Your Source for 6A & 5A High School Football Scores, Schedules, and Power Points

West Valley teams display skills

Newcomer Walker leads Centennial to passing league victory

WEEKLY BLOG:  6/3/18

If the calendar has turned to June, that means LeBron James is playing in the NBA Finals, the mercury is climbing into triple digits, and Arizona high school teams are working on their crafts through 7-on-7 passing tournaments and big man challenges.

When the AIA approved coaches to work with their teams year-round last November, it was thought that winter and springtime competitions would soon follow.  While that hasn't materialized (yet), the four-week stretch from Memorial Day weekend into late-June continues to feature multiple-school competitions.  Arizona State is hosting four of them (with 16 teams) over an eight-day span.

On Saturday, I ventured out to Pioneer Park in Peoria for the ninth annual Universal Athletic West Side competition.  A total of 30 teams were represented with 26 of them residing in the West Valley.  Tolleson HS ran the event, which was in its second year at this location.

For those that may not be familiar, 7-on-7 features a quarterback, a center (who only tosses the ball and is not eligible), and five receivers.  Defensively, there is no pass rush and teams can use any combination of linebackers and defensive backs.  Games were played with a 20-minute running clock (no time outs) and drives began at the 40-yard line.  Teams had three downs to reach the 20 and four downs after that to score.  Touchdowns were worth seven and the defense could pick up three points (and possession of the ball) with an interception.  Runs, reverses, and double passes are not part of the play calling.

Helmets and pads are still disallowed until the end of July when schools begin their last stretch of training before the season.  Because of this, tackling is not allowed.  It's simply one-hand touch.  Many schools use soft-shell helmets to help limit injuries.  To simulate a pass rush, quarterbacks had four seconds to get a pass off, otherwise they were considered "sacked" and it was a loss of down.  There's very little huddling and plays are called rapidly.  Defenders were allowed to jam receivers at the line of scrimmage.  To assist in the calling of plays, each team had three or four coaches behind the line of scrimmage to give verbiage for what play they wanted.  In addition to the coaches, some teams had reserve players behind the line of scrimmage to make quick substitutions.

Of the 30 schools in the passing competition, 19 were from the 6A or 5A conferences.  They were placed in pools of five teams each giving each of them four round-robin games.  The big man competition is for the linemen and they competed in six different events (tire flip, farmer's carry, tire stack, overhand pull, tire pull, and an obstacle course).  Teams received points for ranking in the top five of each discipline.

With 12 games going on simultaneously and the six big man events, a lot is happening and it's impossible to see everything.  Let's take a spin around at what I saw.

We'll start under sunny skies and 103 degrees at 3 p.m. with the tournament hosts from Tolleson Union.  Jason Wilke is in his seventh year as the head coach of the Wolverines, who finished 5-5 last year.  Tolleson has experience at the skill positions with quarterback Patrick Ortega and receiver Andre Johnson.  Johnson, who is 6-4, 195 pounds, and can run a sub-4.6 also plays in the Wolverines' secondary.  The day started with a win over Willow Canyon for TUHS.

"We've got a pretty good group coming back," Wilke said.  "We've got a quarterback that's a three-year starter.  We're trying to leave here today better than when we walked in."

Ortega increased his output as a junior with 1,600 yards and 15 touchdown passes last season.  Johnson averaged nearly 20 yards per catch, also played special teams, and scored seven TDs.  He recently received his first offer from Bemidji State in Minnesota.  The Wolverines are in the 6A Southwest Region.

Sunrise Mountain is making the move up to 5A in 2018.  It's the first time the Mustangs will be in the second-largest conference since 2008.  Last year, SMHS went 11-2 and played in the 4A semifinals.  Winning in the fall is something Sunrise has become accustomed to.  The Mustangs have posted nine or more wins in each of the last four years.  They picked up a 21-7 victory over Shadow Ridge during pool play.

"This is big for us," Sunrise Mountain head coach Steve Decker said.  "We've got a lot of young guys.  Our spring was really good."

Sunrise Mountain welcomes back Keegan Freid, who passed for nearly 3,000 yards last season.  Critical for the team is finding a replacement (or replacements) for wide receiver Angel Ruiz (1,500 yards & 24 TDs), who is walking on at Arizona State.  Nathan Duran and Jay Anderson appear to be two of the candidates with a few young guys battling throughout the offseason for playing time in the fall.  Passing league is something that helps coaches evaluate that process.  The Mustangs will be in the Northwest Region.

Liberty was the defending champions of this event and the Lions moved to 3-0 in pool play with a 31-14 win over Deer Valley.  Like Sunrise Mountain, the Lions are making the move up a level.  Liberty will be in the 6A Desert Valley Region.  Last year, LHS finished 11-2 and battled eventual state champion Centennial to the end in a 42-37 semifinal defeat.  With the history Liberty has in past 7-on-7 success, the goal was to win, but also remember where they're at in the year.

