Zone Read: Zak Hill Unplugged

Arizona Sports News online

Tuesday night Saguaro High School made it official, hiring Zak Hill to take over for Jason Mohns who is now at Arizona State.

“Zone Read” was fortunate enough to catch up with the new Sabercat head coach to discuss a myriad of topics as he leads one of the most established high school football programs in the nation.

If you were to describe Saguaro football to someone who knows nothing about it, how would you describe the program and the brand? “I think it’s a nationally known brand. Saguaro football is always nationally ranked, always winning championships. We’re a Nike Elite school. For a high school, that’s a big deal, too – from a branding standpoint. So, from a football fan standpoint, it doesn’t have to be in Arizona, you’re hearing about Saguaro. We have big games in California. We’re playing whoever across the nation and trying to find the best competition, and that’s exciting for me, too. We want to play the best and give those kids the experience of not just playing the local teams, but let’s go travel to California, or let’s go travel to the east coast. From my time in college, it’s such an experience for a high school kid to be able to go and have some of those life skills and life experiences outside of just Saguaro. I’m excited for that piece, too.”

What was the main message you wanted to convey to your new team when you met them for the first time? “The main message was the football piece will come. The X’s and O’s will come. You know, right now the main thing is earning trust, getting to know each other, caring for each other. It’s the connections that really make this thing. I know there’s good chemistry, there’s a good culture here. I’m just trying to elevate that. Football will come. Right now it’s doing the right thing in the classroom, doing the right things off the field.”

Obviously, you were familiar with the Arizona high school scene when you were at ASU, but how much did it help better prepare you take over this program after spending one year at ALA-Gilbert? “It did for sure. Being back at the high school level, whether it was the way we were practicing, or the preparation stuff. Some of the things I think [ALA-Gilbert head coach] Randy [Ricedorff] does at ALA are elite from a connection standpoint. How he gets his players to play hard and have a good sense of community and care for each other. He’s such a good leader and mentor for those kids. Just seeing that culture and being at the college level, you have connections with your kids but it’s a little more business like. You’re dealing with adults. But feeling that at the high school level, and the excitement of those kids, and the impact you can have on that age group, is significant. It’s refreshing to be in that type of environment. That experience at ALA really kind of sparked this for me and made this a possibility.”

Having so much coaching experience at the college level at Boise State, ASU, and other schools, will you incorporate some of those collegiate schemes and principles into the program here at Saguaro? “Absolutely. The coaches are excited about that, the kids are excited about that. I’ve had the opportunity to coach at the Pac-12 level, the Mountain West level, and I think from that standpoint, having that knowledge, whether it’s offense or organizational stuff, and staff, I’m excited to implement some of that stuff. I told the kids [Wednesday], they’re going to feel some of that. They’re going to feel a more college atmosphere. Whether it’s meeting, practice, walk-thru’s, all the things that go into that football stuff. There’s going to be an attention to detail. There’s going to be a high standard. I’m excited to implement some of those things we did in college. It’s a process. We need to lay the foundation and then we’ll build it.”

When you see that wall outside the stadium with all the Saguaro championships, All-Americans, NFL players – do you put any additional pressure on yourself to live up to the high standards of this program or are you focused more on creating your own legacy? “I love the tradition here and I think that’s another reason why I wanted to be here, and why I am here. Saguaro has been that program that has generated athletes that are going to college, going to the pro level. I think when you go into any job, the expectations are high and you want to do a great job. It doesn’t matter what they’ve done in the past, you want to have your own feel, you want to [make] your own impact on things. I respect what Jason has done here and the coaches before him. I think the thing for me is, I’m not trying to be Jason, I’m just trying to be Zak Hill. I know with the experience that I’ve had, that will translate. I’m a very organized guy. I think the kids are excited for maybe a little bit something new, maybe some news things offensively. That’s the fun part.”

Did you ask advice of Coach Mohns and vice versa, seeing how he’s now an assistant coach at ASU like you were, and now you’re taking over Saguaro? “We definitely have open lines of communication. We discussed that situation a little bit. You know, the role reversal (laughing). Before I even applied, I wanted to talk to Jason and he was gracious enough to have a couple of sit-downs with me. We talked about all the positives, any possible negatives. I was just trying to get a feel, overall. Jason is excited to be in the role that he is at ASU, and jump into that role of college, being on the road recruiting. I’ve expressed to him, ‘Hey man, if you have any questions, let me know.’ Obviously, I’ve been through it for 20 years. He knows I’m going to ask him a ton of questions, too. We do a good job of communicating. He’s been awesome in this transition. He doesn’t have a lot of free time, either.”