Story by Dominic Stearn
Thanks to the biggest turnout in the history of its football program, the Gilbert Christian Knights have high hopes for their 2021 season.
Gilbert Christian will be competing in the 2A conference against other private schools around the Valley after moving down from 3A. This season will provide the opportunity to play against other similarly sized schools.
According to head coach Danny Norris, the team is excited to play a full schedule this year and to continue the growth of the football program.
“Twenty percent of the boys on our campus play football, and we are looking to continue growing that number in the coming years,” Norris said. “Our current players are the best spokespeople for our football program.”
Norris believes that his team has grown closer together since last season. The Knights’ players and coaching staff developed five core values in order to continue growing a positive culture that centers around faith, toughness, discipline, passion and hard work.
With its new core values and bigger roster, Gilbert Christian is looking to improve on its 4-3 record from 2020.
Quarterback Matthew Hershey will be facilitating the Knights’ offense for the third straight year. In his first two years as quarterback, Hershey has shown his ability to keep opposing defenses honest with both his arm and his legs. He logged 395 passing yards and 358 rushing yards in 2020’s shortened season. Hershey also showed a knack for finding the end zone with rushing touchdowns last season.
Hershey’s primary ballcarriers were seniors in 2020, so the Gilbert Christian backfield will be looking different in 2021. Elijio Ledesma is a senior in his first year in the program, but has impressed Norris’ coaching staff in fall camp. He’ll see some action alongside freshman Sam Webb, who Norris says will be “an explosive playmaker for us for four years.”
On the other side of the ball, Hershey and Ledsema will also start at linebacker for Gilbert Christian.
“[Hershey and Ledesma] are leaders in our defense and have a nose for the ball,” Norris said.
Also on the defense are two young sophomores, defensive linemen Jesse Morales and linebacker and defensive linemen Josh Lay.
According to coach Norris, Morales is “strong, intense, and relentless in his pursuit up front.” Morales only played in one game last season, but he did record two tackles.
On the other hand, Norris described Lay as a player with “a high ceiling” and someone who “will improve every week.” Lay also plays on the offensive line and was named to the 2nd-Team All-Region as a freshman.
Gilbert Christian will kick off their 2021 season Friday on the road against the Parker Broncs.