"The summer is about growing as a football team," Liberty head coach Mark Smith said.  "Toughness, discipline, leadership, composure, commitment.  It's also important to develop camaraderie among the unit."

With big numbers (72 on the varsity roster last year), Liberty has the luxury of two-platooning and not having players go both ways.  The Lions played two quarterbacks during the day - junior Jonah Guevara and sophomore Brock Mast.  The offense returns just one player in running back Jett Kinsch (559 yards in eight games).  There are many talented defensive linemen in 6A and Smith wants to have two quarterbacks ready to play.

After those three games, I took a trip across the park to the field where the big man competition was going on.  In the farmer's carry, each member moved a hex bar with 225 pounds on it.  The stack event featured players carrying six tires up and then back down a hill placing them in a box at each stop.  The overhand pull and tire pull tested different points of strength.  The overhand was pulling a firehose with 90 pounds on a sled on it while the tire pull had the linemen running with a harness and dragging a tire 30 yards.

I watched a few schools do the overhand pull.  It involved teamwork as one member pulled, another cleared the hose away, and a third turned the sled around so the hose could be taken to the opposite side for the next puller.  The score was the total time of all 10 pullers.

"We grew up in every event," South Mountain offensive line coach Terrance Kennedy said.  "We handled adversity really well."

The Jaguars showed leadership after the coaches talked to the group by the returning players acknowledging the new guys that came to help out for this challenge.  It's all part of the "Change the Culture" mantra for South Mountain.  Winning helps, and the Jaguars did that last season going from a record of 4-57 from 2011-2016 to a 5-5 mark in 2017.  South plays in the 5A Union Region.

"It's been amazing," defensive tackle Desani Whitt said of the competitions this year.  "We came together and it's an unbreakable bond."

After that, it was back to the main 7-on-7 fields for the last of the four games of pool play for Fairfax and Moon Valley.  Fairfax won the 5A Union last season with a perfect 5-0 record in league play (7-4 overall).  In this one, FHS showed it's not all about the offense as the Stampede posted a 17-0 shutout to finish second in its group.

"We try to be about defense," Fairfax head coach Dylan Winemiller said.  "That's where our best athletes are.  There's a different enthusiasm with this group.  They're sticking together and working hard."

Fairfax is led by running back Anthodius Ashley, who rushed for 1,300 yards and 23 touchdowns.  While he didn't see a lot of catches last year, it's still important to get their main offensive threat the ball in passing competitions.  The Stampede will travel further for their next two tournaments, heading north to NAU and west to San Diego State later this month.

After a brief break to tally scores, the results were in from the big man competition.  The top four scores moved on to a single-elimination tug of war contest.  Those were Desert Edge, Centennial, Odyssey, and Shadow Ridge.  Odyssey Institute is a charter school located in Buckeye that competes in the 3A Metro West with an enrollment of less than 500.  The Minotaurs are coming off their first winning season (6-4) in the four-year history of the school.

Centennial made quick work in the finals with wins over Odyssey (semifinals) and Desert Edge (finals) to claim the competition victory.  It's no secret that the Coyotes have been led for a long time with the guys in the trenches, or "big beauties" as head coach Richard Taylor refers to them.

One of those that has overseen that consistency is Hal Borhauer, who has volunteered as a defensive line coach for the past 27 years.  He said he was particularly impressed by both Fairfax and South Mountain in the big man.  In evaluating the events, Borhauer came up with one that translates best to Friday nights.

"The tire flip," Borhauer said.  "Getting off and exploding up is like a squat or a power clean."

The linemen get together on Tuesday and Thursday evenings in the offseason to go through plays.  When on the field, they work on technique.  It's a recipe of proven success as the Coyotes have finished with double-digit wins in each of the past 15 seasons.  No other school in the state at any level has an active streak of more than six.

The thinking may go that there are things schools work on in practice that can then translate to these big man competitions, but Centennial center Carson Keltner said it's actually the other way around.

"We're trying to apply these kind of skills to our practice," Keltner, who has an offer from Air Force, said.  "Friday nights is about using your hips.  When you're flipping that tire, you need to use your hips.  That's why we were so nasty.  Our coaches know how to apply the real game to these kinds of things."

Keltner said the tire flip was his favorite event and the obstacle course was the toughest.  He also added that while some may think the defending champs are rebuilding, "Watch out for Centennial this year!".

With the tug of war completed, the single-elimination bracket format was posted (more on that later) and play continued in the 7-on-7 tournament.  One of the things I enjoy about tournaments like this is being able to see 4A schools that I hear about, but don't normally cover.  I took in a few during the knockout round that had some success.

