Zone Read: Let’s Play Two

Arizona Sports News online

Simple Mat-matics

College coaches at all levels almost unanimously love multi-sport high school athletes.

State 48 is littered with two-sport stars whose commitment, effort, and time-management even make some adults blush.

In the cool pines up Interstate-17 you’ll find Flagstaff Coconino High junior two-sport stud, Cooper French – arguably northern Arizona’s top prep athlete.

Where do we start?

Well, last fall the 5’11, 168-pounder rushed for over 1500 yards and 17 touchdowns, tallying eight 100-yard games for the 5-4 Panthers. Not bad for his “second” sport.

French’s true love is wrestling and last weekend in the Valley he proved his dominance once again.

“He has been a part of our wrestling community since he was seven or eight years-old,” Coco head wrestling coach Mike Schmieder said to the “Zone Read.” “He wants to wrestle 24/7. He loves wrestling. The difference with Cooper is he is athletic, committed, and really enjoys the process of getting better. His parents Mike and Christine have been an incredible support for him and his pursuit to get better. Mike was a successful collegiate wrestler and has been a part of our coaching staff for several years.”

French is not only talented, but tough and focused, whether under the northern Arizona Friday night lights in the fall or on the mat in the winter.

“I think the biggest thing that transferred over from football to wrestling is more of the mental aspects,” French explained to the “Zone Read.” “Specifically, the short-term memory and focusing on the situation in front of me, rather than the one that previously happened.”

As expected, major college wrestling programs have come calling.

Schmieder said French will likely wait until later this summer or early fall before committing.

Hard to imagine him not three-peating around this time next year.

Al’s Turn Now

Ask any established, successful Arizona high school head football coach and they’ll be the first to tell you, the assistants who make the program go aren’t always the ones you see on television or getting quoted, but their worth and time, often far behind the scenes, is invaluable.

In southern Arizona, long-time Tucson Salpointe assistant coach Al Alexander is ready to take the next step after being named the new head coach of Sahuaro High. 2022 will be his first as a high school head coach.

“You have to remember, four years ago [Salpointe] played Sahuaro in the semi-finals, then the year after, we went to The Open [Division Playoffs], Sahuaro was the [4A] one-seed,” Alexander said to the “Zone Read” when asked why this job made sense for him. “Then we hosted an all-star game last year and [Sahuaro] had about six guys that could play. They always have athletes, so that’s a good start.”

A good start for Alexander was learning under legendary Arizona prep head coach Dennis Bene at Salpointe from 2004-2019 and, more recently, Pat Nugent’s staff at Vail Cienega and nearby, newly minted Mica Mountain High the last two years.

[Bene] build Salpointe into what it is today,” he explained. “Coach Bene taught me patience and how to be professional in the process. He always stressed building a culture is making the kids believe in what you believe in and showing them that you believe in them. Working with Coach Nugent at Cienega and then at Mica, he welcomed me with open arms. [Bene and Nugent] coached two different ways but still with the same purpose. Just being around those guys was incredible.”

One of “Coach Al’s” greatest strengths is his his ability to connect with players and establish their trust as he helps mentor them as both players and, more importantly, young men. 

A standout high school lineman in Los Angeles who would later play at UNLV, Alexander coached a number of Division I offensive linemen at Salpointe, most notably Jonah Miller (Oregon), Bruno Fina (UCLA), and Matteo Mele (Washington), and has continued to stay close and follow their progress at each Pac-12 school.

“I dealt with the majority of the recruiting at Salpointe and I dealt with you a lot,” Alexander said (laughing). “So, it was never about [my title] but now that I’m here, I’m totally excited about it. One privilege of dealing with the college coaches is you build relationships…when they found out I got this job, so many college coaches reached out via text and Twitter congratulating me and saying they can’t wait to come see our team.”

For now, he has plenty of work ahead hiring a staff to take over a program that went 1-8 and was outscored 288-143 last fall.

But Alexander, always the optimist with a wealth of experience coaching in Tucson, is ready to script his own chapter at Sahuaro – as the Cougars’ new head coach.

“I want the kids to know it starts today.” 

Five to See For ’23

It’s never too early to start peeking ahead to the regular season so “Zone Read” decided to reach out to lead analyst and all-around smart guy Cody Cameron for his Top 5 class of 2023 quarterbacks who you’ll want to check out this fall.

CC’s knowledge drop never disappoints so here are his five, with analysis, listed alphabetically.

Brendan Anderson (Mountain Ridge) – “Anderson was one of the top quarterbacks in the entire state last season. The Mountain Ridge gun-slinger threw for over 3,000 yards and 39 touchdowns in his junior campaign last fall, leading the Mountain Lions to an 8-4 record in 6A. When you turn on the tape, the things that jump out is the crispness and zip on his throws, to go along with his nice, easy throwing motion. Anderson does a great job of keeping his shoulders square and standing tall with a balanced stance in the pocket. This young man can make any pass on the field. He’s going to light up the stat sheet in his senior year next season.”

Devon Dampier (Saguaro) – “Dampier’s one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks that I’ve seen in recent years. [His] talent and athleticism was on full display last season in the Open Division State Playoffs, where he rushed for 440 yards and six touchdowns versus Cactus, Hamilton, and Chandler. He’s elusive in pocket and he does a tremendous job of extending plays with his legs. Head Coach Jason Mohns is an offensive wizard and I can’t wait to see Dampier in Year 2 with his offense.”

Will Galvan (Cactus) – “You cannot talk about the in-state 2023 QB class without talking about Will Galvan. Pound-for-pound one of the toughest competitors in the entire state, Galvan lead the Cobras to and undefeated regular season and their first Open Division playoff appearance in school history last season. [He] finished his junior campaign throwing for 1300 yards and 24 TDs, and he also ran for 510 yards and 8 TDs. Galvan excels off of play-action rollouts, getting his receivers the ball in space with pin-point accuracy. Cactus will be just fine in 5A next season with Galvan leading the charge.”

Gavin Limongello (Apache Junction) – “The Limongello family has some serious quarterback talent for their Turkey Bowls every year. Just like his older brother Gibson, Gavin Limongello is a phenomenal dual-threat quarterback for the Prospectors. Limongello racked up over 2900 total yards and 27 touchdowns last fall. The junior did a great job of extending plays with his legs and keeping his eyes down field, hitting his open wide receivers with accurate passes on the run. Limongello also has some nice zip on his deep throws.”

Max Martin (Camelback) – “Martin might be one of the lesser known QB’s in the 2023 class, but this young man has talent! The 6’3, 205-pounder missed the first five games last season due to transfer rules, but that didn’t stop Martin. The junior still finished with 16 total touchdowns, leading the Spartans (7-3) to one of their best seasons in a long time. Martin has a big frame with a nice, over the top throwing motion. He throws well on the run and he’s accurate with his intermediate and deep routes. I really liked his junior film, Martin should definitely get some college looks this recruiting cycle.”    

Read more about Martin here.

Big Shawn to the Big Easy

Paint the “Zone Read” more than a little intrigued over the USFL 37-year reboot this spring.

Let’s be honest, who isn’t craving a little live game action in the spring?

While it was initially disappointing to hear there would be no Arizona Wranglers or Arizona Outlaws 2.0, it was cool seeing some familar names called in this week’s USFL draft.

The former Centennial High Coyote and University of Arizona standout has made an incredible journey, both on and off the field.

Can’t wait to see what the next few chapters play out.

New Orleans is getting a good one.