If there is any question as to which city has a stronghold on football in Arizona, there shouldn’t be.
Hamilton High School in Chandler owns five of the last seven state championships and seven of the last 10 in Arizona’s largest classification. Chandler High and Basha also are very well respected, and smaller schools Seton Catholic and Valley Christian each won titles of their own in recent years.
But the city that has been one of the fastest growing in the Valley the past 15 years isn’t just churning out high-quality teams. It’s producing National Football League players, too. A lot.
With seven players currently on active NFL rosters and two others on respective practice teams, it’s Chandler — the fourth largest city in Arizona, according to the 2010 U.S. Census — that leads the state. And while Mesa, Gilbert and Tempe also have been represented in the league of late, even Phoenix, with a population six times larger, is second to Chandler with eight current NFL players.
“It’s pretty cool to have so much talent come from one area, such a little area, and a lot of us are finding a way to make it to the NFL,” said Kerry Taylor, a 2007 Hamilton graduate now playing for the hometown Arizona Cardinals. “It’s fun seeing guys that I grew up with or played against on Sundays.”
Taylor, who also played his college ball locally at Arizona State, started this season on the Cardinals’ practice squad — after doing so in Green Bay, New England, San Francisco, Minnesota and New England again the past two years. He was added to the active roster in Week 2, and promptly caught three passes for 40 yards, helping Arizona to its first win. The following week against New Orleans, the wide receiver lined up across from Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan, a 2007 Chandler High graduate.
Dontay Moch, a 2006 Hamilton grad, was promoted from the Cardinals practice squad last week, just in time to face Tampa Bay, where 2008 Chandler alumnus Marc Anthony is on the practice squad. Moch recorded three tackles and a sack in another Arizona win.
“It definitely says something about Chandler,” said Moch, a linebacker who played in just one game in two seasons with Cincinnati before he joined the Cardinals this year. “And Arizona.” Moch continued, “that we’re an up-and-coming football state.”
“With the talent there right now, and for the last 10 years or so, Chandler is a great place to be a football coach,” said former Chandler coach Jim Ewan, who retired following the 2010 season. “Chandler should be dominant for the next 10 years or so.”
Ewan has four former Wolves in the NFL. In addition to Jordan with the Saints, Chandler led all high schools in the country with three alumni selected in the April NFL draft. Defensive end Dion Jordan went to Miami in the first round, wide receiver Markus Wheaton went to Pittsburgh and the Ravens selected Anthony before he landed with Tampa Bay.
“It makes it really exciting to watch the NFL on Sundays and Mondays,” Ewan said.
Adam Archuleta was the first Chandler player to land in the league this century when the Rams took him in the 2001 draft. But as the players in this recent crop of Chandler products came up through high school they were watching Hamilton alumnus Terrell Suggs, who has been with the Ravens since he was drafted out of ASU in 2003.
“There was always that thought that there could be a lot more (from Chandler),” Moch said this week. “The fact that (Suggs) opened that door for the rest of us, we all appreciate what he did for the rest of us. And the fact that he went to school where I went is great, too.”
The football rivalry between Hamilton and Chandler, which featured its 18th installment Friday night, has always been a heated one, and some of that extends even to the NFL.
“We talk about it all the time when we’re back here in Chandler working out in the offseason,” Taylor said. “We still talk about the same things we talked about in high school. But you see on the field how we’ve all taken our games to the next level.
“You want to be the best guy in your city when you’re in high school and then you want to be the best guy coming out of your city, so we’re all still competing against each other. We’re all trying to one-up each other still, just on Sundays now.”
“We’re always going to cheer for our alum school,” Moch added. “But we’re all from the same city, so if they’re coming out of Chandler I have nothing but love for ’em.”
That list of those coming out of Chandler is expected to get at least one longer next year. Quarterback Brett Hundley is expected to be first-round draft pick out of UCLA. Thursday night against Utah, Hundley threw for a touchdown, ran for a touchdown, and caught a touchdown pass to help keep the Bruins unbeaten; and lined up next to him at running back? Paul Perkins, his former Chandler High teammate.
“It’s good for the whole city of Chandler,” Hamilton coach Steve Belles said. “Chandler is the place to come play football. There is a lot of good football being played here.”
LOCAL ALUMNI IN NFL
Marc Anthony (Chandler HS), CB, Buccaneers*
Ryan Fitzpatrick (Highland HS; Gilbert), QB, Titans
Brian Jennings (Red Mountain HS; Mesa), LS, free agent
Keelan Johnson (Mesa HS), S, Eagles*
Cameron Jordan (Chandler HS), DE, Saints
Dion Jordan (Chandler HS), DE, Dolphins
Spencer Larsen (Highland HS; Gilbert), LB, Buccaneers
Deuce Lutui (Mesa HS), G, free agent
Zach Miller (Desert Vista HS; Ahwatukee), TE, Seahawks
Dontay Moch (Hamilton HS; Chandler), LB, Cardinals
Mike Pollak (Corona del Sol HS: Tempe), G, Panthers
Gerell Robinson (Hamilton HS; Chandler), WR, Broncos*
Chaz Schilens (Highland HS; Gilbert), WR, free agent
Lyle Sendlein (Chaparral HS), C, Cardinals
Terrell Suggs (Hamilton HS; Chandler), LB, Ravens
Kerry Taylor (Hamilton HS; Chandler), WR, Cardinals
Markus Wheaton (Chandler HS), WR, Steelers
Kyle Williams (Chaparral), WR, 49ers
* — practice squad
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