Best in the West: Building on Historic Seasons

The days continue to heat up, the humidity rises, and the grass is mowed. Arizona high school football is nearly back and we are all ready to pack the bleachers once again! As opening day kickoff is less than a month away for all programs across the state, Best in the West checks in on three of the west valley birds that set a new foundation to build upon.

Let’s take a look at some of the underdog programs on the west side that earned some of their best records in program history with a chance to build on top of that success in 2022.

 

Apollo’s Breakout

It was a breakthrough season for the Apollo Hawks in 2021 with their first state tournament appearance and best record since 2017.

AHS was the tenth-ranked team in the 5A Conference one year ago after an 8-2 regular season and an undefeated 5A Northwest Region Championship. Apollo’s tournament run was short-lived with a 56-21 loss to Notre Dame Prep in the first round but rides a wave of momentum into 2022.

A slew of experienced linebackers return to the Hawks’ core with seniors, Michael Woods, Brodie Chicharello, and David Wilson, alongside junior, Damien Khaivilay. This crew totaled 8.5 sacks and 188 total tackles in 2021.

The 2021 5A Metro Region Player of the Year, Adam Mohammed, will be leaned on as a leader of the team on both sides of the ball, as he will play multiple positions on offense and on defense. The junior racked up 1,564 rushing yards and 32 total TDs in his award-winning sophomore season. Offensively, keep an eye on senior, Scott Simmons, a key returner who totaled 909 all-purpose yards, alongside youngster, Isaiah White, in the receiving core.

One of the new faces to watch is a transfer from the Bayou State. Senior, Mustafa Dhiaa, totaled 30 tackles, a sack, and a TFL for the Leesville Wampus Cats in Louisiana last year and is expected to help anchor the Hawk secondary.

Head Coach, Aaron Walls, noted that the Hawks lacked strength last year against some of the larger 5A Conference powerhouses such as Horizon and NDP. In response, they attacked the weight room and put an emphasis on strength this offseason as the Hawks vie to build on their success from one year ago.

Apollo has been moved from the 5A Metro Region to the 5A Northwest Region this year. The Hawks open the 2022 season on Sept. 2 at home against fellow GUHSD school, Glendale, a match that was a nail-biter one season ago when Glendale slid by with a 14-12 victory.

 

Deer Valley on the Rise

A 7-3 season marked the best regular season record for Deer Valley High School since 2014. Head Coach, Dan Friedman took over the program in 2018 and ended the season winless. Just a few years later, the Skyhawks have an opportunity to make back-to-back playoff appearances for the first time in nearly a decade.

Offensively, Deer Valley returns quarterback, Rudy Gonzales, for his senior season. Last year, Gonzales airmailed 2,739 passing yards for 28 touchdowns while also rushing in five TDs. The Hawks also return key defensive standouts, Matt Jorgensen, Joel Morris, Isaac Yazzie, and Kam Benton.

Coach Friedman has his eyes on a handful of youngsters to make major contributions to the program this year. Running back Elijah Everts, linebacker Jacob Krueziger, and linebacker/halfback Dylan English, will all play significant roles in the program’s success in 2022.

The Skyhawks will also receive some reinforcements from the hardwood. Deer Valley basketball players, Devon Kennedy, Teddy Johnson, Marcus Johnson, and Jayden Sleeper, all got involved in football practice this summer and Coach Friedman expects them to help fill in gaps from last year’s graduated seniors.

“I think we gain a lot of confidence winning 7 games and making the playoffs,” Coach Friedman said. “The players are hungry to improve on that.”

Deer Valley begins the season with their biggest game of the year as they head to their district rival, Barry Goldwater, for their 30th rivalry match in program history. The Skyhawks will play in the 4A Skyline Region in 2022, their third different region since 2017.

 

Carl Hayden on the Verge of History

Prior to 2021, the last time the Carl Hayden Falcons had a winning season, gas was less than $2.00/gallon, a “Macarena” remix was the #1 song on Billboard, and the Nintendo 64 was flying off shelves. CHHS made history last year by earning its first winning season since 1996.

The 6-4 record from 2021 is even more significant since the Falcons were only able to play one game in Steven Arenas’ second year as head coach in 2020 but made leaps and bounds to finish above .500 just one year later.

Senior QB, Jamie Zayas, returns to the helm of the offense and has grown into his leadership role with the Falcons. Senior defensive end, Moise Everest, and senior offensive lineman, Brayan Beltran, also return as leaders for the Falcons. Everest tallied four sacks, three tackles for loss, and a fumble recovery in 2021.

“Now that our guys have had a taste of success, they are hungry to keep building up a respectable football program,” Arenas said.

The Falcons are excited to finally get sophomore, Johnny Montes, on the field after suffering a season-ending injury during last year’s preseason scrimmage. Montes was expected to be a sizable contributor as a freshman last year prior to his injury and now has a chance to shine on the turf. Senior, Gavin Rosser, is also a fresh face that Coach Arenas says to watch due to his length and athleticism from the CHHS basketball program.

The 2022 season for Carl Hayden kicks off with four straight road games, beginning Sept. 2 at Prescott. If the Falcons can one-up last year and earn seven wins this season, they would total their most wins in a single season in program history, dating back to 1958 according to AZ Football Archives.

 

 

With the gates open and fans ready to flood the grandstands once again, be sure to visit and support your local schools as they hit the field in 2022.

Be sure to join in on the conversation on Twitter using #FridayNight360AZ and follow @Sports360AZ to keep up with the action from across the state on Friday nights!

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