In the first round, Dysart met Alhambra.  Dysart, a member of the 4A Black Canyon Region, is coming off a 4-6 season under head coach John Ganados.  His son, Kobe, was a starter for the Demons in both his sophomore and junior years.  In that time, he's thrown 27 touchdown passes.  Dysart earned the right to play another game with a win over Alhambra.  Unlike some teams that come up with special plays that can only be used in 7-on-7, Dysart uses ones they will actually run during the season.

"They've been competing," John Ganados said.  "We're young.  It took a while for them to figure out the process.  (Kobe) got stronger and smarter this offseason."

Next it was time to check in on Arcadia.  The Titans were 0-10 last year in 5A and scored just 27 points all season.  Kerry Taylor is the new head coach and his change of the culture has been making headlines this offseason.  Arcadia advanced to the round of 16 with a physical win over Ironwood.  While nobody expects another 0-10 season for Arcadia in the 4A Desert Sky Region, it's important to be patient with the Titans' turnaround.  This team is young with a lot of sophomores and juniors in the lineup.  Nonetheless, the excitement is there for AHS complete with Taylor encouraging his sideline after a great play his team (and they definitely responded with passion).

"It's a mental challenge for us," Taylor said.  "If we can stay sharp mentally, we'll be fine.  We compete in everything we do.  It doesn't matter if it's practice, class, the parking lot, we're competing at something."

In the round of 16, I watched Centennial take on Mountain Ridge.  I didn't know it at the time, but it would be the first of three viewings of the Coyotes in this tournament.  Despite playing without a couple of starters in the secondary, Jeiel Stark and Kieran Clark, CeHS scored a decisive victory over the Mountain Lions.

"The kids have worked hard and they're excited to be here," Richard Taylor said.  "Our kids know there's always competition.  They're in the weight room and their running."

The Coyotes are still in the 5A Northwest Region and while they lose Liberty, they gain Sunrise Mountain.  Taylor said the goal of the linemen on Saturday was to win while the skill position players were just trying to do the best they could.

"Not a whole lot," Taylor said when asked how much emphasis the Coyotes put on the passing competition.  "It's a glorified practice against somebody else.  They're going to try a little harder."

Cactus was the highest-finishing 4A team.  The Cobras advanced to the semifinals with a close win over Westview.  New head coach Joseph Ortiz has been working at narrowing the divide among the community that was upset when longtime head coach Larry Fetkenhier was unceremoniously let go back in December.  The booster club resigned and has been restarted from scratch.  Having success on the field and making a long run in an event like Saturday can have an effect on bridging the gap.

"This group is very scrappy and disciplined," Ortiz said.  "They go hard and they're never out of it."

Cactus finished 9-3 last season and plays in the 4A West Valley Region.  Ortiz has brought the offensive philosophy they had at Higley, where he was the offensive coordinator.  Higley averaged 54 points per game last season.  Practices at Cactus are very upbeat and fast.  The practices aren't as long as they are at other schools and the team has music in the background.  Junior Conner Cordts takes over at quarterback and the team has a potential breakout star at receiver in Zaach Cullop.  This was the third day of competition in as many days for CHS.  The team had league play (non-tournament) at Liberty on Thursday and also competed in the first ASU event on Friday.

For the semifinals, I took a position behind the north end zone with a couple longtime Centennial fans.  They tipped me off about Tawee Walker, a 5-10, 195-pound senior that just transferred to CeHS (a week ago) from Mojave HS in North Las Vegas.  Last season, Walker rushed for 1,554 yards and 18 touchdowns.  He also played safety and made 63 tackles.  For a team that just graduated Zidane Thomas (who signed with San Diego State), it's just what the doctor ordered.  The Coyotes were pushed to the limit by Millennium with teams matching each other score for score.  When the horn sounded signifying one more play, the score was tied and Centennial had one last shot.  Jonathan Morris hooked up with fellow junior Dyelan Miller for the touchdown to send the Coyotes to the final.

Awaiting Centennial on the other side of the bracket was Liberty.  The teams have faced one another seven times in the past four seasons (but won't in 2018) with four of those being decided by less than six points.  The Coyotes are 5-2 in those matchups.  Both teams showed up to the event in red jerseys, so Centennial went 'Skins for the championship match.

Liberty jumped out to an early 7-0 lead, but Walker soon took over.  He caught two TD passes and intercepted two more accounting for 20 of the points in the 34-21 victory for the Coyotes.  In addition to Walker, junior Eric Haney was a standout performer on both sides of the ball.

"It's been great working with these guys," Walker said.  "Since I came to Centennial, they've had me working way harder than I've ever worked in the weight room in this week I've been here."

If you looked at recent 11-on-11 history, you may think it was automatic that Centennial would win the passing tournament.  But, that's not always the case.  Despite some good showings, Saturday was the first passing tournament victory for the Coyotes in six years.  While there are many that will tell you 7-on-7 isn't "real football".  There are areas where similarities can occur.

"For DBs and receivers it's realistic," Walker said.  "The difference is the receivers aren't as scared to catch the ball (in 7-on-7) because we're not supposed to hit them."

