Zone Read: Musical Chairs

Arizona Sports News online

Realignment Roulette 

The AIA has spoken and the verdict is in for schools looking to realign their conference affiliation next fall.

I have a few initial takeaways from what has become one of the more debated off-season topics in the Arizona high school football community.

  • Paradise Valley’s appeal denied:  Still processing how this is even possible. Quite simply, from a sheer numbers standpoint, the Trojans belong in 4A. For one reason or another (last year it was key injuries, particularly at quarterback) head coach Greg Davis is tasked with a short-handed roster. PV’s enrollment is misleading due to their CREST honor program (around 400 students). The Trojans opened last season with a win over North Canyon, then lost eight of their last nine by fairly lopsided margins with low numbers. Moving them down is long overdue but they’ll have to wait another year to appeal.
  • Higley’s appeal approved: This makes a lot of sense for a number of reasons. First and foremost, the last two years proved Higley is best suited for 5A competition. The Knights went a combined 6-13 in their two seasons in 6A and, much like Paradise Valley, struggled last fall losing their first five games and stumbling to a 2-8 finish in a region loaded with playoff mainstays in Queen Creek, Williams Field, and Red Mountain. With quarterback Jamar Malone II, wide receiver Carter Hancock, and defensive back Nijrell Eason II back in the fold, Eddy Zubey has several key pieces in place for a bounce back season in 5A.
  • Tucson Salpointe’s appeal denied: This one is tricky. The Lancers have seen a quick rise from 4A, to 5A, and now 6A. For many years, Salpointe has proven to be one of the top programs in the state. They’ve qualified for the Open Division playoffs twice and advanced to the 5A State Championship last season. Salpointe is a private school with a small enrollment (1271 students). That, by no means, is a 6A-sized school but history shown the Lancers can more than hold their own against bigger schools in southern Arizona. Now, they’re the only 6A program south of Phoenix. The Lancers three losses last season were to Valley schools (Saguaro, 6A Pinnacle, and Horizon). While Brophy’s enrollment in similar (approximately 1400 students), Salpointe is a co-ed school which skews the numbers. It makes sense to place all-boys BCP in 6A (as they have for many years) but the verdict is still out on moving Salpointe up.

Tempe Takeover

“Zone Read” is happy for Sean Freeman.

Really happy.

Freeman, who was dragged through the mud as Copper Canyon’s head coach for two years before resurfacing as an assistant at Westwood High (his alma mater) in 2020, is the new head coach at Tempe High. 

“I was drawn to Tempe for two reasons,” Freeman said to the “Zone Read.” “They’re a historic football program. I’ve heard so much about the great teams of the past and I wanted to be apart of that. The second reason is that Tempe kids are as tough as they come. You give me a bunch of guys who aren’t afraid to work hard and get after it, I’ll give you a darn good team.”

Freeman, who played at Westwood, came to appreciate his step back in football time and is ready for another challenge, taking over a Tempe team who went winless (0-8) last fall.

“Being a Westwood Alumni is a privilege,” he explained. “Going back to coach there was amazing. I coached with the same passion I played with while I was there in 2001. What’s crazy about Tempe, I get that same feeling when I walk on campus here.”

While the wins may have been tough to come by in his two years at Copper Canyon, Freeman’s growth as a coach during that period helped mold him for this opportunity, in some ways, a similar one on the opposite end of the Valley.

“Copper was tough,” he noted. “Despite the [difficult] schedule we had during that time, I built a lot of relationships with players and the community. I’m an east Valley guy, so I had to get out of my comfort zone and meet people and the kids of Copper. People look at my time at Copper and think negative. During my last year, several players earned college football opportunities. Tempe has the same diversity as Copper, the difference is that I’m more than prepared to take on these challenges.”

Let’s hope the Tempe administration allows Freeman the time to build his program the right way from the ground up, something he never got on the other side of town. 

Appreciate the Greatness

The word is out about AZHS football.

Kelee Ringo calling game on a Georgia National Championship was the perfect exclamation point on what was another banner year for State 48 ballers past and present.

One college coach told the “Zone Read” recently.

“Arizona is littered with [college] talent and it isn’t just exclusive to the greater Phoenix area like it used to be. Sure, we recruit the Southeast Valley hard but it’s not like our staff doesn’t make a point to make sure, when we’re [in Arizona] we do our due diligence throughout the state.”

Let this sink in for a bit.

Please continue to do your part to help support ALL these players and coaches who help make Friday nights in the fall so enjoyable for all of us.