the 6-foot-9, 285-pounder ramping up to Pac-12 football this off-season, he’s doing it with a little rust to shake off after sitting out his senior season, partly to focus on his academics through APEX after leaving Salpointe.

“I haven’t had any smash-mouth football in almost a year,”  Miller noted. “But obviously, I’ve been getting in my stance every night and waiting for the day that I can put pads on again. I definitively think there’s going to be some rust when it comes to my hitting technique and getting me off the ball. But if there’s one place that’s going to get me back to smash-mouth football, it’s going to be Oregon.”

On and off the field, Miller’s transition from the southern Arizona desert to the green, picturesque Oregon campus will be a bit smoother with some familiar faces to help ease the change. Fellow offensive linemen and Saguaro alums Jaylan Jeffers and Bram Walden are in his position room, plus former Chandler High star wide receiver Johnny Johnson and fellow true freshman, highly-touted quarterback Ty Thompson from Mesquite High in Gilbert.

“Just having people from your state makes you feel more comfortable,” he said. “The Arizona connection is very nice but our team, together as a whole, is very [close] in terms of our 2021 class.”

Oregon is currently on spring break and Miller is using the opportunity this week to get acclimated before classes resume and football ramps up as the Ducks prepare to build off their 2020 Pac-12 Championship and Fiesta Bowl appearance.

UO is on the quarter system.

Far Greater Impact Than Sports

Next week Ralph Amsden is leaving the Valley and beginning to transition his family to the east coast as they re-locate their lives to the Charlotte, North Carolina area.

What I say in the next few sentences won’t do justice for the work he has done and, more importantly, the great friend I have gained since he and I first crossed paths close to eight years ago now.

One of the aspects I’ve attempted to become more comfortable with is vulnerability through my own self-awareness. On countless occasions, Ralph has shown me it’s okay not to have all the right answers and occasional missteps will only lead to personal growth in your present and future.

Ralph is as caring as he is stubborn. He’s as talented as he is unpredictable yet extremely loyal to the people he cares about. 

Our “Friday Feasts” – where he and I would drive halfway across Phoenix to meet up for a quick dinner before scurrying off to our respective games – took a backseat last fall, much like everything else, but we will enjoy another meal before his trek across the country. 

Professionally, we are like-minded in “putting the kids first” when covering prep sports in Arizona. 

You learn a little greater appreciation when you dive a little deeper to share an incredible tale which deserves to be told. 

Few do it better than Ralph Amsden. 

This certainly isn’t goodbye.

It’s just goodbye for now.

Godspeed my friend.