There were several things that I liked throughout the day.  First, with the 30 teams being broken into six groups, it gave each one four games in five time slots with a bye thrown in there to rehydrate.  There were ample fields with six total ones being used.  That allowed for each group to have their own field (north and south) for pool play saving time for teams (and fans) to have to get up and move.  One of the fields was isolated and away from the others, but the teams in that group were only playing one another during pool play.  Come the tournament, the fields adjoining one another were used.  The saving of time allowed the event to be run on a tight schedule with five minutes in between games (10 during the bracket portion).  I've seen some of these events that will fall hopelessly behind and end more than an hour after it was scheduled.

Another good thing was moving the tug of war competition to the main fields.  Many times the big man events are overshadowed by 7-on-7.  With bracket play not yet started, it gave a large amount of people the benefit to watch the finals of the lineman competition.  I also liked not inviting every team into the tug of war.  It made the regular season, or in this case, the events, matter.  Only the top four moved on, so you didn't have some school that finished 11th all day long sneak up and win the whole thing because they are good at tug of war.

The bracket process didn't take long to calculate because they didn't have to rank all of the teams from 1-30.  Instead, it was similar to the World Cup soccer knockout round where each team was slotted based on their finish in the group (for example A1 was the first place team in its group).  Each group was ranked from 1-5 and then placed in the bracket.  Speaking of the bracket, eight teams were awarded double byes and ten more had single byes.  The benefit of this was the fourth and fifth place teams in the groups faced one another in the first round.  That led to more competitive matchups.  If a team is ranked 30th after pool play, do they really need to get pummeled by the third-ranked team?  Instead, schools that finished 1-3 and 0-4 faced each other for the right to move on.

Several coaches commented on social media that their teams had pleasant experiences at the event, which is a wonderful showcase for the West Valley, which doesn't often get as much coverage as the big-name schools in Scottsdale and the East Valley (I didn't see any other media there).

That said, I do have a couple suggestions to further improve the event.

First and foremost, I think there should be referees for the 7-on-7 games.  This wasn't a problem with the big man because I saw what looked like Tolleson coaches or boosters scoring and timing the events.  In the games, you have two teams competing and coaches were left to make the calls like calling your own fouls in basketball in the schoolyard.  The problem with this is you have multiple coaches for each team along with coaches and players getting caught up in the excitement of the moment.  You may not agree with a referee's call, whether it is on a Friday night in October or a Saturday afternoon in June, but everyone is of the understanding that the call stands.  Another issue with the lack of referees is from a safety standpoint.  In the Arcadia/Ironwood game, I nearly witnessed two sideline brawls.  This was due to physical play with pass interferences not being called, hard shoves out of bounds being allowed and basically, players getting away with whatever they can do.  In any sporting event, players will push the envelope as far as they can, whether it be offensive linemen holding, or basketball players using the body on defense.  Once the referee makes a call, the boundaries have been set.  Even in the championship game between rivals Centennial and Liberty, two opposing assistant coaches went face to face arguing a call (no physical contact).  If you are inviting three schools to come to your place for some friendly 7-on-7 on a Tuesday night, I think it's fine for coaches to make the calls.  When you are staging a big 30-team event like this (and charging them $250 to participate), I think throwing in referees should be a part of the cost.  I attended the 7-on-7 tournament put on by Arizona Christian in 2017 and they had their coaches serving as the officials and I never saw any problems.

Secondly, for an event taking place from 2 p.m. (when players arrived) to just after 9 p.m. (when the championship ended), I would like to see the concessions expanded.  A snack bar is nice with kettle corn, nachos, chips, candy, and drinks.  But, when you have parents and families there, some burgers, dogs, chicken sandwiches, or a food truck would help satisfy those watchers more.  This is not a personal gripe (I brought my own sack dinner, cooler, extra water, and Gatorade).  Plus, you could conceivable kill two birds with one stone by expanding the concessions and using that extra money to pay referees.  Just my two cents.

In the end, nobody will remember who won or lost on any given passing league Saturday.  When asking coaches in between games what their goal was for being there, the very consistent answer was to "compete and get better".  In a world where young men are consumed by social media on their phones or playing Fortnite, it was great to see so many dedicated athletes working to improve in a sport that they enjoy playing whether it's throwing touchdowns, breaking up passes, flipping tires, or making amazing catches.

But there is still time to keep at it.  The season (real football) begins in less than 75 days.

PHOTO CAPTION:  (TOP) Centennial safety Tawee Walker runs back to join his team after making a play during the championship game of the Universal Athletic West Side passing tournament on Saturday night in Peoria.  Walker, who just moved to Peoria from Nevada, scored two touchdowns and made two interceptions as the Coyotes defeated Liberty, 34-21.  Walker rushed for 1,554 yards and 18 TDs for Las Vegas' Mojave HS as a junior in 2017 and is expected to play running back for CeHS. (BOTTOM) Centennial's linemen pose for a photo after winning the tug of war over Desert Edge to take the Big Man competition.  Last year, the Coyotes averaged 232 rushing yards per game and sacked the quarterback 29 times while taking the 5A state title.

