Zone Read: From One Corner to Another

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The “Westy” Affect

On a bone-chilling Monday night in Indianapolis when Kelee Ringo was doing this…

…Saguaro High Secondary Coach Bryant Westbrook was doing his own celebrating here in the Valley.

‘I was actually at Buffalo Wild Wings watching the game,” the former University of Texas All-American cornerback and Detroit Lions first-round pick (fifth overall) said to the “Zone Read” with a chuckle. “When [the interception] happened, I started screaming and I started knocking over chairs and high-fiving all the Georgia fans because I just know the work and perseverance this kid has. I was just extremely proud of the kid. He’s a humble guy.”

If you have ever met the likable, seemingly always smiling Westbrook, it’s apparent his greatest pleasure comes from watching his former SagU players succeed at the next level and beyond.

In many ways, “Coach Westy” sees a lot of himself in Ringo, a decorated recruit who moved to Phoenix from the Tacoma, Washington before his sophomore year. Many believe the now-Georgia legend will go down as the greatest pure athlete to ever wear black and gold under the Friday night lights in Scottsdale.

“What’s funny is I see a lot of him in me when I started playing football my sophomore year,” the Southern California native explained. “I was fast. I really wasn’t aggressive but there was something in him, though. We knew he was explosive and fast but you have to remember he came down as a running back. We didn’t even know he played corner. I remember me and Coach [Jason] Mohns saying, ‘Oh, he’s got to come over here and play defense.’ It took some time, there’s a lot of nuances that go into playing corner. We had to develop [him], for sure.”

Ringo certainly isn’t exclusive when it comes to the Saguaro lineage of great cornerbacks who also played offense under Mohns and his staff. Current Arizona Cardinal Byron Murphy was a two-way star for the Sabercats and Ohio State freshman Denzel Burke was a standout wide receiver for Brophy before transferring in. On the flip side, Christian Kirk played corner when he wasn’t playing wide receiver or returning kicks for the ‘Cats.

“It helps tremendously because of the ball skills,” Westbrook noted. “The hand-eye coordination is so much better when they’re a good receiver. You think about a lot of the good pros. Richard Sherman was a receiver at Stanford before transitioning over to become a defensive back. I think playing offense helps them tremendously. With Byron and Denzel, they have some of the best hands I’ve seen.” 

Westbrook’s wealth of football knowledge and impact is felt inside the SagU program.

“Westy is the man at Saguaro,” Mohns said to the “Zone Read.” “He knows what it takes to succeed at the highest levels. He has a tremendous passion for life and the game of football. His energy is contagious. He’s an elite technician and master coach of defensive backs…we would not be the program we are today if not for Bryant Westbrook.”

Player-Coach Relationship, Coach-Coach Relationship

As Charlie Ragle said in this column last week, he’s all about relationships.

So, it’s not surprising the new Idaho State head coach sifted through his phone filled with contacts to connect with someone he’s known for well over a decade.

Yes, DaVonte’ Neal and Ragle, who were together at Chaparral High and the University of Arizona, were reunited this week when the two-time Arizona Gatorade Player of the Year and Top 10 Nationally-ranked recruit in 2012 was hired by his old high school and college coach.

“Coach Ragle and I always keep an open line of communication since I graduated college,” Neal said to the “Zone Read.” “He and I speak on a monthly basis. I kinda knew eventually he would be getting a shot at a head coaching job, I just didn’t know when that was going to be. He always knew I wanted to get into coaching at the college level. He ended up getting the Idaho State job and I said, ‘He might end up calling [with] a job sooner or later.'”

Well, the sooner came much faster than later when Ragle hired Neal to be the Bengals’ Cornerbacks Coach after Neal spent last year on Eddy Zubey’s defensive staff at Higley High.

“Coach Ragle offered me the job and it’s hard to say no to Coach Ragle,” Neal quipped.

So, naturally, “Zone Read” had to Neal what it’s going to be like now coaching with the coach he played for both in high school and college.

“It’s exciting,” Neal explained. “I can already feel the energy and it’s exciting for me to be around Coach Ragle and see how he handles the head coaching position. How he runs his staff. How he runs his meetings. I’ve already learned a lot in the little time that I’ve been with Coach. It’s kind of like a win-win for me. I’m not joining a staff I really don’t know. This is my first college coaching position but, at the same time, he’s helping through the process – the good and the bad.”

Neal, who had one of the more bizarre recruiting tales of all-time when deciding between Notre Dame, Arizona, Arkansas, and North Carolina, is now on the other side, getting a taste of what it’s like to be the hunter, rather the hunted so-to-speak.

“The decision is always hard,” he noted. “I got my feet wet in recruiting, just reaching out to guys. It’s going to be fun to see the process from the other side. Trying to persuade kids to come to [Idaho State]. Trying to get kids to buy into you and your coaching staff…I’m a people person. I can go into someone’s house and hold a conversation. I think that’s one of my advantages jumping into the recruiting game.” 

Neal, who previously coached at Dobson High, said he was transparent with Zubey throughout the hiring process over the past several weeks and conveyed the Higley head coach encouraged him to take this opportunity in Pocatello and chase his dream. 

As for the Idaho winter, well…let’s just say that’s been an adjustment coming from mild Arizona.

“This is what I tell everyone, ‘As long as you dress for it, you’re good,'” Neal, who is originally from Akron, Ohio said. “As long as you got your thermals on, your puffer jacket with the hood, you’re good. For me, I walk around 24/7 with my ski mask on because when the wind hits your face, it hurts (laughing).”

One and Done

The AZHS football head coach hot stove is coming to a boil in mid-January with coaches finding new destinations and others closing the chapter at their now previous school.

Thursday morning Ty Wisdom said goodbye to Desert Vista after just one season.

Sometimes promises are broken. Sometimes there is miscommunication. Sometimes it simply just doesn’t work out.

“At the end of the day it came down to leadership positions not allowing me to do what I believe needs to be done to be an elite football program in Arizona,” Wisdom said to the “Zone Read.”

This is what I do know.

Wisdom arrived to a winless Horizon program in 2016 and four years later took them to the Open Division playoffs. The same can be said for the job he did taking over the 0-6 2020 Thunder and leading them to the 6A playoffs last fall.

As someone astutely noted to me this week, “It’s best to just hire Ty Wisdom and get out of the way.”

He’s certainly not loved by all and has his share of detractors in the coaching world, but when you want someone to build a program the right way and win games, his track record speaks for itself.