Best in the West: Aug. 19, 2022 Spotlight

The lights will shine this Friday night and the begining of Arizona high school football will offically begin! Teams in the 1A, 2A, and 3A Conferences begin their seasons on Friday while the 4A-6A Conferences are in their final two weeks of preparations. We take a look at some programs still making their final offseason adjustments and our featured game of the week!


Game of the Week: Highland Prep @ Trivium Preparatory Academy

A pair of 2A Conference west side schools open the season against one another as Highland Prep makes the trip from Surprise to Goodyear to battle Trivium Preparatory Academy. Both prep programs are still fairly new in the AIA and continue to build their foundations.

The Trivium Prep Crimson Knights started 2021 on a rough note, losing four straight games but made a massive swing to win all of their remaining games and claim the 2A Hassaympa Region title. Senior linebacker and offensive lineman, Niko Zehtab, will play a major role as an all around leader and looks to build from his 45 total tackles, 3 TFL, 2 fumble recoveries, and interception last year. Senior, Collin Pezzelle, will lead the offense this year at QB and will play linebacker while sophomore reciever and linebacker, Vern Wolfley IV, is expected to help lead this team as a part of the future foundation.

“I think our program really learned how to become a team,” Head Coach Stephen Hemming said. “Our team mantra is, ‘We. Us. Ours.’ We have developed in these kids how we have to win together and we cannot do it individually. We also learned how to become tough, we have hit the weight room harder than this school ever has before and brought a tough mentality to our team.”

The Crimson Knights game plan against Highland Prep is centered around consistency, protecting the football, playing as a team, learning from mistakes, and moving on to the next play. Trivium Prep will also be led by Caedon MacDonald (Jr.), Gannon McMillan (Jr.), and Max Sief (Sr.) as they look to return to the state tournament once again.

This is Highland Prep’s second season of AIA football since moving from the CAA. The Honey Badgers will play their first ten-game season and full region season in program history. HP will be very young with a slew of freshmen expected to step on the field and make a difference this season. Kalel Pickens will not only take snaps as a running back and OLB but he will also be expected to be a leader on and off the field this season for the Badgers. Fellow freshmen, King Covarrubio, Michael De la Cruz, Macen Thompson, and Diego Figueroa will be expected to be major contributiors in their first season.

Senior quarterback, Brandon Nevers, returns after taking part of the QB snaps last year and leading the team in total yards. Nevers accumulated over 200 yards in passing, rushing, and reciving last year for a tally of 981 total offensive yards. Junior center, Gage Coles, and sophomore reciever/corner, Junior Crump, will also be leaned on as leaders both on and off the field for Highland Prep. The Honey Badgers are still working to find a foothold in the AIA and it all begins with a stong showing against a solid Trivium Prep squad.

“Be competitive from the first snap, play with confidence, and limit mistakes. Players need to prove to everyone that this isnโ€™t the same 1-9 team from last year,” Head Coach Jason Shaw said. “Our guys learned how to compete and that wins and losses arenโ€™t the end of the world. A good attitude, competing every rep, and maximum effort every rep will always lead to some kind of success. Their confidence in themselves and each other has grown immensely. The guys truly believe in what we are trying to build in establishing a new program.”


Wildcats Eye One More Pounce

One spot better is all Willow Canyon needs to do to earn a seed in the 5A State Tournament for the first time since 2011. Head coach, Justin Stangler, has led the program to back-to-back winning seasons for just the second time in school history. Willow Canyon’s three losses came against Millennium, Valley Vista, and Canyon View. But when the Wildcats won, they won big, holding opponents to eight points or less in six of their seven victories.

With just one season left in their high school careers, Matt Spurlin and Dominic Jewell are three-year starters and will serve as capatains of this year’s team. Senior defensive end, Paul Petersen will serve as the third capatain and holds a 4.5 GPA. All of those veterans will be expected to be all-around leaders for this Wildcat program. As an MLB, Jewell led the team last season with 50 total tackles while Spurlin worked the trenches on the opposite side of the ball on the offensive line.

Bryson Wilke is another three-year varsity starter for the Wildcats. Wilke was the second leading scorer on last year’s team by converting on 47 of 51 PATs and hit 6/9 field goals. The team returns five starters on offense and six starters on defense as the foundation of the program continues to grow.

Senior center, Ryan Carter, and senior running back, Brady Ferris, will also be leaders of this team as WCHS eyes a shot at the 5A Tournament. Willow Canyon will open the season on Sept. 2 against Raymond S. Kellis. 


Wolves Begin the Hunt

The foundation of the Estrella Foothills Wolves looks bright and youthful. The 2021 season started on a massive high note for EFHS with a double overtime win against Paradise Honors but the Wolves were unable to find the win colunm again. Now, Estrella Foothills looks towards the future with an extremely youth team who will work to build the program up.

Almost every position on the field will see fresh faces fighting for playing time except for RB room. A pair of senior running backs will not only be a staple of this season’s offense but will also be heavily leaned on for their leadership on and off the field. Liam Henry and Will Bontrager enter their senior seasons after being two of the primary leaders last year in total offensive yards. The duo combined for 927 all purpose yards and will be expected to be massive contributors to the buidling blocks of the program.

More athletes on the rise include a pair of QBs,  Hone Wray and Caden Gable, and recievers, Maxx Carroll and Joseph O’Shea, who will all be fairly fresh faces to the varsity program. Alan Becker and Grant Wochner lead the growth in the tight end room, and defensive lineman, Mike Ramirez will be an up-and-comer on defense.

Estrella Foothills opens the season on the road against Apache Junction on Sept. 2 and will take the field for their home opener on Sept. 9 against Northest Christian. The Wolves will play in 4A Southwest Region for the seventh consecutive season.


Football season is officially here! As the bleachers fill across the state, be sure to visit and support your local schools as they hit the field. Keep watch at Sports360AZ with all of our high school football content including Bleacher Talk, Zone Read, AZ Audibles, Recruiting Roundup, and much more.

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