When it comes to the top high school football states, its Texas, California, Florida and everyone else.
However, the Big 33 All-Star Game may help Arizona butt its way into the conversation.
The state’s top graduating players will have a chance to add Arizona to the preps football map June 25 when local all-stars face Southern California’s top players. The inaugural Big 33 All-Star game kicks off at 7 p.m. at Surprise Stadium.
Former Willow Canyon running back Garrick Shelton said he has heard enough about California football and expects his Arizona brethren to play with a chip on their shoulders.
“We have heard how California has the best players,” Shelton said. “Now we have a chance to prove ourselves against them.”
The game will feature 33 all stars selected by the Arizona Football Coaches Association and the Southern California Interscholastic Football Coaches Association. Arizona’s players will come from all five divisions, including four from West Valley schools: Shelton, Willow Canyon; Travis Seefeldt, Liberty; Mark Grant, Valley Vista and Lashunn Norris, Cactus.
“I was hoping (to be named),” Seefeldt said. “It’s a good feeling. It’s also good for Arizona. It’s an up-and-coming recruiting state, and I think this class has brought that to it.”
But Willow Canyon coach Mike Hudnutt said it won’t be easy for this squad.
“We’re going to face some real good talent,” Hudnutt said. “I think we have some talent as well, but (California’s) pool of talent is a little larger than our pool of kids. Arizona football has come a long way in the last few years and we’re excited to have an opportunity to play them.”
With offensive linemen like Cactus’ Ryan Nowicki and Seefeltdt, who will play for Penn State and Utah State respectively, Arizona has become a hotbed of big men. Northwest Christian alum Travis Linser also will man the trenches.
That’s something that has made Hudnutt proud. The Wildcat coach was an offensive lineman at Northern Iowa and was charged with blocking for former Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner.
“We have some pretty nasty lineman,” Hudnutt said. “I have the opportunity to coach seven all-state kids on the offensive line, which is great.”
It’s also nice to have the game in Willow Canyon’s backyard, Hudnutt said.
“I was very honored to be asked to help coach and have the opportunity not only to coach some great kids from Arizona but to also have one last chance to coach Garrick Shelton from our very own Willow Canyon.”
The former Wildcat running back paced his squad with 956 yards rushing and nine touchdowns. He was an alternate on the squad and earned a spot when another player backed out.
“I was next on the list and when coach called it was a tremendous feeling,” Shelton said.
Another tailback earning an all-star nod is Norris. The Cobra back rushed for 1,457, averaging 7.96 yards per carry and scored 22 touchdowns.
The lone local defensive product is Grant who led Valley Vista in tackles, 101, and sacks, 14.5.