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Goldwater - Making progress after reset

Bulldogs start 2018 with Silver Bracket win in Scottsdale

WEEKLY BLOG:  5/27/18

Much gets written about the elite teams that snatch championship trophies and send players to Division I colleges.  But for every Chandler, Saguaro, and Centennial, there are teams on the opposite end of the spectrum. Ones like the Barry Goldwater Bulldogs.

The Deer Valley District school in North Phoenix has been playing varsity football for 31 seasons and finished with a record on the plus-side of the ledger just three times.  Playoff games, a virtual given at many schools, have been rewards for Goldwater just four times with the last one coming in 2007.  If you ask even those that consider themselves knowledgeable about Arizona high school football the last article they read about BGHS, the likely answer is the one from 2014 when two former students stole a truck and drove it onto the football field damaging a fence, bleachers, and both goal posts.

The program bottomed out in 2015 and '16 winning going just 1-19 in that span.

But today, we're not here to talk about the past.  It's just important to know where Goldwater has been while they are on the march forward.

The transformation actually began in December of 2016 when Doug Provenzano was hired as the Bulldogs' new head coach.  In 2015, Provenzano led Paradise Honors to an 8-3 record, the best in the Panthers' brief history at that time.  Taking on the job at Goldwater was a tough challenge.

"The returning players didn't have any confidence and pretty much accepted the fact that we were not a very good football program and never will be," Provenzano said in an e-mail interview.  "I made many adjustments and I spent countless hours investing all of my time and love into them."

Those of you familiar with high school sports programs, or booster clubs, know that money is required to provide the students with tools necessary to reach goals.  Think your booster club is in trouble?  Goldwater had $44 in its football account the day Provenzano signed on.

So, the changes (and fundraising) began.  New helmets.  New uniforms.  New shoulder pads.  New equipment.  A new training regiment.

Many a new coach has tried to take on a struggling program and sought to bring about a new culture.  Sometimes it works and quite often it doesn't.  At Goldwater, the scoreboard is also revealing that change.

On the field in 2017, the Bulldogs won five games (a 52-19 season-opening victory over North Canyon was later forfeited due to an ineligible player).  Other wins (not forfeited) came against Poston Butte, Sierra Linda, Lake Havasu, and Agua Fria.

How did they do it?  By pounding the rock and bringing back an offense that originated in the 1950s.

"I love to run the football," Provenzano said.  "I am a Wing T guy and always will be.  The Wing T is an engine.  It's a machine and there's not many coaches out there that completely understand it, so therefore, they don't know how to teach it when it's come to the roots of the offensive core."

Goldwater ranked fifth in all of 5A (43 teams) in rushing, averaging 254 yards per game.  In a 63-34 victory over Agua Fria, the Bulldogs tallied 434 yards on the ground and scored seven touchdowns.

The team loses senior Ben Smith, a 1,000-yard rusher, but has a youngster ready in the wings that got his feet wet with 41 varsity carries as a freshman.  Earnest Greenwood averaged 6.3 yards in those attempts and scored three TDs.  His head coach is very high on his prospects.

"Earnest is a very, very special player and will be a Division I recruit by the end of this year or next year," Provenzano said.  "He can move like a baby Marshall Faulk and as a ninth grader, was the fastest and most shifty back I've seen in 15 years."

If you think Goldwater is solely going to run it this year, you'd be mistaken because there is a new quarterback on the roster as well.

Jordan Gourley, who is 6-3 and 170 pounds, started for Paradise Honors in 2016 as a sophomore and had 11 touchdown passes for a Panther team that finished 10-2.  Right before the start of the 2017 season, the interim head coach at PHHS told Gourley's father, who was an assistant on the coaching staff, that he was going to bring in a new offensive coordinator.  Gourley's father resigned and opted to transfer his son out of the program.

As a result of the late transfer, Gourley missed his junior year.  So far, he has an NAIA offer from Benedictine College in Kansas.  Provenzano is planning to run some spread this year to take advantage of Gourley's talents.  Success with that should lead to more offers.

"Jordan is one of the top 10 quarterbacks in the state and should be receiving a D-I offer here very soon," Provenzano said.  "He just has to work that much harder, because not playing your junior year hurts."

The numbers in the program this spring were encouraging.  A total of 78 players were out for the Bulldogs with 45 of them freshmen (sophomores in the 2018 season).

