Best in the West: 2023 Sophomore Seasons Part I

Sophomore year is a major ‘prove-it’ season across high school sports. It’s a year of growth, learning from your time as a freshman, and proving your worth. Now, it’s sophomore year for a handful of head coaches in the west valley with the 2023 season on the horizon.

This week, we dig into a few coaches in their second year at the helm of their programs and their expectations for the start of the season just a month away.


Raising the Pride

A pack of 50 Panthers invade California Lutheran University this week full of youth and hunger heading into 2023. It will be the sophomore season for Jason Golden after adding his name to a prestigious list of Peoria High School head coaches one year ago. Following a promising 3-1 start in 2022, the Panthers look to find momentum this year after ending last season on a six-game losing streak.

“We had a solid first half of the season last year but not the second half in a very tough region,” Coach Golden told Best in the West. “Going into our second year, we are learning how to finish in everything we did this off-season with 7on7’s, weight room, conditioning, etc.”

Peoria will have a massive focus on its talented youth, starting with sophomore quarterback, Dominic Kramer. The youngster impressed on multiple occasions last year while throwing for 782 yards and five touchdowns in eight games. Alongside him in the backfield will be fellow s’more, Javon Bell. Bell will be the bell cow of the running backs and gained 30 pounds since last year to scale in a 5-foot-11 and 215 pounds. The duo will rely on yet another sophomore, James Knowshigun, who is listed at a staggering 6-foot-3, 300 pounds on the offensive line.

The Panther defense will lean heavily on seniors Gabriel Rodriquez and Jacob Samarripas. Rodriquez concluded 2022 with All-Region honors from his 12 sacks and 78 tackles at defensive end while Samarripas tallied another 82 tackles and three sacks alongside a pair of interceptions as an outside linebacker. And don’t sleep on junior, Ricardo Vasquez, who rallied for 74 tackles and an interception as a sophomore free safety.

But both sides of the ball will be anchored by the 6-foot-3, 250-pound senior, Jose Cisneros. Not only did the 1st Team All-Region player perform well as an offensive tackle last year but he’ll join the defense as well as a starting defensive tackle in 2023. Senior, Sebastian Carrillo will also be an essential part of the roster as the leading rusher, receiver, and kick returner last year.

The Peoria Panthers open their 4A Conference season at home against Apache Junction on August 25.


Leading the Roughriders

Last year, Josh Sekoch took the reigns of a program that went 7-27 over the previous four seasons and helped lead Youngker to their second winning record in program history. The Roughriders played 11 games in 2022 and were ranked 25th in the 4A Conference with a 6-5 record.

“I took a challenge knowing we just had to move forward, it was a bit different than my previous job where I was on staff as a coordinator,” Coach Sekoch told Best in the West. “We had to move the program forward and do so without looking back, it was important to not be critical of how things had been done in the past. Just move forward look forward, was more challenging than I expected.”

Setting the example of leadership is junior offensive lineman, Bernardo Alvear. “He demonstrates the commitment to football we need others to have,” Coach Sekoch said.

“We need more kids in Youngker to just do what he did; commit. We might have some guys who stand up front during stretch but when it’s crunch time in a game, kids like Bernardo Alvear, Jordan Aceves, Demias Pablo, Isaac Tapia, and especially Julius Barber [are all] committed and we have confidence in them.”

Coach Sekoch also wanted to spotlight a trio of seniors who have excelled on the field and in the classroom, and wishes he had their intelligence! Senior receivers Jesus Ordonez and Landen Edwards, who combined for nearly 500 yards and five touchdowns, as well as senior quarterback Jacob Lira, who surpassed 2,500 pass yards while tossing 25 touchdowns in 2022.

Also keep an eye on junior offensive guard Hayden Williams as well as sophomore running back Isaiah Hargrove and two-way transfer, Marcus Knight. Another name Coach Sekoch has been impressed by is three-sport athlete, Darius Wiley, a senior defensive end and middle linebacker at 6-foot-1, 230 pounds.

The Youngker Roughriders host a three-game homestand to open 2023 beginning against sister schools Estrella Foothills on August 24 and Buckeye Union on September 1.


The Young Bulldogs

Since Sierra Linda’s first varsity season in 2010, the Bulldogs have only ended a single season at .500 or better when they went 8-2 in 2021. In Tyrone Preyer’s first season as head coach, they came up just one game shy at a 4-6 record and enter 2023 with hopes of further growth with the Tolleson Union District team.

“Last year we learned that we are talented enough to compete with anyone,” Coach Preyer told Best in the West. “We started 14 sophomores and a Freshman and we needed to overcome the mental side of the game and we’ve taken a big step in the right direction. With the majority of our team returning, all of them have grown gotten taller, and gained an average of 15-20 pounds. We have all been working together daily since track season and excited to see it pay off.”

Seniors, Lenoxx Hicks, Jackson Baird, and Kevin Tortolero, as well as junior Akhir Harris, have all proven to be leaders on and off the field and have gotten in sync with the direction they want this team to go in.

The Bulldogs expect big things from quarterback Camar Lee who threw for 1947 pass yards and 15 touchdowns on 269 pass attempts as a freshman last year. He’ll look to spread out the offense to his primary weapons like Jackson Baird, Angel Melendez, Seth Daily, Joe Pearson. The team also returns Tortolero for his senior season after leading the team in rush yards last year.

On the defensive side of the ball, watch for the “Bash Brothers,” Akhir Harris and Kaisean McClure, alongside Lenoxx Hicks. This trio led the team in tackles last year, all averaging over five tackles per game while also penetrating the backfield. Expect an aggressive Bulldog defense with nine returners in 2023.

But the leadership around Younker football is anything but inexperienced. Alongside Sekoch on the coaching staff is one of the winningest coaches in Peoria High history, Will Babb, and the winningest coach in Youngker’s 14-year varsity history, Tony Cluff. Longtime valley coach and radio analyst for the football state championships, Kelly Epley serves as an assistant principal and is a former Roughrider head coach. Also, former Minot State (ND) head coach and Peoria District Athletic Director, Mike Siverston is Youngker’s principal.

The Sierra Linda Bulldogs open 2023 with back-to-back home games and kick off the season against Empire on August 25.


The season is nearly upon us, so 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!