Zone Read: Grades Over Gridiron

Arizona Sports News online

By Eric Sorenson

Well, hello spring football! It’s so nice to see you.

Teams are getting that grind in under the rising temperatures as the ultimate tone-setter to what we’re all expecting to be another incredible AZHS season this fall.

There is plenty to get to this week so let’s get to the line of scrimmage, call a play, and start moving the chains. Without further ado, this week’s “Zone Read.”

Studies Greater Than Stats

It’s no secret we here at the “Zone Read” are more than happy to cast a wide net to cover the biggest, smallest, and most unique stories across the entire state of the Arizona high school football landscape.

It’s easy to see stars, like now-former Chandler High quarterback Mikey Keene, shine bright under the Friday night lights. His resume’ is highlighted by back-to-back undefeated seasons and a pair of Open Division Championships in his two years starting behind center. 

But what’s even more impressive is his work in the classroom and an inner drive for greatness which never stops.

“The competition all around at Chandler High is very unique,” Keene, now playing spring ball at the University of Central Florida, said to the “Zone Read.” “Not only on the football field but in the classroom, people are competing every single day with themselves or against others. That is how the real world is.”

A consensus All-State selection, Keene garnered Premiere Region Player of the Year honors in 2020 after completing 164 of 238 attempts for 2171 yards and 23 touchdowns. He was intercepted just two times.

“I grew at Chandler High School on and off the field tremendously,” Keene explained. “Starting with Coach [Shaun] Aguano my first two years and carrying on to Coach Garretson. It was a mutual understanding amongst all the players that our coaches’ main job was to [mold] us into the best men we could possibly be. Chandler High helped me develop into the person I will be for the rest of my life.”

Keene always prioritized his studies as much as he did his playbook. His 4.40 grade-point-average is evidence to that.

He was awarded the prestigious National Football Foundation Scholar Athlete of the Year this spring.

Garretson saw Keene’s drive up close and personal over the past four years.

“We are all proud of Mikey’s accomplishments, both in the classroom and on the football field.”

Ditto that, Coach G.

Black Hawk(s)…Down?

Although it’s mostly just a sneak peek and plenty can change between now and Week One in early September, spring football allows teams the opportunity to build on last season’s success, or clean the slate from 2020 and simply start over.

I think it’s safe to say Williams Field head coach Steve Campbell has been diligently removing every speck of marker from that dry erase board last fall.

The Black Hawks missed the 6A playoffs, finishing 5-3 and losing two games (Centennial and Red Mountain) by a combined nine points.

For most, said season would be considered an overall success but certainly not for WF who went a jaw-dropping 66-12 the previous six seasons, including hoisting a pair of gold balls in 2016 and 2019.

Oh, they also outscored their opponents 2812 to 1245 in that span.

Yeah, you get the idea.

So, what exactly happened in 2020 which needs to be improved in 2021?

Let’s start with getting back to what the Black Hawks did the previous decade or so: control the offensive line of scrimmage and pound teams in the run game to open up big-play passing opportunities. Williams Field only rushed for 11 touchdowns in eight games.

That type of production, or lack there of, won’t cut it against elite level competition in 6A.

The good news, if the offensive line can grow up, there is plenty of skill talent returning. Running back Kaden Cloud must be freed. Quarterback C.J. Tiller is a year older and has improved his arm strength this off-season. Add 6-foot-5, Power 5 receiver Kyler Kasper in the mix and the production is there.

The defense took some hits, losing South Dakota State signee Aaron Wolfcale-Holston, plus leading tacklers Carson Speer and Taber Thomas but senior-to-be anchors Mason Wolf (58 tackles) and Rhett Wengert (50 tackles) provide leadership.

The schedule is manageable and Campbell is far too talented of a coach to let things get sideways for one of the most consistent programs in Arizona. 

San Tan Stability

Kerry Taylor was like several others just over a year ago.

After the embattled head coach helped elevated Arcadia from winless to winners, his next challenge was putting San Tan Charter on the football map.

Then, well…2020 happened.

“A year ago when I was hired we were in the middle of quarantine, so I didn’t even get to meet my players in person until June,” Taylor explained to the “Zone Read.” “So spring ball was a bunch of Zoom meetings trying to install formations and schemes. My staff and I didn’t get a chance to work on technique and fundamentals. I didn’t get a chance to implement my culture.”

“Culture.”

A word Taylor pounded through his social media posts as he restored Arcadia by doing things “his way.”

So the former ASU standout and NFL wide receiver, along with his staff, spent most of fall camp and last season correcting bad habits and mistakes his players were prone to making.

2021 brings both consistency and optimism for the Gilbert-based school which went 3-5 last fall but 3-2 in league play.

“This year it’s completely different,” Taylor noted. “Our staff is able to correct the bad habits, teach the fundamentals, and really focus on getting better at our craft. The culture is in place.”

There’s that word again.

Two key players who figure to play big roles in the Roadrunners’ rising are 2024 quarterback Zayden Neill and 2022 linebacker Isiah Galaviz.

Neill is entering his second season in the offense after throwing for nearly 1700 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2020.

Taylor feels Galaviz, the leader of San Tan’s defense, will be the top linebacker in 2A this fall after registering 36 tackles (three for loss), four sacks and forcing two fumbles last year as a junior.

Let’s see what Taylor and his team can do for an encore.

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