The Goldwater defense lost a lot of seniors, including the top three tacklers.  One of the replacements in the secondary is Rascheed Sterling, a cornerback that had to sit last year after transferring.  He is being recruited by Northern Arizona, Fresno State, and Sacramento State.  Provenzano said he is a tough hitter.  A few sophomores in 2018 that started for the freshman team are linebacker Matthew Phillips, cornerback David Valdez, and safety DeAndre Robinson.  All are expected to make the jump to varsity contributors this year.

As you can see, there is a lot of youth in the program, so change is not likely overnight.  The 2018 roster has just 10 seniors and 15 juniors.  The rest will be comprised by sophomores, making the Bulldogs arguably the youngest team in the state.

"When I got hired, I never talked about winning a state title," Provenzano said.  "I talked about turning them into competitors earning respect as a football program and working extremely hard."

That hard work in spring ball showed in the first 7-on-7 tournament of the summer on Saturday in Scottsdale.  Goldwater likely had the toughest draw in the 36-team field matching up in pool play with Cactus, Pinnacle, and Desert Mountain.  As you can imagine, that was a difficult challenge and the Bulldogs were seeded 30th when bracket play began.  However, one of the benefits of the GBAC Nike 7-on-7 tournament is the creation of two brackets.  A "Gold" single-elimination tourney took place with seeds 1-20 while a "Silver" bracket housed numbers 21-36.

After facing quarterbacks committed to Oklahoma (Spencer Rattler) and USC (Kedon Slovis) in pool play, the tested Bulldog defenders (and their passing offense) didn't give up and reeled off victories over Maricopa, Millennium, Gilbert, and Mountain Ridge to take consolation honors.

Yes, the game is different when linemen are used and the pads come on, but for a team with a lot of sophomores that is in the process of introducing a new aerial attack, the progress is significant.  Passing league is beneficial for route running, timing with quarterbacks/receivers, and coverage skills for defenders.

Plus, it's another step along the way for a football team that has already come so far.

"Building a program someday into a powerhouse takes time and is not done overnight," Provenzano said.  "It is a slow-cooking process, like Grandmas cooking those holiday meals in the kitchen.  It's the doing a lot of little great things."

Goldwater will open its season on Aug. 24 at home against Kellis.

PHOTO CAPTION:  The clock ticks down to the start of a night of football at Goldwater High School.  The school, located just west of the I-17 and slightly north of the 101, opened in 1986.  Of course, it is named after longtime Arizona senator and 1964 presidential candidate Barry Goldwater.  BGHS offers the International Baccalauerate program and its sports teams, known as the Bulldogs, compete in the 5A Desert West Region along with Millennium, Independence, Willow Canyon, Verrado, and Agua Fria.

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O'Connor pushing for playoff return

Defensive end Trice leads charge for improved defense

WEEKLY BLOG:  5/18/18

With three weeks of spring football completed, Sandra Day O'Connor head coach Steve Casey reminded his team of the one important item left to accomplish this school year - doing well on final exams next Wednesday and Thursday.

On Friday night in North Phoenix, the Eagles conducted their Spring Game with a 40-yard field on one side of the stadium hosting a 7-on-7 game between O'Connor's skill players, divided up into two teams by the coaches.  Simultaneously, in the south end zone, a big man challenge was held, where coaches split the linemen into three different groups.

"We've had a great spring," head coach Steve Casey said.  "The big thing (for tonight) was getting competition and letting them have some fun."

The teams were drafted by the coaching staff and were distributed very evenly.  The big man event was tied after an array of competitions (40-yard dash, tire flip, sled pull, sled push, farmer's carry, obstacle course, and suicide runs) between two of the three teams.  They settled it in a final tug of war battle.  The 7-on-7 event was played with two 25-minute halves and the Blue team holding a 21-14 lead at the break.  The White squad rallied to take the contest 36-31 by intercepting a pass on the final play of the game.

It was a spirited battle and Casey let the players know that while they may have been on opposite sides on this night, from here on out, they will compete as one unit that needs to do everything it can to get ready for a road trip to Mesa High on August 17 (less than three months away).

"We're excited about the progress we've had in the offseason," Casey said.  "Now, let's see if it turns to fruition on Friday nights."

The Eagles (3-7 last season) return quarterback Ethan Moller, who passed for 2,031 yards and 19 touchdowns in his first year as a starter.  That total ranks second in SDOHS history behind Bailin Markridge's 2,327-yard season in 2014.  Moller will operate a spread offense (both 2x2 and 3x1) that is not a hurry-up, but a no-huddle with players getting the signals from the sidelines.

"He's a great leader," Casey said.  "He commands respect from his teammates."

Last season, Moller was forced to throw 30 times per game because the rushing game (77 yards per game) was practically non-existent.  No Eagle player rushed for over 350 yards last season.  Casey said they abandoned the run last year because the offensive line struggled to block people.

That inexperience throughout the team showed last season as 10 sophomores started games.  The good news is they are now juniors that have a year under their belts.

