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2016 Playoffs

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GAME OF NOV. 26, 2016:

(2) Chandler 36
(1) Mountain Pointe     17

(Game @ University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale)




GAME OF NOV. 26, 2016:

(5) Centennial 6
(2) Williams Field     14

(Game @ University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale)


Faith, Family, and Football

Core values strong for 2 West Valley players moving on to ACU

WEEKLY BLOG:  2/12/17

For football fans of teams above the high school level, it was a pretty dismal year in 2016.  The Arizona Cardinals had Super Bowl plans and they were waylayed in a 7-8-1 season.  In the Pac-12 Arizona (3-9) won the Territorial Cup against rival ASU (5-7), but both teams were kept home in December despite the multitude of college bowl games available.  Up north, NAU had a chance at a winning season, but lost by 27 points in its finale (at home) against Southern Utah to finish 5-6.

But, there was one team that finished with a winning record.  In just its third season, Arizona Christian went 7-3 and won the Central States Football League title for the second straight year.  Despite the conference championship, ACU was kept home from the 16-team NAIA playoffs.  It should be noted, though, that there are 86 schools that play NAIA football.

Arizona Christian is located in North Phoenix near Cave Creek and Cactus Roads.  The Firestorm play its home games down the street at Shadow Mountain HS.  At ACU, they have four pillars in the program:  Faith, Family, Education, and Football. 

Today, we take a look at two West Valley athletes and how their personal values in faith and family combined with their football abilities have led to an opportunity for an education at Arizona Christian University.

Simeon Rivera is a 6-2, 235-pound offensive tackle that played for Dysart High School.  He was a First Team All-4A Black Canyon Region selection by the coaches in the league.

Tyrese Cunningham is a 6-2, 195-pound free safety, punter and wide receiver that played for Raymond S. Kellis High School.  He was recruited by ACU as a wide receiver.  He tied for the 5A lead in the state with seven interceptions.

Both Rivera and Cunningham's teams enjoyed a lot of success in 2016.  Each team went 9-2 (and probably wasn't expected to do that well).  Also, Dysart and Kellis won region titles with perfect 5-0 marks.

Faith is defined as a strong belief in God, or the doctrines of a religion.  For many, it is the centerpiece and conscience of their lives.  Arizona Christian is the only Christian university in the state where the students declare that they are followers of Jesus Christ.  They agree to an Affirmation of Faith.

"Faith is so important to me, because without it, I'd have no hope," Rivera said in an e-mail interview.  "Not only do I know I have a home in heaven, but I also have a peace that passes all understanding."

Rivera said he placed his trust in Jesus Christ when he was eight years old to forgive him of his sins.  He is blessed to have a personal relationship with his Lord and Savior.

"Every day there are so many examples of hate, violence, bullying, and racism," Cunningham said in an e-mail interview.  "It's hard not to be overwhelmed by day-to-day living.  This is where my faith comes in and why it is so important."

Cunningham said his Grandma Bonnie taught him that believing in a God that forgives his sins and helps him treat his fellow man is important.  A strong faith can give one courage and hope while working to become a better person.

Both Rivera and Cunningham have strong family units with a mother, father, and siblings.  This is a blessing that both realize and that also has an impact on their lives.

"I can't thank my family enough for all the love and support they have provided for me," Rivera said.  "Especially my parents, I could not have gotten this far without my parents' help.  I thank God for them!"

Cunningham's father is a police officer that puts his life on the line every day as a public servant.  He has also coached his son on the football field since he was seven years old.

"Growing up where I was encouraged to work hard has helped me on and off the field," Cunningham said.  "I have learned from my parents to set goals and look to the future.  My Mom and Dad are truly my #1 fans."

Aside from the faith and family, there is the student-athlete aspect with Rivera and Cunningham.  Both have to set aside time for working hard at their craft.  For Rivera, that means going to Dysart as he is homeschooled.

"Not only have my teammates and coaches accepted me as family, but also the Dysart staff has as well," Rivera said.  "I have so much pride for DHS and I will forever be a part of that family.  Once a Demon, always a Demon."

Cunningham does attend Kellis, but had to work with head coach Shawn Copeland for some extra studying to improve his grades.  The willingness of Copeland to do this has helped Cunningham improve his focus as a student.

"Football has opened doors to my future, and I will be forever grateful to my Kellis teachers and coaches for helping me get there," Cunningham said.  "Coach Copeland preached to our team this year that 'If you're going to do something and not go 100% to do it, then do the world a favor and don't do it at all.'."

The combination of a strong faith and family helped Rivera and Cunningham develop on the field and the team's results show it.

Dysart averaged 39.3 points per game.  The Demons rushed for an average of 283 yards per contest and scored 40 touchdowns on the ground.  DHS was led by Pacey Prettyman, who scored 19 of those TDs.

