Zone Read: Knowing Watt It Takes

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That’s Watt’s Up

Despite being a five-time 1st-team All-Pro, and five-time Pro Bowl selection, Arizona Cardinals’ defensive end J.J. Watt’s work never stops.

Shortly after signing with the Cardinals last spring, “Zone Read” was fortunate enough to catch up with Watt’s high school coach, Clay Iverson, in Pewaukee, Wisconsin to discuss his modest rise to football stardom as just a two-star recruit.

Earlier this week on a Zoom call with local media, Watt was asked what advice he’d give to today’s high school athletes.

“If you’re talking about a high school kid, I’d tell him to work extremely hard at the sport you want to be great at, but also enjoy everything else about the point you are at in life,” he explained. “I think it’s extremely important to put a lot of time, energy, and commitment to the sport you want to be great at in high school.”

Watt also said to simply enjoy the experience – in sports, in school, in life.

“I think all the other aspects are just as important,”  he continued. “It’s a time where you’re fortunate enough to be in a position where you get to see your best friends every single day. You can play multiple sports if you like to. You get to experience things that, the rest of your life you’re not going to get to experience again, and I think that we’re so quick now to accelerate these kids and try to make sure that they are doing absolutely everything possible and we try to force them into one sport. We try to force them into specialized training for this sport. We try to make them do this sport year-round.”

“Sometimes we need to take a step back and understand that playing multiple sports is the best things for the kids,” Watt passionately expressed. “They need to diversify their training program and use different muscles, use different skills, and balance points. They also need to be kids. They need to enjoy themselves. They need to be having fun…the true fact of it is that not every kid is going to make it to the pros. So, when we act like every kid is going to make it to the pros when they’re in high school, we’re really robbing the opportunity for these kids to enjoy themselves and to enjoy what they’re doing at that moment.”


David’s Distinction

This Saturday, April 23rd, AIA Executive Director David Hines will be honored by the National Football Foundation as their Achievement in Arizona Award winner for all he has done for Arizona high school athletics, and, even more importantly, academics over the past several years.

His backstory is certainly worth sharing for those who may not be familiar with all Hines has accomplished.

Whether as a student-athlete, coach, or teacher, Hines has always loved giving back to his native state of Arizona.

A three-sport athlete at Tempe High School, he would later be a part of Mesa Community College’s 1975 NJCAA National Championship football team, before earning an education degree from Arizona State two years later.

His passion for kids led him to a number of teaching opportunities in the southeast Valley at Westwood High, Mesa High, then newly-opened Red Mountain High, and others before finishing his career as the Athletic Director at Mountain View High. 

After a three-decade career as an educator, coach, and administrator in the Mesa School District, Hines joined the Arizona Interscholastic Association in 2008 and was named Executive Director on July 1, 2017.

“What I enjoy most about my role with the AIA is still the student-athletes,” he said. “They are awesome. I also very much enjoy the relationships I have built with over the years. As an Arizona native, I have had the chance to see Arizona grow as a state. There were approximately 140 high schools back in the early 1970’s and next year we will have 283 schools in the AIA.”

Under his leadership as Executive Director, Hines has created the State Student Advisory Committee, enhanced the Sports Medicine Advisory Committee, and created the popular Open Division Football Championship.

Hines’ tireless work and dedication at the high school level over the past 45 years more than validates this deserving recognition.

“I am extremely honored and very humbled to be considered for this award. It has been my mission in life to serve others and help kids achieve their dreams.”

The County Crossover: Yavapai/Coconino (northern Arizona)

Last week Gridiron Arizona and’s Chris Eaton caught us up to speed on all the happenings in the west Valley. Now it’s time to take a trip to the cool pines. KAFF Sports Director and long-time “Zone Read” contributor Dave Zorn has the spring storylines to follow in the high country.

Big picture view – what are you watching closely this spring in the competitive Grand Canyon Region?  I think there’s many storylines. Hard to pick one.  I think the region will be won by either Prescott, Bradshaw Mountain or Coconino.  Prescott has the player in Cody Leopold and I think their passing attack will be much better this year.  Head coach Cody Collette does a lot of things with the Badgers’ offense to keep teams guessing.  Their defense is solid and will need to be.  Bradshaw has a great defense, but needs better offensive support.  Coconino is young, but talented.  They are grooming linemen and running backs at Coconino through their system which is awesome to see.  A new defensive coordinator for the Panthers will give teams a different look.  Starting the season hosting Blue Ridge will be fun at Cromer [Stadium]. I’m interested to see if Lee Williams drops off any after losing a ton of kids to graduation.  Also, Mingus scheduled smart, so we will see if they can get off to a good start and rebound from the past few years of dismal results.  Plus, head coach Sean Manning is trying to change the mentality at Flag High.  They lost a lot of talent to graduation, as well.  A good schedule early should help.”

Coconino’s Cooper French has been featured in the column before. He’s committed to wrestle at the University of Nebraska but is also returning for his senior season at running back coming off of a 1500-yard, 17-touchdown campaign last year. Is he considered the best player in the region?  “I love Cooper.  He’s a great kid from a great family.  Stepping away from the program and looking at it big picture, I’d say yes, but he shares that title with Cody Leopold.  I think Cooper and Cody may be the best two running backs in 4A this season, and for sure the best backs in the region.  This time last year were weren’t even talking about Cooper much at Coconino because he wasn’t a starter.  He took over the spot after Jonathon Jaramillo was injured and went off from there.  He has a chance to rewrite the single season record books as a running back, but a tough schedule will make it a challenge for sure.”

Bradshaw’s Gabriel Ricketts is coming off a nice sophomore year (almost 800 rushing yards, 11 touchdowns) for the Bears. What do you like most about his game and potential heading into his junior year? The best compliment I can give him is he’s a Bob Young running back.  Coach Young has been a staple in Yavapai County for many years and his Mingus teams back in the day were very physical.  Coach Young is building that same mentality at Bradshaw Mountain.  Ricketts should be looked at as a leader of the Bears’ offense.  If the Bears offensive line can stay healthy, I expect him to have a great junior season and he will create headaches for defensive coaches on their schedule.”

Mingus Union, who had great success in that area for many years, has struggled re-establishing their winning tradition. Do you see the Marauders improving on their 2-win season in 2021?  Yes,  I have them winning at least five games and if they win their first four on their schedule, that would be a big plus to start the season. Game 5 is against Deer Valley, will be a benchmark game for the Marauders.  The problem Mingus has had the past couple of years is depth and size.  They’ve had a couple of really nice players, who work hard, but their lines have been small compared to other lines in the region – Coconino and Prescott come to mind.  I think this will be a better season for Mingus, but they are rebuilding in Cottonwood and I don’t see them being a region title threat for a couple of years.  If they don’t get out to big start and struggle again, they could find themselves in the 3A Conference next season.”

Prescott advanced to the second round of the 4A playoffs in 2021. As mentioned earlier, two-way stud Cody Leopold (1394 rushing yards, 17 TD’s, 140 tackles) is back. Is Cody Collett’s team considered the best in the region heading into the fall?   “Hard to pick just one. I think it’s between Prescott, Bradshaw Mountain and Coconino.  Every team has a different strength and weakness.  Coconino gets the other two on the road this season, which will be a challenge.  All three teams are very well coached and the coaches are well respected in the region.  It’s going to be another fun season in the Grand Canyon Region.”