A couple of targets return for Moller (who is 6-3, and 205 pounds) this year.  Tyler Bergstrom, who will be a senior, combined with junior-to-be Damian Ortiz to catch eight touchdowns.  Bergstrom also plays free safety on defense and returns kickoffs (30-yard average).

While it's difficult to evaluate the running game during spring ball (no pads), the coaching staff has used this time to set the tone for how they want practices to be run.  Casey also said the coaches do have an idea of where the pecking order is for the depth chart.

It's on the defensive side that O'Connor will have to improve the most to have a successful year in 2018.  The Eagles lost by just three points to Desert Mountain last season.  However, that was the only close loss as its other six defeats all came by more than four touchdowns.  The D gave up 38.5 points per game.

Most of the attention from the carousel of college coaches that made their way up I-17 to Happy Valley Road was to personally take in defensive end Bralen Trice.  The defensive end, who looks every bit of his 6-4 and 225-pound measurements, had a breakthrough season last year with 75 tackles, 14.5 sacks, and five fumble recoveries.  He was named the 6A Desert Valley Region Defensive Player of the Year.

In watching him during the lineman competition, he showed leadership by encouraging his teammates on the Black-shirted squad and following right along behind them as they carried their weights.

"It was fun getting together as a team and going through the drills," Trice said.  "Great teamwork and leadership from everybody."

Within his own game, Trice said he has improved with the mental part and the ability to read more of the play about to develop.  He has offers from nine of the schools in the Pac-12 Conference and also TCU, Illinois, Notre Dame, and Alabama.  Trice has taken several unofficial visits to some Pac-12 colleges and will be deciding this week where he will be taking his five official visits.

Joining Trice on the D-line are Zachery Cardenas and his twin brother Andrew.  Zach plays nose guard and has bumped his weight up to 240.  He recently bench pressed 405 pounds.  Andrew (6-4, 210) will play the other defensive end position.  There is more depth here than in the past.

At linebacker, Dominic Alvarado, who will be a senior this season, led the Eagles in tackles with 78 and also had four sacks.

The secondary includes Noah Suddock, who intercepted three passes in his four games last season and Ethan Ososkie.  Casey raved about the on-field intelligence of Ososkie.

"He's very smart with his football IQ," Casey said.  "His dad is a coach.  He makes sure everyone lines up correctly."

O'Connor will be competing in 7-on-7 tournaments in June at Arizona State (6/6) and at Northern Arizona (6/16).  Moller sees those events as a chance to let others know this isn't the Eagle team that has gone 4-16 over the past two seasons.

"I look forward to showing people what our team is," Moller said.  "It's a new team.  I think we'll surprise a lot of teams."

The signal caller said the keys are having better leadership throughout the team and leading by their play, not their talk.

The Desert Valley Region lost Desert Mountain and Horizon for this block, but it doesn't get easier as Liberty and Chaparral have joined.  For O'Connor to make the playoffs, it will likely take a 6-4 record (5-5 will put the Eagles on the bubble).  In navigating a path for that, the first two games are critical.  Both are on the road in the East Valley, but they come against Mesa (4-7) and Basha (2-8).  Mesa is still trying to find it's path (like SDO) as the last playoff season for both teams was in 2015 (Mesa defeated the Eagles in a first-round game).  Basha is rebuilding with a new coaching staff.  The first home game is a unique one as it comes against James Campbell HS in Hawaii.  The Sabers will arrive on Wednesday of that week and the players and their families will have a team dinner with their visitors from the Islands on Thursday.  The first half concludes with Perry and Boulder Creek.  Getting off to a good start in those first three games could swing momentum.  The bye comes exactly after five games and there is one non-region game in the second half as Tucson travels to O'Connor.  The Week 10 game is the traditional rivalry with Mountain Ridge, which the Eagles have won in three of the past four years (and by a final of 61-22 last October).

"We want to start off and beat Mesa," Casey said.  "When region comes, hopefully we'll be jelling and we'll do a lot better than we did last year."

When the night was over, O'Connor's players accomplished something they weren't able to do in 2017.  They beat their dads in a final tug of war.

PHOTO CAPTION:  (TOP) O'Connor defensive end Bralen Trice takes his turn on the push sled during Friday's Spring Game.  Trice's black-shirted squad won the decisive tug of war to take the three-way competition.  Trice has offers from nine Pac-12 schools and also from TCU, Illinois, Notre Dame, and Alabama. (BOTTOM) O'Connor defensive back DeAndre Fountain intercepts a pass on the last play of the game as his teammates on the White team erupt.  The pick in the end zone preserved a 36-31 victory for the White team over the Blue.  It was one of five interceptions for the White team.

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Willow Canyon seeks winning mentality

Hickson & Wildcats D-Line ready for breakthrough

WEEKLY BLOG:  5/6/18

Coming off a 4-6 season that ended in humbling fashion with losses to Liberty and Centennial by a combined 108-6 score, the Willow Canyon Wildcats are ready to move past that and into the 2018 season.