Kellis improved from a 3-7 record in 2015.  Cunningham played on both sides of the ball averaging 19.8 yards per reception and scored four touchdowns.  Defensively, he had 47 tackles.

The concept of "family" certainly goes beyond those that are blood related, or live in the house with you.

"I wouldn't be half as successful of a football player if it wasn't for God, my family, my church family, my coaches, and my teammates, which are all still family," Rivera said.  "My life verse is Philippians 4:13 - I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me."

For Cunningham, it's that parental support from his #1 fans.

"My dad's dedication to coaching me, my mom's air horn and pom poms at every game, has made me more confident and motivated me to work harder on the field," Cunningham said.  "My faith is what has made me a better person and teammate."

Perhaps the toughest thing to do is to maintain that balance between the three F's.  Rivera and Cunningham place God first before football, and sometimes that can require some adjusting.

"I am a full-time usher and sometimes work security," Rivera, who attends church Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night with his family said.  "During football season, my coaches were kind enough to let me leave practice a little early on Wednesday nights so I could still make it to church."

"Football is demanding of time and energy, but having faith, a supportive family, and a passion for football makes it an easy balance at the end of the day," Cunningham said.  "Putting God first sets the stage for the rest."

With these values, it's no surprise that they both matched up well when they went on recruiting visits to ACU.  The college is not only committed to the students' educational advancements, but also to their spiritual formations as well.

"Arizona Christian University represents Faith, Family, and Football (in that order too) as the main aspects they want their student-athletes to grow in, which I love," Rivera, who also had an offer from Missouri Valley said.  "It was one of the deciding factors that I chose ACU."

Cunningham heard about the four pillars of ACU football in his visit with wide receiver coach Shawn Cooper.

"When I walked onto the campus of ACU, it felt very comfortable and I almost instantly knew that was where I was meant to be," Cunningham said.  "Football is a family and that is what makes the sport so special.  I knew then that I wanted to be part of their family."

While Gridiron Arizona congratulates these two student athletes for their efforts on and off the field which has led to this educational and playing opportunity next fall, it's important to impart some advice for future players that follow this path.  Fortunately, we have Rivera and Cunningham to do that as well.

"Just do your best, stay humble, and never give up," Rivera said.  "Whether it's with football, grades, or just life in general, do your best and let God do the rest!  If you're right with God, you'll be right with your family.  Then, you can start focusing on football!"

"Stay focused, humble, and balanced," Cunningham said.  "One thing can't take over your life.  You must always make time for faith, family, and education while still playing the game you love.  And takes your grades seriously.  Good grades will provide you opportunities that you never dreamed were possible."

Well said by both young men.  If the rest of Arizona Christian's 43 newly signed players (31 from Arizona and 22 straight out of in-state high schools) have these same ideals - and they probably do - then the Firestorm program will continue to be in good hands led by the coaching of Jeff Bowen.

PHOTO CAPTIONS: (TOP): Dysart offensive tackle Simeon Rivera (51) models a Firestorm jersey during his on-campus visit.  (ABOVE): Kellis wide receiver/free safety Tyrese Cunningham (13) in front of the locker matching his uniform number on his official visit.  Rivera and Cunningham's teams went a combined 18-4 last season and the pair looks to bring those winning ways to a strong Arizona Christian program that has won the past 2 CSFL titles.

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  School Section         Record Power Points Playoffs        
1. Mountain Pointe Central 13-1    23.1548 Championship Game
2. Chandler Premier 13-2    18.3323 STATE CHAMPS
3. Perry Premier 11-2    16.5586 Semifinals
4. Skyline East Valley 9-2    13.9604 First Round
5. Brophy Premier 8-4    12.8055 Quarterfinals
6. Hamilton Premier 7-5    11.4263 Quarterfinals
7. Mesa Mountain View East Valley 7-4    10.6341 First Round
8. Desert Ridge Central 8-4    10.4863 Quarterfinals
9. Westview Southwest 8-3      9.9066 First Round
10. Desert Vista Central 7-5      9.8184 Quarterfinals 
11. Tucson Southern 6-5      7.2087 First Round
12. Pinnacle Desert Valley 6-6      7.1250 First Round
13. Red Mountain East Valley 8-5      6.5276 Semifinals
14. Valley Vista Southwest 7-4      6.1075 First Round 
15. Basha Premier 3-8      3.7819 First Round
  Highland Central 3-7      3.5641  
  Corona del Sol Central 4-6       3.1098  
  Horizon Desert Valley 6-4      2.4988  
16. Cesar Chavez Metro 6-5      1.8672 First Round
  Boulder Creek Desert Valley 4-6      1.7984  
  Cibola Southern 6-4      1.7805  
  Millennium Southwest 4-6      1.3490  
  Desert Mountain Desert Valley 4-6      1.1421  
  Dobson East Valley 5-5      0.5503  
  Mesa East Valley 4-7   -  0.9293  
  Sunnyside Southern 4-6   -  1.3228  
  Mountain Ridge Desert Valley 3-7   -  1.8851  
  Tolleson Southwest 5-5   -  1.9436  
  La Joya Southwest 4-6   -  2.9091  
  Central Metro 6-4   -  4.0757  
  Alhambra Metro 6-4   -  4.4643  
  Gilbert Central 1-9   -  5.3678  
  O'Connor Desert Valley 1-9   -  5.6245  
  Kofa Southern 5-5   -  5.6826  
  North Metro 5-5   -  6.1890  
  Westwood East Valley 2-8   -  6.7406  
  Rincon Southern 3-7   -  7.8383  
  Copper Canyon Southwest 3-7   -  8.0550  
  Maryvale Metro 4-6   -  9.2338  
  Trevor Browne Metro 1-9   -17.2769  

