Zone Read: Under the Watchful Eyes

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A Monday Night at Pinnacle

To most, it’s simply a mid-season varsity basketball game as the 12-8 Pinnacle Pioneers get set to host Mountain Ridge.

That is until you look a little closer towards the back corridor behind the Pinnacle bench.

After the junior varsity game ends, the court clears, and shortly thereafter, Pinnacle junior forward Duce Robinson and his teammates leave their locker room down the hall and enter the gym.

As the varsity Pioneers swing open the double doors, it’s impossible to miss the collection of adults casually dressed in orange, white, crimson and creme, and red and black collegiate gear. Pinnacle takes the floor and Robinson, the 6-foot-6, 225-pound, 2023 five-star tight end prospect, can feel the college football high-profile eyes in attendance watching as he jogs past them out for warmups.

(Photo Courtesy: Kendra Newbury)

They don’t care if Robinson, who also plans to play baseball in college, scores 20 points or two points. The who’s who in attendance, which include Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney, Georgia tight ends coach Todd Hartley, Oklahoma assistant head coach/wide receivers coach Cale Gundy, Alabama tight ends coach Drew Svoboda, and others just want a one more up close look before the recruiting dead period hits on January 31st.

‘It’s crazy,” Robinson explained with a chuckle to the “Zone Read.” “It’s a blessing to see all these coaches [here] and I just play [basketball] for fun. So the fact that they’re taking the time out of their days, out of their weeks, to come visit me and watch me play, it means so much.”

Robinson isn’t alone in the attention he’s received as a Pioneer student-athlete. Pinnacle has seen other generational talents, like quarterback Spencer Rattler and prep basketball legend Nico Mannion, send dozens of college coaches flocking to the north Valley campus for a peek at these highly coveted players.  

The Valley has become a hot bed for Power 5 programs to pluck talent, so for Robinson’s hoops teammates (which include fellow football standouts Elijah Page and Myles Libman), they’re more than used to the high-profile guests in attendance and certainly aren’t immune to giving the extremely humble and likable Robinson his share of recruiting ribbing.

“There’s always some joking there,” he said laughing. “But it’s fun. It’s the relationships I’ve been able to build with all these coaches. They come from all over the country to see me. It’s crazy the way college football is. It’s been really cool, all the different relationships I’ve been able to establish in the process.”

Those relationships have to follow specific, sometimes ridiculous, “rules” enforced by the NCAA. In this window of the recruiting calendar, there is no face-to-face communication with players.

So Swinney, and every other recognizable figure in the coaching world, can drop in on a campus and/or, in this case, a basketball game, but can’t talk to any player face-to-face.

However, if Swinney opted to step outside of the gym and call, text, even FaceTime Robinson in another location on campus, that’s within the rules.

Got it?

“It kind of stinks because you want to talk to them,” Robinson explained. “You want to have that conversation with them but it’s nice because we’re still able to text and call so that’s nice. It’s definitely [frustrating] we can’t have face-to-face contact. But it’s all part of the process.”

Another part of the process is the relationships college coaches build with Arizona high school coaches from all over the state during their time spent on campus. Clemson assistants did a three-hour clinic, sharing ideas and concepts, with Pinnacle head coach Dana Zupke and his staff on Monday before Zupke and Swinney sat together at the basketball game later that evening.

College coaches are constantly on the go this time of year, hopscotching across the country to get in front of prospects before the window closes next Monday (January 31st). Swinney reportedly flew in from Los Angeles shortly before Monday’s game.

Even after a long day on the road, Swinney still had his sense of humor.

“I’m 1-0 at Pinnacle basketball games,” he quipped to Zupke after the Pioneers 64-56 comeback win.

Now he’s hoping to go 1-0 recruiting Robinson.

With nearly every other power program chasing, that certainly won’t be a layup.


The Lara Loop

Desert Edge senior quarterback Adryan Lara has seen a little bit of everything over his four years as the Scorpions starting varsity quarterback. Mostly highs, a few lows, and enough memories write a book.