For starters, Willow Canyon was moved in the new realignment from the Northwest Region into the Desert West, where no Peoria powerhouse schools reside.

The Wildcats also have a new head coach as Joe Martinez resigned after the season to further his collegiate education. 

For his replacement, WCHS quickly chose a coach close to the program and tapped Justin Stangler.  Stangler has been with the Wildcats for most of the past decade.  He also has coaching experience at Cactus (his alma mater) and Mesa Community College.

"It has been very smooth," Stangler said in an e-mail interview.  "Kids are working hard in the weight room and competing on the field."

Some of that competition on the field will finally begin on Monday when the Wildcats begin Spring Practice.  The recent teacher walkout delayed the start of it by a week.  Willow Canyon will go each afternoon (five days a week) for the next two weeks before final exams.  There is a lot to accomplish in a short time.

"We are going to be fine tuning our new offense and get ready for summer passing leagues," Stangler said.

The Wildcat offense returns Brendan "Bear" Haynes, who played in eight games last season.  However, there's no guarantee that he will retain the position.

"We are installing a new offense and everyone is competing for a starting job on both sides of the ball," Stangler said.  "We have several kids competing for our QB position, a 'problem' we haven't had in the past.  We are excited about the kids competing and the way they have been encouraging each other."

Haynes completed 56 percent of his passes for 995 yards and eight touchdowns.  Leading rusher Dominic Cardoza is a senior and will have to be replaced, which could turn the Wildcats into more of a passing team.  Among returning players from last year's team, Bryan Puiu had the most yards (167).

Zack Enhelder is Willow Canyon's best prospect.  The 6-3, 235-pound tight end holds an offer from Army and enters his third year on varsity.  Enhelder was one of the captains last season and has an insatiable appetite in the weight room.  Another pass catcher to watch for is wide receiver Martell Dorsett, who saw limited action on offense while also playing cornerback.  Dorsett will also likely have duties in the return game for punts and kickoffs.  He averaged 27 yards on 12 kickoff returns.

The Wildcats' strength seems to be on the defensive line where Jason Hickson returns after making First Team All-5A Northwest Region last season.  While Hickson stops the run and comes through the middle to get to the quarterback (six sacks), ends Brody Tardy and Jalen Schaefer played in most of the games last season.

All told, WCHS sacked the QB 30 times last year.  Some of those came from the linebacker spot where Devin Leon (5.5 sacks) plays.  He is joined there with Kody Harris, who made 33 tackles.  That total tops returning players as the leading four tacklers were seniors last season.

Forcing turnovers in the secondary will be important.  Last season, Willow Canyon intercepted just four passes.

It will be a busy 7-on-7 and big man season for the Wildcats.  The team will take part in passing competitions at Central (5/26), Peoria for the Universal Athletic (6/2), Arizona State (6/6), and Northern Arizona (6/9).  In addition, the lineman will battle in challenges at Central, the Universal Athletic, NAU, and Desert Edge.

The Desert Edge competition is unique in that it takes place over four consecutive Wednesday nights in Goodyear.  From June 6 to 27, teams take part in events and points are awarded with an overall champion crowned at month's end.  In the history of the event, Willow Canyon is the only team aside from Desert Edge to win that Big Man Challenge.

"We want our players to compete in everything they do," Stangler said.  "We want to build a winner's mentality within the program."

On days in June that competitions aren't going on, the players will have weight lifting and speed training.

Last year, the Wildcats started out 3-2 and had a chance at its first winning season since 2011.  However, back-to-back losses to Dysart District rivals Valley Vista (by seven) and Shadow Ridge (by five) derailed that.

Once again, WCHS will face those two schools (which are now both in 6A) in successive weeks in September.  Sandwiched around them is a schedule that contains teams the Wildcats should be better balanced with.  In non-region play, Willow faces Camelback, Dysart (for the first time since 2006), and Ironwood.  The Desert West Region opponents are Independence, Agua Fria, Goldwater, Millenium, and Verrado.  In that entire 10-game schedule, only Verrado (the Wildcats' Week 10 foe) had a winning record in 2017.  The combined record of all 10 teams last season was 36-65.

With the schedule it has ahead of it, Willow Canyon is in position to make a leap.  The coaches will install the offense and defense while teaching the kids how to play in the spring and summer.  Come fall, it will be the heart and effort that will determine if the Wildcats can indeed make that turnaround to where those games at the end against Millennium and Verrado have meaning.  If so, the excitement that exists as spring ball kicks off will keep building.

PHOTO CAPTION:  Willow Canyon defensive tackle Jason Hickson is in pursuit of a ball carrier in last September's Battle for Surprise game against Valley Vista.  The junior had six of the team's 30 sacks last season.  Willow Canyon will look to end a seven-game losing streak against their rivals to the east on Sept. 14 at VVHS.

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