Every year, the senior class in Campo Verde High School’s football program hears different narratives for how their season will pan out.
At times the Coyotes are viewed as contenders in the 5A San Tan Valley Region. But in some instances, such as this upcoming season, they are counted out.
But that’s what they prefer.
“We are really underrated this year, but we have a lot of potential,” said senior wideout Danny McFarland, who was offered by the University of Mary. “We know if we maintain energy throughout the entire season we will be successful.”
McFarland is one of the few starters returning from last year’s senior-heavy team. While the Coyotes’ roster is once again littered with players in their final year, most were backups.
“In terms of experience, we are a really young team,” said Max Ragsdale, who has been the program’s only head coach in its nine-year history. “That’s where our brand of disciplined football and the bond they have as a team comes into play.”
Ragsdale believes this year’s players have the tightest bond of all of his previous teams. Much of that stems from them playing youth football together.
The chemistry they’ve been able to create with one another has allowed players such as McFarland, cornerback Chad Roderick, middle linebacker Jayden Fletcher and seven other seniors to emerge as leaders.
Ragsdale refers to them as the alpha dogs.
“It’s an honor, I take that into account every time I come out to practice,” Roderick said. “It’s all about leading by example.”
Roderick tries to bring everything he’s got in practice on a daily basis. Often times, that involves matching up with McFarland in one-on-one drills. The two are the best at their respective positions, and often raise the tempo when battling for the ball.
There are times when McFarland is able to overpower the 5-foot-5, 150-pound Roderick with his 6-foot, 170-pound frame. But it’s not uncommon to see Roderick come right back and break up a pass using his speed and ability to lockdown an opposing wideout.
It’s Roderick’s determination and heart Ragsdale says he displays on a daily basis that allowed him to be voted by the last year’s outgoing senior class to carry Campo Verde’s signature shield out on the field.
“He’s definitely a quiet leader,” Ragsdale said, “but everyone would agree that Friday nights would be rough without Chad Roderick.”
Campo Verde isn’t a team that with one or two guys that standout amongst the rest. And they aren’t the type of team that will overpower opponents.
But where they all feel they have an advantage is the work they put in together as a cohesive unit. It also helps when every player, both young and old, has bought into the program’s culture.
“I’ve seen a lot of heart from this team,” Fletcher said, “but we all know there is still room to improve. We all have the mindset to continue pushing and to not be content with where we are at.”
Fletcher has become the quarterback of the defense at the middle linebacker position. It’s a role he enjoys, mostly because of his physicality and knowing each of his teammates responsibility every play.
He harped on the trust he has for the rest of the defense, and the trust they have in him to make plays when needed. It all goes hand-in-hand with the unity of the team across the board.
“I like being able to trust my brothers,” Fletcher said. “That’s what it’s all about for us.”
Campo Verde will rely on Fletcher, McFarland and Roderick to lead the way in its first game on Friday against Sunnyside, as well as a few weeks into the season. Wideout Cameron Pinion will also be a key contributor, as well as defensive end Ameer Dalbik, who was offered by the University of Wisconsin-River Falls in July.
But there is still a question mark at quarterback, as seniors Bryan Rivas and Zach Herrera continue to battle for the starting role.
“Both of them are physically good,” Ragsdale said. “Neither have been able to truly separate themselves, but I’m hoping we will be able to make a decision by Aug. 22.
“I’m excited to see how it plays out.”
Gilbert-area prep teams gearing up for football season
Williams Field will be with a new quarterback for the first time in three years, as senior Mason Bugg and junior Devin Switzer continue to battle for the starting role. But experience along the offensive line and skill positions have the Black Hawks as a contender to reach the new Open Division, 8-team playoff.
Kendrix Lurry will be the lead back and will also take snaps at slot receiver. Three-star tight end Joshua Gale will impact the Black Hawks’ offense both as a run-blocker and receiver, while junior Myles Taylor will adds speed and big-play ability at wideout. Middle linebacker Sam Hancock, the leading tackler last season, returns to anchor the defense.
Williams Field opens up the season at home against Norco (Calif.) on Friday.