The top team from each section based on section record is guaranteed one of the 16 playoff berths.  These 16 teams will be placed in a bracket according to the final power points.

The AIA works with Maxpreps in devising the power points formula.  The formula utilizes results from all games nationwide as opposed to only leveraging results from opponents and the opponents of opponents.  All teams start on a level playing field.  No values are given for division, enrollment, returning starters, previous record, etc. 


  School Section         Record Power Points Playoffs      
1. Cienega Southern 12-1    21.1641 Semifinals
2. Williams Field San Tan 14-0    18.3806 STATE CHAMPS
3. Ironwood Ridge Southern 9-3    13.6948 Quarterfinals
4. Desert Edge Desert West 10-2    13.0262 Quarterfinals
5. Centennial Northwest 12-2    12.9235 Championship Game
6. Queen Creek San Tan 10-3    12.9102 Semifinals
7. Marana Sonoran 9-3    11.1349 Quarterfinals
8. Marana Mountain View Southern 7-4      9.2635 First Round
9. Mesquite San Tan 8-4      8.7741 Quarterfinals 
x- Notre Dame Northeast Valley 8-2      8.6463  
10. Kellis Metro 9-2      8.2574 First Round
11. Desert View Sonoran 8-3      7.2707 First Round
12. Liberty Northwest 7-4      5.8718 First Round 
13. Verrado Desert West 7-4      5.6889 First Round 
14. Flowing Wells Sonoran 6-5      4.2088 First Round
  Sunnyslope Metro 7-3      4.1984  
  Campo Verde San Tan 7-3      4.0454  
  Deer Valley Desert West 6-4      3.7663  
15. Chaparral Northeast Valley 5-6      3.4287 First Round
16. Fairfax Union 8-3      1.8410 First Round
  Maricopa Metro 5-5      0.5103  
  Sahuaro Southern 3-7      0.3177  
  Apollo Metro 4-6   -  0.6394  
  North Canyon Northeast Valley 6-4   -  1.2943  
  Arcadia Northeast Valley 2-8   -  2.9097  
  Poston Butte Sonoran 4-6   -  3.2365  
  Shadow Ridge Northwest 2-8   -  3.3190  
  Willow Canyon Northwest 3-7   -  3.7983  
  Lake Havasu Desert West 4-6   -  4.2261  
  Vista Grande San Tan 2-8   -  4.8533  
  McClintock Metro 3-7   -  5.2503  
  Paradise Valley Northeast Valley 2-8   -  5.5881  
  Ironwood Metro 2-8   -  5.8001  
  Independence Union 4-6   -  7.6249  
  Cholla Sonoran 1-9   -  9.1833  
  Glendale Union 5-5   -  9.2587  
  Agua Fria Desert West 2-8   -  9.4001  
  Camelback Union 3-7   -12.3102  
  Carl Hayden Union 3-7   -12.3102  
  Buena Southern 0-10   -13.3795  
  Goldwater Desert West 1-9   -14.3591  
  South Mountain Union 1-10   -17.4770  
  Sierra Linda Northwest 0-10   -19.4251  

x- Notre Dame Prep is on probation for holding padded practices out of season and is ineligible for the 2016 playoffs.

The top team from each section based on section record is guaranteed one of the 16 playoff berths.  These 16 teams will be placed in a bracket according to the final power points.  With Notre Dame Prep ruled ineligible, the 2nd place team from the Northeast Valley Region was an automatic qualifier.

The AIA works with Maxpreps in devising the power points formula.  The formula utilizes results from all games nationwide as opposed to only leveraging results from opponents and the opponents of opponents.  All teams start on a level playing field.  No values are given for division, enrollment, returning starters, previous record, etc.