Zone Read: Navigating the COVID-19 Pandemic

Arizona Sports News online

There’s no real clever or unique way to start this notes column right now. I’m hopeful each and every one of you who consume this on a consistent basis are safe and being smart with your every day actions. Please be mindful of not only yourself, but others around you who also may be impacted by your decisions.

OK, let’s get started. 

Staying Sharp

As COVID-19 continues to put most of the country on hold, a growing concern among some local high school parents I’ve spoken with is keeping their kids engaged, both physically and mentally, during this time of uncertainty.

The “routine” for most student-athletes is gone for the foreseeable future.

Studying for tests and completely nightly homework has been replaced with XBOX and social media. Structure from teachers and coaches during the school day has, in some cases, given way to sleeping in. Families are trying to “figure out their households” as one parent explained.

“Kids need structure and routine,” they said to the “Zone Read.” “But they are not capable of that self-awareness or able to recognize that. Certainly there is concern about losing valuable skill development and muscle gains.” 

Everything right now is a work in progress. 

I’d expect parents to be communicating more among themselves on the best way to move forward during this time of social distancing.

Hudl Up

Some schools are being proactive and getting a bit creative in helping keep their players locked in and focused during this time of change. One of those is Saguaro who uses Hudl to help streamline details and objectives within the program.

“During our time away from one another right now, we are making good use of it to ensure our players are still getting information from the coaching staff,” Sabercat Defensive Line/Strength & Conditioning Coach Kyle Caldwell explained to the “Z0ne Read.” “I want to make sure our players are still staying active and using this time to stay on track with all the hard work we put in this off-season.”

Caldwell said he sent them a workout, through Hudl, which they can complete from their home, home gym or any safe location they choose. It, in many ways, mirrors the goal-driven program they’ve been using on campus together at Saguaro.

“We want our players, their families and circles to stay safe during these times,” he said. “That is our primary focus.”

Using the Time Wisely

A number of former high school standouts have returned to Arizona, waiting to hear when it’s safe to head back to their colleges.

One of those is former Paradise Valley High star quarterback Ben Finley who’s back at home in the north Valley after graduating early and spending the last two months getting acclimated to life on and off the field at North Carolina State.

“It’s been a lot of fun,” Finley said to the “Zone Read” about his short time thus far in Raleigh. “School has been going great and before the cancellation of spring ball, football was going really well…I’m loving it.”

His time back at home also happens to coincide with his fellow-quarterbacking big brother Ryan – an NC State alum, who’s entering his second season with the Cincinnati Bengals.

“I’ve had a great time…throwing with my brother,” Ben said. “It’s nice to have [him] here because it’s nice to have someone to work out with and train.”

The brothers also apparently are getting it done between a different set of white lines during their time together.

“We’ve also been beating my parents in tennis so it’s been great being home.”

Mikey Likes It

Things will look a little different this fall when Chandler’s first-team offense takes the field. 

Specifically, quarterback Mikey Keene who’s already added 20 pounds to his frame since the Wolves held off Saguaro to claim the first ever Open Division Championship back in early December.

So what’s been part of the secret to Keene’s added bulk?

“I’ve been eating a lot of eggs and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches,” he said to the “Zone Read.” “I’ve added fruits and veggies into my diet everyday and hydration has been really crucial.”

He also credits CHS strength coach Chris Chick, Ignite Performance Training in Chandler and, maybe mostly importantly, his mom.

“Can’t thank my mom enough,”  he emphasized.

Keene deserves a badge of courage for playing quarterback in the Premiere Region at 165 pounds last fall as a junior.

Bright Lights, Big Stage

I was fortunate enough to sit in on the AIA Media Advisory Committee Meeting earlier this month at their north central headquarters.

One of the topics discussed/questioned by those in attendance to AIA officials was playing last year’s 4A State Championship Game at a high school stadium like Mesquite and Desert Edge did at Willow Canyon High in Surprise.

This is another tricky situation for the AIA to navigate. Big venues are expensive – close to $115,000 for the two days at Sun Devil Stadium in early December according to this recent story from the Casa Grande Dispatch. While the AIA collects the gate, ASU kept the other money makers, most notably all concession and parking proceeds.

AIA officials also made it a point to mention every school wants to play in “primetime” (IE – a night game) but when big stadium space is limited, the upper divisions will get priority like we saw last year with the 6A championship being played Friday night, December 6th and the Open Division Championship the following night. 

“Like most coaches I would love to play a state championship game at one of the big Arizona stadiums,” one 4A head coach said off the record to the “Zone Read.” “It would also be great to play at GCU or in a modified stadium or Ottawa [University]. Just being at a “college” gives the game a bigger feel. I know for the vast majority of the kids who play in those games, it will be their only shot to play on a stage that large.” 

I can easily see this becoming a reoccurring issue in the coming years. Let’s please figure out an indoor multi-purpose facility somewhere in the Valley so scheduling conflicts, weather concerns, field condition issues and other hurdles are put to rest once and for all.

I understand this is far easier said than done and won’t take place overnight but these players, at all levels, deserve it.

From DE to Liberty?

Hearing former long-time Desert Edge defensive coordinator Travis Guiney could land in the same position at Liberty. 

The Lions lost head coach Mark Smith a couple of weeks ago as he opted to return to his alma mater in Washington. One potential candidate to replace him could be long-time Liberty offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, Colin Thomas. 

It will certainly be an interesting off-season for the defending 6A champions.