Much like their district rival Williams Field, the Higley Knights will have a new quarterback in junior Kai Millner under center in to start the season. Millner shined in offseason passing tournaments, and picked up Division I offers from the likes of Arizona, Arizona State and Michigan State.
Along with Millner, wideout Isaiah Eastman and Alex Lines, one of the top tight ends in the state, will lead a potent Higley offense. On defense, the Knights are led by 6-foot-8, 220-pound defensive end Jason Harris and linebackers Zach Kriens and Cannen Hall.
Higley will open up the season at home against Alemany (Mission Hills, Calif.) on Saturday.
Gilbert High School will once again be led by University of Arizona commit Will Plummer at quarterback. Plummer, a dual-threat quarterback with a big arm, threw for 3,240 yards last season and 25 touchdowns. He will once again benefit from Tigers’ coach Derek Zellner’s pass happy offense.
Helping Plummer on offense will be senior wideout Blake Barnhart, who transferred from Williams Field during the offseason. The two played youth football together, and have already established a chemistry through spring and summer workouts. Much of Gilbert’s starters on defense will be new, but it’s a talented, scrappy bunch that will make plays when needed.
Gilbert opens up the season against district rival Mesquite on Aug. 23.
Mesquite High School has a new football coach after Chad DeGrenier left for the same position at Mesa High School. Ironically, Scott Hare, who coached Mesa from 2014-15 but spent the last three seasons as Mesquite athletic director, stepped down from his administrative position to coach the Wildcats.
Junior quarterback Ty Thompson, who is one of the best in the 2021 class, will lead the offense for the second straight season. Jacob Walker, the team’s leading receiver last season, is back after catching 52 passes for 788 yards and 9 touchdowns in just nine games as a junior in 2018. Sophomore athlete Andrew Morris will look to build off a strong freshman campaign, in which he hauled in 18 passes for 244 yards and 2 touchdowns. On defense, senior linebacker Hunter Hanna leads a young group.
Mesquite opens up the season against district rival Gilbert on Aug. 23.
American Leadership Academy -- Gilbert
After serving a year of post season ineligibility, American Leadership Academy’s newest campus in Gilbert is eligible to compete for a 3A conference title. In ALA Gilbert’s first season in the Canyon Athletic Association in 2017, head coach Randy Ricedorff led the Eagles to the CAA championship. A majority of those players remain in the program, as well as several other underclassmen.
Randy’s son, Jack, returns as a junior to lead the Eagles’ offense at quarterback. Last season, he threw for 2,234 yards and 25 touchdowns. His second leading receiver, Malakia Williams, is now a senior while sophomore athlete Matt Ohlund will once again be a playmaker on offense. Ohlund and Williams will also see time at defense, along with several other key returners from last year’s team, including seniors Kayden Orona and Taggert Caskey.
ALA-Gilbert opens up the season against Gilbert Christian on Aug. 23.
Danny Norris enters his first season as head coach of the Gilbert Christian High School football program. The Knights are entering their second season in the 3A conference, and fourth overall playing 11-man football. Gilbert Christian had a committee of quarterbacks last season, with now junior Zach Miller leading the way with 819 yards and 5 touchdowns as a sophomore.
Overall, Gilbert Christian returns most of its team from last season, as only 10 of the 25 players on the roster graduated. Defensive back Weston Zeier, who had the second-most tackles last season, heads an experienced defense in 2019.
Gilbert Christian opens up the season against ALA-Gilbert on Aug. 23.
Arete Prep made an appearance in the 1A conference playoffs for the first time since 2013, when the school was known as Mesa Prep. Led by coach Corbin Smith, the Chargers went on to 7-3 just two years after the 2016 season was canceled due to lack of participation. Matthew McClelland returns to lead the Chargers’ offense as a sophomore. Last year, he was among the top freshman passers in the country with 2,559 yards and 31 touchdowns.
His older brother, senior Noah McClelland, will lead the receiving corps after wideouts Brennan Weir and Ben White graduated. James Varner returns at linebacker to lead the defense. With only 13 players listed on the roster, Arete will look for contributions from each player to repeat its success from last season.
The Chargers open up the season against 1A power Mogollon on Aug. 23.