Zone Read: Chandler’s Swiss Army Knife

Arizona Sports News online

Just Do It

Blake Heffron is a quarterback.

He’s a slot receiver.

He’s a punt returner.

He’s a holder.

He’s a shortstop.

He’s a leader.

He’s a 4.19 student.

He’s a pilot (well, hopefully one day…more on that later).

The Chandler High senior is, without question, one of the more unique student-athletes you’ll find on any high school campus.

“He has all the qualities I look for in a quarterback,” Chandler head coach Rick Garretson said to the “Zone Read.” “He can lead. He’s smart. And he can throw strikes.”

Best of Both Worlds

Last season, Heffron caught 19 passes for 260 yards playing slot receiver, as well as earned All-Premiere Region honors as a punt returner. All while serving as Dylan Raiola’s backup behind center, selflessly transitioning positions for the good of the team after going a perfect 17-0 taking starting snaps at the freshmen and JV level for the Wolves.

Following Raola’s transfer in the spring, the 5-foot-8, 170-pounder went from back up, to next up. 

“Coach G. sent me a text,” Heffron recalled to the “Zone Read.” “He said, ‘Hey man, I don’t know if you heard, but Dylan left. We’re going to need somebody to take the keys to this car. I’m going to need you to lead us this year. Can you do that for me?’ I was like, ‘Of course, I can. I would love to.’ It’s my turn to step up at quarterback.”

His knowledge of Chandler’s scheme is enhanced, in part because of his willingness to play other positions.

“I think when you play both quarterback and receiver, it helps you understand, maybe pre-snap, where guys are going to be open and different leverages defenders are playing you,” CHS offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach Chad Carpenter explained to the “Zone Read.” “Different ways that that guy’s going to run the route, based on where you’re going to put the ball.”

Carpenter knows firsthand.

He was a record-setting prep quarterback in Idaho before transitioning back to wide receiver, which he played early in his prep years, at Washington State – catching passes from future NFL first-round selections Drew Bledsoe and Ryan Leaf. He was selected by the Arizona Cardinals in the fifth round of the 1997 draft.

“Your brain just understands how this route concept is going to play out a little bit better because you’ve been out there running [them],” Carpenter continued. “It definitely helps you being diverse. That overall concept of understanding the [receiver] position is huge.”

Scouting it Out

They say, “practice makes perfect,” and while Heffron probably wasn’t always perfect, what the Chandler coaches saw in fall practices further cemented their belief in the Wolves’ incumbent quarterback.

“Blake played scout team quarterback last year, against our defense,” Carpenter said. “He gave our defense, which was arguably one of the best in the country, best in the state…he gave them problems during scout team. He’s kind of like that x-factor. We know he’s going to have those intangible things that you just can’t teach somebody.”

It was all just part of the task at hand, according to Heffron.

“I was just there trying to get my team better, and prepared for whatever was to come at them that week,” he humbly explained. “I didn’t necessarily take pride in trying to show off or anything. I was just having fun with my teammates and trying to make our team better.”

Much of the focus this summer has been honing Heffron’s play from the pocket, specifically drop back techniques and structured sets in the offense.

Respect Earned

Heffron’s selfless mentality has led to team-wide admiration, and unity, among several position groups.

“He’s a very well-respected kid in the locker room,” Garretson said. “You can’t fake that.”

It’s only natural when you choose to lineup wherever, whenever, putting the team before yourself for the greater good of the program.

“Players respect players and their ability,” Carpenter said. “You can’t be a really great captain or a leader, unless you have the physical ability to be able to lead. Blake has done that. Special teams. Great punt returner. Blake has held for PAT’s before. He’s played scout team quarterback. He’s started at wide receiver. He’s played quarterback at Chandler. 

“There aren’t many things that Heffron hasn’t done.”

Another thing he hasn’t done has been lose focus on the bigger picture: the Chandler football program and family.

“Honestly, I’m just out there for my guys,” he said. “We have all these guys who are going to [play in college]. They’re trying to achieve something greater, and I know my place, and what I want to do. I’m just out here trying to get everybody better, and trying to get to where they want to be in life. I’m just trying to do everything I can for them.” 

Further cementing the respect is Heffron’s work ethic in the weight room and, more importantly, the classroom.

“We want that attitude for every one of our guys,” Carpenter added. 

Sweet Feet

While Heffron may be undersized when compared to other 6A quarterbacks, he more than makes up for it with his play-making ability.

Specifically, with his burst and quick feet.

“He’s definitely a guy that you have to account for from the defensive side of the ball in the run game,” Garretson noted. “Whether that’s zone read, or counter gap read, or RPO’s. Whether that’s just him taking the ball and avoiding, and creating on the move. You have to account for him. He’s got a bunch of guys he can facilitate to.”

One of those is All-State running back, and recent University of Illinois commit, Ca’Lil Valentine.  

“He is truly something special,” Heffron said of his backfield classmate. “It relieves so much pressure off of me. The [offensive] guys around me are elite.  Just handing [Ca’Lil] the ball and watching what he can do when watching film. Just being like, ‘Man, I had no clue how he saw that, or how he made that cut.’ He’s amazing. I just see him make guys miss, run over people, or just simply out run guys. You’re just like, ‘Whoa.'”

Let’s Play Two

Heffron is one of many AZHS multi-sport athletes.

His primary position in the spring sports season is shortstop.

MaxPreps also has him listed as a second baseman, and outfielder because, of course…right?

“Playing baseball has such an impact on me,” Heffron explained when asked how baseball helps him on the football field. “Throwing side arm. Throwing on the run. Just little tricks with my footwork. Jumping and throwing the ball. Baseball has helped me tremendously in ways that I can’t even imagine.”

 Carpenter took it a step further.

“Last week we had a snap that just rolled back [from center],”  he said. “He picked it up like a grounder, right? I think from a sports standpoint, I think we all learn different things from competition and being a good teammate when you have crossover sports. It’s what great about sports, and especially in baseball because it’s such a team game.”

Come Fly With Me

In-between playing two sports and keeping his elite academic standing, you may find Chandler’s Swiss Army Knife above the clouds, but not as a passenger.

Heffron has a passion for flying, and one day hopes to become a commercial pilot.

“Zone Read” asked what’s more nerve-racking: catching a punt in a big game or flying a plane solo?

“Oh, man,” he said with a chuckle. “Honesty? Probably flying solo. Catching a punt, it’s always scary back there…but being in the cockpit, up in the air. You’re a thousand feet above ground. You’re worrying about other planes. You’re worrying about what other people are doing. That’s totall different.”

It appears Chandler football is in for a smooth landing with Hefrron at the controls.