Monthly Archives: August 2012

high schools

Nico Bayless’ 4 TDs lead Apollo past Peoria

by Jason Stone

Sometimes defenses click faster than offenses early in the season. That wasn’t the case Friday night at Glendale Apollo.
Nico Bayless scored four touchdowns in his first start at running back, and quarterback Jordan Gungl tossed three scores in his first start to lead Apollo to a 57-40 opening-week win over Peoria in a non-division game.
Peoria was playing its first game since 1985 without coach Doug Clapp, who resigned in the off-season, and the team also did not have its best defensive player. Linebacker John Fultz injured his foot lifting weights and said he likely will miss next week’s game, too.
Peoria certainly could have used all the help it could get against Apollo, which racked up 504 yards of offense and scored nearly every time it had the ball.
Running behind a talented offensive line, Bayless was a workhorse, gaining 177 yards on 21 carries.
“The offensive line was opening up holes all over the place,” Bayless said.
Apollo scored six first-half touchdowns and never punted in the game. Gungl tossed three touchdowns in the first half as Apollo led 27-7 in the first quarter.
Peoria got only as close as 13 in the second half.
“We’re very happy about the points we scored, but we’re not happy about the points we gave up,” Apollo coach Zach Threadgill said.
Peoria quarterback Dillon Gragnano kept the game from being a blowout by completing all 11 of his passes in the first half, including two for touchdowns. And running back Ira Rojas scored four touchdowns.
The high score of the game was foreshadowed by its beginning when the teams pulled off back-to-back kickoff returns for touchdowns.
Apollo’s Joseph Cortez started the season with a 92-yard scoring return before Rojas took one back 99 yards.

Published at azcentral.com • Aug. 25, 2012
Published at USAToday.com • Aug. 25, 2012

high schools

Transfer QB learning to lead Cactus offense

by Jason Stone

The offensive system at Glendale Cactus has always been quarterback-centered with past players such as Jonathan Beasley, Jon Stoner and last year’s starter, Michael Putko.
But if new starting quarterback Talal Yousufzai has the year most expect, the first order of business might be to get public-address announcers to learn how to say his name.
“I haven’t even ventured in how to pronounce it,” longtime Cactus coach Larry Fetkenhier said, joking. “I just call him Yugo, or Yugoslavia or whatever.”
Yousufzai, pronounced You-sef-Za, is now the man for the powerful Division III Glendale program, which came up just short of winning the school’s third state championship last year.
“I just try to break (the name) down for people so it’s easier,” Yousufzai said.
The junior transfer from Phoenix Washington passed for more than 2,600 yards and 26 TDs in 2011 before his family moved into Cactus’ enrollment zone during second semester last year.
But with Cactus’ complex system to master, the 6-3, 200-pounder is still a work in progress, Fetkenhier says.
“He is spectacular in some moments, and then there are moments where I know he’s frustrated,” Fetkenhier said. “The offense will come around. It’s just a matter of when.”
Fetkenhier said Cactus’ defense, which shut out five opponents last year, is clearly ahead of the offense as it prepares for Friday’s season opener.
Two players Cactus is counting on for big years are linebacker Zac Bradley and cornerback Anthony Alcala. Two former offensive players, backup quarterback Izzy Macias and wide receiver Dallas Allen, will play only defense for the first time as well.
With Cactus losing its top three wide receivers last year, Allen’s move to defense did not seem like a luxury Cactus could afford. But Fetkenhier said he has been so impressed with Alex Armbrust, the team’s fifth receiver last year, and a group of up-and-coming sophomores, that he was able to move Allen.
Cactus has an experienced offensive line back, including starting seniors Ryan Kern (center) and R.J. Deande (right guard).
It adds up to high expectations again even if this year’s team is a little more raw than some in the past.
“I’m never going to use the word rebuilding,” Fetkenhier said. “It’s just somebody else’s turn now. If you use the term rebuild we give ourselves an excuse.”
For the first time, Cactus will be traveling out of state for a game. It will play a team from Bakersfield, Calif., in a game in Los Angeles on Sept. 1.

Published at azcentral.com • Aug. 21, 2012

high schools

Ironwood looks to improve on 7-win season

by Jason Stone

When Ian Curtis took over as head coach for Glendale Ironwood’s football program two years ago, it didn’t seem like a program that needed to rebuild.
But almost a decade removed from its last state championship game and with a series of records around .500, the school was looking for a spark when former coach Larry Allen left after the 2009 season. A host of assistant coaches left after that season, too.
“It was awfully tough,” said Curtis, who was left with three assistants to begin his first year. He quickly realized he had to improve his coaching staff as much as the player personnel.
Ironwood made slow progress the second year under Curtis, going from three wins the first year to seven in 2011. Last year’s improvement included a Division II playoff appearance and a win for the ages — a 69-68 thriller over then-unbeaten Glendale Deer Valley at homecoming.
PHP5032B69F25238Now, with a senior-dominated team and three assistants with head-coaching experience, Curtis said he expects more improvement this year.
Linemen appear to be the team’s strength, led by two-way player Elijah Cox. The 6-foot-5, 300-pound senior is a tenacious blocker, who is starting to draw college attention, having already received an offer from Northern Colorado.
Brothers Bill and Blake Duckworth man the offensive guard positions, helping give Ironwood what Curtis calls “one of the most impressive offensive lines Ironwood has yet to see.”
That line will be paving the way for running back Michael Alexander. Curtis calls him the strongest player in the program. Ironwood will again utilize Alexander rushing (1,003 rushing yards, 14 touchdowns last year) and receiving out of the backfield.
Curtis said he is also counting on seniors Abram Chairez and Camden Shirey to provide on-field leadership. The two-way Chairez will rarely leave the field, while Shirey (6-1, 220) is a linebacker who Curtis expects to have a breakout year.
Overall, it will be the senior class that will propel the team to great things, Curtis said.
“From the moment I arrived on Ironwood’s campus, this group of seniors has committed itself to becoming the best it can be,” Curtis said. “They are a great group of kids — intelligent, hardworking and self-motivated. I’m proud to be the head coach of this team.”