Lara sat down with “Zone Read” to reflect on the past and look forward to his future playing Power 5 football in the Big 12.

I snapped this picture early in your freshman year, even before your first start, how quickly has it gone by for you?

“I’m still trying to soak it all in. I know once I’m gone, in maybe 10 years down the road, I’m going to be thinking back to high school and I’m going to be regretting some decisions I’ve made. It’s all just been a whirlwind.”

One big change happened after your sophomore season when Marcus and Mark Carter took over the program for Jose Lucero who left for St. Mary’s. What have you enjoyed the most as an upperclassmen playing for the Carter twins?

“When the Carter’s came, they installed a fast-paced offense into [our system] with hands signals. It gave me the freedom to check us out of a play at the line of scrimmage so they really got me ready for the next level in that way.”

You initially committed to Washington State but ultimately decided Kansas State was the best place for you to continue your academic and athletic career. Why the Wildcats?

“I’m going to be coached at Kansas State by a Heisman Trophy runner-up [Kansas State legend Collin Klein] so that’s pretty cool. He’s a good guy. The interactions I’ve had with him…they’ve always been honest with me which has been important. It’s what I’ve taken from [our conversations]. In the college recruiting business, you know almost every college coach lies to you…it’s a business but I felt [the K-State coaches] were genuine and that really sold me. The people there love football and they love the school. I just felt like it was a good place for me.” 

You mentioned Coach Klein – what were those initial conversations like with him?

“So the first time I talked to him, I was actually still committed to Washington State. That was before [Washington State’s] new offensive coordinator [Eric Morris] was hired. He was calling me and wondering if I would flip or anything and if there was an opportunity there. I told him there wasn’t and I would be signing with Washington State that week. Then, in like the next two days, the new OC [Morris] called me up and was like, ‘I don’t care if you talk to other schools. You’re more than welcome to do that.’ He was giving me a way to get out, essentially saying they didn’t want me. So, after that phone call, the next day I called [head] Coach Jake Dickert and told him I was re-opening my recruitment. Right after I got off the phone with him, I called Coach Klein and we set up an official visit. He was really excited.”

Were you hurt by the way Washington State treated you after their coaching changes?

“Yes, I was. But I felt like some schools didn’t [sign] a quarterback like Indiana, Maryland, Kansas State, obviously. Those schools were reaching out so I was thinking ahead. If I didn’t end up at one of those bigger schools, I could head to a [non-Power 5] program, play for a little bit, do my thing, and then enter the transfer portal and then go to a bigger school.”

What were your initial impressions of ‘The Little Apple” (Manhattan, Kansas) on your visit?

“Umm…I wasn’t expecting too much going out there to Kansas [laughing]. I mean, I don’t mind Kansas but it surprised me a lot. I can tell why people love going to Manhattan and love being there. It’s a great atmosphere, not just on campus, but the whole city, in general.”  

Last question…this one is a big one. How does a kid from sunny Goodyear, Arizona prepare to live and play college football in the windy, frigid Midwest?

“I don’t mind the windy part. I didn’t really think about that. The cold? Usually I’m pretty hot. I sweat a lot (laughing). I think I’ll do pretty well over there. I’ll just put on a really heavy coat. I’ll be good.” 

Shift of Power?

No one will dispute the Premiere Region has been exactly that for several years. 

Spear-headed by Chandler, Hamilton, Brophy and the Purdy’s-led Perry the Premiere was a given for deep playoff runs and state supremacy.

Now the Premiere has a bit of a new look with neighboring Basha, and Casteel joining Chandler, Hamilton, and Perry.

You could make a case the newly created6A northeast Valley isn’t far behind. Saguaro is an Open Division regular and defending champion. Chaparral has played in the last two 6A Championships (winning one). Highland has played in the last two 6A title games against new region foe Chap. Pinnacle has made The Open and Brophy is tough draw and certainly headed in the right direction under Jason Jewell.

This is discussion we can re-address a year from now after the dust has settled on the 2022 season.

We do one thing for certain, no one can dispute this high-level collection of balanced 6A talent (listed above) has never been better.