Higley football

Higley junior Kai Millner (left) is one of the top quarterbacks in Arizona in the 2021 class. He recently picked up scholarship offers to Northern Arizona and Michigan State. Higley senior quarterback Matt Purnell (right), who transferred from Desert Ridge before the 2018 season, embraces the competition with Millner for the starting job.

Higley High School’s football program has become a hotbed for college talent in recent years.

The Knights’ program has sent several top prospects to Division I programs, including Ty Robinson and Spencer Brasch from this past season.

Robinson, a 6-foot-5, 283-pound defensive end, signed with the University of Nebraska. Brasch, a 6-foot-4, 190-pound dual-threat quarterback signed with the University of California, Berkeley.

The talent-level within the program has resulted in success on the field for the Knights, and the upcoming season appears to be no different.

“Great things are happening here,” junior quarterback Kai Millner said. “I think a lot of people are sleeping on us but we are going to come out and compete every game.”

Millner is one of two gun-slingers on Higley’s roster hoping to become Brasch’s successor. Senior Matt Purnell, who transferred from Desert Ridge before the 2018 season, is also hoping to get a shot at leading the Knights’ offense.

“It’s a good problem to have,” Higley coach Eddy Zubey said. “It’s exciting because you know no matter who one wins the job they’re going to be very good.”

Zubey said he will make a decision on who the starter will be following Higley’s scrimmage in August. But for now, he expects both to continue to compete at a high level.

Both quarterbacks took first-team snaps with Higley’s offense during Saguaro High’s spring football showcase on May 9. It was the second straight year the Knights took part in the event, which was attended by more than 75 college coaches.

The Saguaro showcase was one of several during the spring that took place in Arizona. The main goal for each is to provide an opportunity for players to gain exposure and potentially play at the next level.

Along with Higley and Saguaro, Chandler High also took part in the showcase, pinning three of the state’s top programs on one field.

“I think it went great,” Zubey said. “There were coaches from the NAIA, Division III, Division II and then we had the big-time schools here as well. We had a ton of kids on our list and every one of them was evaluated and looked at. It was a good experience.”

Millner and Purnell both had impressive showings at the event, as each showed poise in the pocket. The two had been competing all spring up to that point, and will continue to do so through the summer.

They both have embraced the competition, and admit that it makes them better on a daily basis.

“Kai is one of the best 2021 quarterbacks in the state,” Purnell said. “This competition makes the team and both of us better. That’s what I’m trying to do here at Higley, I just want to do my best and play football for as long as I can.”

Purnell said he received interest from college coaches following the showcase. He plans to use that as motivation to keep working in an effort to receive a scholarship offer.

Millner was offered by Northern Arizona University after the showcase ended. Nearly two weeks later on May 21, he was offered by Michigan State.

Higley tight end Alex Lines has also seen an uptick in recruitment as of late, as he received offers from Oregon State, Utah and Utah State. Linebacker Zach Kriens picked up an offer on May 21 from Abilene Christian.

Millner and Purnell both have high expectations for the Higley program in 2019. Purnell believes there is a chance for this to be the most athletic team Higley has ever had.

Zubey sees the potential in each player on his team, but he knows that at the end of the day it comes down to execution.

“We need to run the ball a little bit better on the offensive side and defensively we just can’t give up the big plays,” Zubey said. “We need to be able to sit in our defense and do what we need to do.”

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