Published at azcentral.com • Aug. 17, 2012

high schools

Peoria Liberty football goes on the defensive

by Jason Stone

Peoria Liberty’s football team was one running back away from making the state semifinals last year. Unfortunately, that running back was on the other team.
Had it not been for Phoenix Arcadia’s Sosaia Maafu ripping off more than 250 yards in the quarterfinals, it may have been Liberty playing in the Division III semifinals last year. As it was, Arcadia rallied from a 17-0 deficit behind Maafu to end Liberty’s season in a heartbreaking way, 35-34.
Tyler Rogers
This year, the team hopes its defense is ready, and coach Dan Filleman has brought in an experienced defensive coach to help make sure of it. Former Phoenix Moon Valley and Goodyear Millennium head coach Mark Smith has come on as defensive coordinator as nine new starters join the mix.
A shored-up defense can only mean bad news for opponents. Liberty has lost only two regular-season games in its three official seasons at the varsity level, and Filleman has quietly done one of the West Valley’s best coaching jobs, leading the team to a 30-5 record and three playoff appearances over that span.
The return of senior quarterback Tyler Rogers is sparking more optimism this season. In a breakout junior year, Rogers passed for almost 2,500 yards and had 30 touchdown passes. He also rushed for 747 yards.
“Tyler is a hard worker and does all the right things in the offseason,” Filleman said. “For him, he’s had improvement just from his maturity and understanding of the game and the coverages. He’s picking all those things up.”
If Rogers is to put up similar numbers this year, he’ll have to do it without receiver Paul Panaccione, who caught 19 touchdown passes last season and now plays baseball at Grand Canyon University.
Filleman said a talented group of six receivers, including a freshman, are all going to make contributions in making up for Panaccione.
“I think the receiving group is still going to be pretty good,” Filleman said. “We’ve had some guys step up.”
Four seniors are in that mix, plus backup quarterback Tyler Wyatt, and for the first time under Filleman, a freshman in 6-foot-2, 200-pounder Alex Hunter.
Two linemen are getting serious college looks as Liberty plans to platoon players for the first time. Offensive lineman Gage Gipson (6-3, 250) is a senior, while defensive lineman Marcus Cheney (6-2, 215) is one of only two returning defensive starters.

Published at azcentral.com • Aug. 15, 2012

high schools

McClintock fixes culture in hopes of lifting team

by Jason Stone

It’s almost hard to remember when Tempe McClintock was one of the top football powers in Arizona.
The late 1970s and 1980s are known as the “Powerhouse Years” at the school, and coach Matt Lewis has heard about them non-stop from longtime fans since he arrived on campus two years ago.
“So much in high-school athletics has changed,” Lewis said. “We have saturated our high-school athletics (with too many schools) in Arizona. … We don’t live in the days when McClintock is a power.”
But that doesn’t mean Lewis thinks McClintock’s winning days are over. In fact, the former Scottsdale Saguaro offensive coordinator, who helped Saguaro win three state championships, is hoping McClintock can get back to the top thanks to a handful of changes he has brought to the program.
For starters, Lewis led a drive to pour $40,000 into the school’s weight room, which will increase workout stations to 12, from four. The school has also hired a college-level strength coach to implement a year-round lifting program. And in an effort to improve safety, all players received new helmets and shoulder pads before practices began.
ImageA year ago, Lewis began tough, demanding practices that alienated some of the older players.
“It was culture shock for some of them,” Lewis said. “What it takes to be involved in our program is not for the faint of heart.”
The players who have returned are now used to Lewis’ style, and the coach said a six- or seven-win season would be great progress for a team that has not had a winning season since 2006 and only three wins last year.
Running back Sammy Jones (617 rushing yards, eight touchdowns in 2011) is one of the key returners. Jones didn’t even start until halfway through last season when Lewis noticed him dominating on the varsity scout team during practice, and now the coach expects Jones to have a breakout year.
Paving the way for Jones is junior right tackle Amir Andelija, a rising star who started every game his sophomore year. Lewis said Andelija is a legitimate big-time college prospect who should be heavily recruited by year’s end.
McClintock returns six starters on each side of the ball, including its starting quarterback in Xavier Gomez, and two talented defensive players in linebacker Jorge Valles and nose guard Joe Sanford.

Published at azcentral.com • Aug. 14, 2012