Zone Read: Position of One, Impacting of Many

Arizona Sports News online

There’s too many men, too many people

Making too many problems

And there’s not much love to go around

Can’t you see this is the land of confusion

For readers of this column who were alive, and actually remember the year 1986, the #1 hit song “Land of Confusion” by Genesis seems apropos when keeping pace with the lightning round of Arizona high school football players moving, sometimes jumping, from school to school. 

If an in-state player decides to transfer, who am I, or anyone else, to object? We are not them. While at times it may be difficult to understand, at least on the surface level, why some would seek new beginnings, I don’t recall any player switching programs merely for the sake of, well, switching programs. Their intent is no one else’s business, although word, fact or fiction, travels quickly in these circles.

It would be pre-mature to call AZHS football a “big business.” When NIL hits State 48 at the prep level (it’s coming), there will be a time to re-address this topic.

With that being said, there is no doubt the spotlight is getting brighter, particularly in the Valley, on premiere players playing at premiere programs. This is no secret to any who have consumed the local product, and our Arizona high schools have no problem proving to the rest of the country what our brand of ball is all about when we matched up against elite national competition.

Last weekend news broke of one of those premiere players leaving a premiere program.

The brush fire of backlash from this announcement quickly escalated into a four-alarm inferno of finger pointing, name calling, even rages of injustice as people painted their own social media narratives, agendas, and “hot takes.” Even parents and (gasp) current AZHS coaches joined the, uh, “conversation” in the above Twitter thread.

While off-season breaking news is fun, “Zone Read” would encourage all to close the app, put down the phone, and let Raiola’s transition breath.

Instead of trying to solve the AIA’s perceived transfer policy blemishes in 280 characters, think of the game of “Bump Out” decisions like this create.

There are big-time high school programs all over the greater Phoenix area, particularly in Scottsdale, and the southeast Valley.

Elite players leave. 

But no single position of transfer is impacted, or impactful, as much as the position of quarterback.

The reason is simple, unique, and a point of angst for all involved. 

Only one can play on Friday nights in the fall.

Sure, it’s a case-by-case study and most prep quarterbacks, and their families, do their due diligence to scour MaxPrep rosters, talk to other parents and coaches. In short, get a read of the (quarterback) room, and dissect every positive and negative before deciding on their kids’ next destination.

For Raiola, a five-star prospect considered by many to be the nation’s top 2024 quarterback, Pinnacle will be his third high school after playing his first two years at Burleson High (TX), and, most recently, Chandler. Mind-blowing to some, just unique to others who have learned to expect the unexpected in Arizona high school football.

We won’t know until much later this summer if the 6-foot-3, 220-pound one-time Ohio State commit will be required to sit out the first five games of his senior season, per AIA transfer rules.

This puts Wyatt Horton in quite the conundrum.

Oh, you remember Horton, right? The charismatic, fearless Pinnacle sophomore who threw for nearly 3,000 yards while tallying 34 touchdowns in leading the Pioneers to their first State Championship Game appearance in December. The slight 5-foot-11, 160-pounder with a full flowing mop of hair rose to the top of the Neers’ depth chart last summer, supplanting two upperclassmen in the process.

Not even Pinnacle coaches realized how talented he was until they watched a 15-year old become a take charge leader on a roster littered with elite, veteran players. One PHS coach quipped he “forgot” Horton was just a sophomore until he saw Horton’s mom drop him off for practice one afternoon.

Raola’s arrival makes for an interesting intersection for PHS coaches, the Horton family, and current Pinnacle players who are still trying to digest the new roster addition and whoever the star quarterback “brings with him” from Chandler, or other schools, as many have hinted. Remember, kids talk to kids.

So who has the right of way, and who yields for who at this intersection of awkwardness?

We’ve heard there was backlash, and hurt feelings, from the incumbent’s family which, to be honest, isn’t surprising when an unexpected guest (at least publicly), arrives at the front door of a house you didn’t realize was for sale. Word has it Pinnacle wasn’t the first doorbell Raiola and his family rung on their way up the 101.

Horton hasn’t decided if he’s going to remain at Pinnacle but, rest assured, the family is exploring other programs, which is absolutely the right approach to take, regardless if he stays or goes.  

The multi-layers of this QB domino effect are thought-provoking when you peel back the onion even more.

IF Horton decides to transfer, how will his arrival alter the position room of his new program? As a head coach, how do you balance bringing in a star, battle-tested signal-caller with two years of eligibility (likely 1.5 after sitting five this fall) with talented underclassmen who may also be vying to be behind center on varsity this fall or, at the latest, spring of 2024? 

Skip ahead a few chapters in a year or two and it’s quite possible we’ll see the Raiola transfer tree continue to sprout branches as today’s “extras” step into lead roles as upperclassmen at other schools. 

This is quarterback life: position of one, impacting of many.