Zone Read: Seasoning Salts

Arizona Sports News online

You can smell football, with dipping temps and a nice little mix of rain, in the air around the state.

This week teams broke out helmets and soon enough pads will be popping as we count down to the first week of September when Friday night lights returns.

There’s plenty to get to, so without further ado, here’s the latest “Zone Read.”


Back in the now “older days,” well…older days of Arizona high school football, Sam Salts was your ultimate Swiss Army Knife for the St. Mary’s Knights. A standout wide receiver, defensive back, and kicker, Salts led SMHS to the 1991 big-school state championship and etched his name into the annals as one of the program’s, and state’s, best players before moving on to play at Mesa Community College and later Western New Mexico State.

Now the Dean of Students and an assistant coach at Juan Diego Catholic High School in Draper, Utah – the “Zone Read” decided it would be the perfect opportunity to turn back the clock with Salts as his alma mater prepares to renew their rivalry with neighboring Brophy in just a few weeks.

How would you describe the SM-BCP rivalry to someone who has never heard about it, much less seen a game?
“The beauty of the SM/Brophy rivalry was that it was not just limited to football.  It was absolutely electric at all sporting events because there was a traveling trophy that was awarded to the school that won at least two of the big three sports, football, baseball, and basketball.”
“Football was the biggest of the three sports and no matter what each team’s record was there were 10,000-12,000 people at Phoenix College to watch the games. Although we beat Brophy all four years I was there, two of those games, my junior and senior years, were for the region title and their best chance to beat us with [star running back] Mike Mitchell arriving at Brophy to run along Tony Caparella.  I can’t even begin to describe the atmosphere at those games and the memories are even sweeter because we won them both. It was absolutely electric.”

Take us through the week, physically and emotionally, leading up to the Brophy game when you were playing for St. Mary’s?

“There were always two great dangers when playing Brophy.  It was such a huge game to us and the communities that we were very conscious about overlooking the team we played the week before and the team we played the week after.  No matter how hard we tried there was always a bad game and an emotional let down the following week because things were so intense during rivalry week.  We always won when I was there but it was a full one-week recovery after the SM/Brophy game emotionally but we usually got back on track for the playoffs.”
‘The practice week was nerve racking because, my junior and senior year, the win streak against Brophy had reached 10 years in a row and we did not want to be the team that lost the streak.  We also knew [BCP] was a really good team and could beat us if we did not play well and execute.  I believe the streak ended in 1996 at 16 games and Brophy has had some good success since that time and the Knights are climbing back up, as well.”
I know you still follow St. Mary’s program closely How do you feel fellow SM alum Jose Lucero has done turning things around after just one season?
“I went to the quarterfinal playoff game last season over Thanksgiving and it was great seeing the Knights back in the gold pants.  As a former player, I cannot even begin to tell you how much the gold pants meant to us as SM football players and how it felt when we earned the right to wear them. Jose Lucero has reignited the SM spirit and traditions and there is not a better person to lead the program.  This sounds cliche’ but I always felt he may be a coach some day because as our center he just naturally led his team.  I was Jose’s freshmen football coach in 1999, which was my first year back at SM, and we went 8-0.  I coached one more year on the freshmen team, then joined Jose on varsity for his junior and senior year – which we beat Brophy his senior year but did not make the playoffs.  It was a tragedy because those kids wanted the gold pants very badly and so it was very good to watch him lead his team on the field in the playoffs.”
“Jose is doing a great job of establishing the spirit and traditions of SM football while at the same time being a modern program and being very innovative with his offensive and defensive schemes.”

Lastly, I know you still have your finger on the pulse of the AZHS football scene. What are your thoughts on how the state has exploded with high-level college talent and how do you feel the game has changed the most since you played in the early 90’s?
“Arizona has always had great talent but with the population explosion the last few decades, the numbers have taken the high school football scene in Arizona to new heights.  I am very proud to tell people here in Utah all about Arizona HS football till they get sick of me because the state is now a player on the national level in regards to recruiting.  It has just been really nice to watch the state develop and I know so many people down there who have been a big part of that development and still are.”
“From the standpoint of schemes the spread offense has obviously changed things and you do not see much under center wing-t, veer, or flexbone offenses like back in the 80’s and 90’s so that’s a big difference.”

Living in the Present

2020 presented life-altering crossroads for all of us. The only certainty was, for the most part, uncertainty.

The COVID-19 pandemic made the world pivot, with hesitation at every step.

The starts and stops wrecked many AZHS seasons, and left some seniors with just tapas-sized tastes of their final year of prep football. Few were hit harder than the Phoenix Union District which saw some schools salvage two, or three-game seasons, while some canceled football completely as the widespread outbreak was far too big a risk.

2021 brings not only hope, but a sense of normalcy, as the district’s schools prepare to pad up and lace up for fall camp.

“Honestly, every day out here is a blessing,” Central High head coach Chandler Hovik said to the “Zone Read.” “We aren’t thinking about the ‘what if’s.'”

Hovik said his Bobcats will continue to be fully masked inside and every player is required to have their own individual water bottle at practice. Further, staffers will continue to frequently sanitize all equipment during workouts.

But the difference this year is the focus is football, not the unknown of what’s around the next corner.

“Our boys are locked in and are extremely committed to putting in the work every day,” Hovik continued. “Control what we can control. We are full go right now and staying optimistic that we will have a full season ahead.”

The Bobcats open their season at North on September 3rd.

Staying the Course

Thursday morning the Pac-12, per an official release, announced a new wrinkle in navigating through the season with COVID rates, risks, and possible stoppages.

“Any forfeited contest shall be regarded as a conference loss for the team making the forfeit and a conference win for its opponent. The Pac-12 rule provides the Commissioner with discretion to determine whether an institution is at fault or primarily at fault for an inability to play a contest based on the facts of the situation.”

Last year the “Zone Read,” along with several other media outlets, took issue with the AIA’s handling of the on again, off again mandates surrounding the pandemic. To AIA Executive Director David Hines and his staffs’ credit, they navigated through the unchartered waters into early-December and finished off a season no one will ever forget.

With a little experience dealing with the issue, brings knowledge.

Here’s hoping everyone has a great rest of their week and weekend.