Zone Read: The Football Focus

Arizona Sports News online

Why, hello August. It’s so nice to see you.

While the eighth month of the calendar year brings more at-times routine practices, than meaningful games, it also represents the pre-dawn of football season and everything incredible which goes along with it.

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

No Ordinary Duck(ling)

Ty Thompson has always created his own success.

As a rising prospect in the football-rich southeast Valley, his focus was never on transferring to a more traditional Valley program, but instead creating his own legacy, while simultaneously, elevating Mesquite High School.

Two 4A State Championships later, Thompson not only etched his own gridiron mark, but the entire Wildcats’ program on his way to becoming one of the most decorated 2021 prospects on the west coast.

The 4-star prospect held close to 20 offers, including heavyweights like LSU, Miami, Washington, Wisconsin, and the Oregon Ducks – who he committed to in March of 2020.

Now, the 6-foot-4, 215-pound freshman quarterback is impressing in the Pacific Northwest. Include head coach Mario Cristobal to the group. 

Here’s what he said earlier this week from Pac-12 Media Days in Southern California.

“He is off the charts, as talented as it gets, as driven, as motivated as it gets. Diligent, smart, competitor, relentless, physical. An absolute specimen. When he’s in there lifting he looks more like a linebacker than a quarterback. Precision passer. Throws the deep ball well. The short game, the intermediate ball. Great touch on the long ball. Very accurate. Decisive. Understands coverages and protections really well. Is a grinder in the film room.”

Cristobal continued.

“We couldn’t have asked for a better signee at quarterback. Ty has a monster future at the University of Oregon. He’s in the mix as we head into fall camp.”

The Ducks open their season September 4th hosting Fresno State.

Building the Brand

As a head coach at some schools, the players on campus don’t come to you.

Instead, the coaches (especially the best ones) must go to them.

Welcome to the world of Tempe Union High first-year coach Todd Hanley who arrived this spring from Flagstaff locked in on expanding the Buffs’ roster.

“As opposed to traditional spring sessions, this was more calling athletes, sending them letters, etc. to let them know there actually is a new head coach and football is happening,” Hanley detailed to the “Zone Read.” “We struggled with numbers but we pulled it off. We started with two [players] and built it up to 30.”

Tempe has a handful of senior anchors in place, maybe none bigger than 6-foot-3, 260-pound offensive lineman Umberto Ledezma whose athleticism, and versatility (Ledezma can play anywhere on the o-line), will come in handy as the Buffaloes break in an entirely new offfensive system.

Expect wide receiver Emiliano Miranda, who finished second in receiving yards despite playing in just two games last fall, to have a big role in Hanley’s scheme.

The defense will be spear-headed by defensive end/outside linebacker Ulises Ontiveros and cornerback Bryan Stroughter who Hanley calls “probably one of the best corners I’ve coached in my 20-plus years.” The 5-11, 160-pounder, who also runs track, brings speed and athleticism.

Hanley understands his new program is very much a “work in progress” but believes, once the freshmen arrive on campus next week, he and his decorated staff will have a better understanding of what they’re working with this year and beyond.

“Our staff is instilling the Effort, Enthusiasm, and Toughness culture,” Hanley noted. “If we can get a little bit of depth, I think we can be very competitive with our schedule. The administration has been exceptionally supportive with some facility upgrades in the locker room and team room.”

Hanley and the Buffs are making a difference off the field, as well.

“We had some great team building at “Feed My Starving Children” packaging food for those less fortunate.”

Well done, TUHS.

Year Two

Last week “Zone Read” took you to Tucson to explore the progress of a first-year program getting ready to ramp things up this fall.

Let’s fast track to the southeast Mesa this week to check in on Eastmark who went through the expected first-year growing pains, going 2-6 in their inaugural campaign, but made progress after losing their first four games last fall. 

While the Firebirds are still finding their footing at the 3A level (the school officially opened in August 0f 2019), veteran head coach Scooter Molander knows the future is bright and the foundation is on solid ground heading into the 2021 season.

“This team has shown great leadership,” Molander said to the “Zone Read.” “Having seniors for the first time in school history and having all of our players return on varsity certainly helps.”

Molander’s offense features returning and, more importantly, productive players who debuted in 2020.

The alpha of the group is Javien Celaya, who rushed for 664 yards and eight touchdowns as a freshman. The All-Region tailback is both a workhorse (94 carries in just five games), and a gamebreaker (three games with over 130 rushing yards). One of his teammates behind center is junior quarterback Gianni Mascolino who threw nine touchdowns and rushed for another.

Mascolino will be pushed by Scooter’s son, Mack Molander, the 3A state javelin champion who transferred from Queen Creek last spring after playing with older brother, 2021 wide receiver Miles Molander, last season.

Two other players to watch are All-Region performers Austin Johnson, and Kaiden McCarthy, both two-way players at wide receiver and defensive back.

Eastmark’s blueprint will likely mirror neighboring Casteel, which started in 3A and eventually moved all the way up to 6A as enrollment continued to swell with the recent housing sprawl and demand.

The Firebirds will play five of their first six games at home, starting with Payson on September 3rd.

A Valley native, Eric has had a passion for the Arizona sports scene since an early age. He has covered some of the biggest events including Super Bowls, national championships and the NBA and MLB playoffs in his near 20 years in local media.