As Week 3 of the high school football season arrives, a few East Valley schools had some difficult decisions to make, and, based on the recent years’ performances, not the type of decisions seen around those parts in years.
While the previously struggling have soared to start the 2012 season (Highland, Tempe, Campo Verde, Desert Mountain), three polarizing programs have surprisingly skidded offensively amidst their 0-2 starts: Chaparral, Hamilton and Mountain View.
None of the three spoke in panic mode terms, but such places have high expectations, scrutiny, and, thus, restlessness, and though it is, after all, only Week 3, the Firebirds, Huskies and Toros are taking three different directions this week in search of the “spark” at quarterback.
That’s a task in of itself: Finding success again at an important position on the field while keeping kids’ confidence in themselves and each other.
Chaparral is making a complete change. Despite an abundance of youth and a vastly new roster from the three-time defending champions (5A Division II and Div. II), the Firebirds went with sophomore Sean Paul Brophy as their starter heading into the season.
But in narrow losses to Tucson Salpointe and Marcos de Niza, the Firebirds struggled to score touchdowns on short fields when their defense forced turnovers.
Chaparral coach Dave Huffine inserted senior backup Brad Schencker (who’d been Connor Brewer’s backup last year) at QB in the second quarter, was 10 of 18 for 177 yards and two touchdowns (one interception).
After discussions with both kids on Saturday, Schencker will start this week against Phoenix Sunnyslope.
“It wasn’t anything to do with the performance we had,” Huffine said. “This isn’t a situation where you’re performing poorly. We need a spark. With Brad, we found it. I think maybe Sean Paul felt a little more pressure than he should have. He wanted to do so well. He felt a little more pressure than he needed to feel.”
Brophy, a sophomore, will be his backup as the Firebirds believe he’s a varsity-caliber player as opposed to starting at JV.
“We don’t want him to feel like he got demoted,” Huffine said of Brophy. “He’s a varsity QB. He really is. I want him to go through the game plan and experience of what it’s like to be on varsity.”
On the opposite side of the decision-making spectrum is Hamilton. The Huskies have a new quarterback (A.J. Thigpen) and running backs from the 2011 Division I runner-up team, though the offensive line returns nearly intact and a couple junior receivers saw ample action last year.
But the previously-dominant Huskies are 0-2 with three consecutive losses (dating back to the Div. I state title game loss to Desert Vista) for the first time in school history, and 29 points in two games was pointed to as a primary source behind the woes.
Hamilton is minus-7 this season in turnover margin. Against Notre Dame (Calif.) in Ireland last week, the Huskies committed four turnovers, including an interception returned for a touchdown by Notre Dame when Hamilton inserted backup quarterback Sam Sasso into the game for Thigpen.
Huskies coach Steve Belles said Thigpen will start on Friday night against Notre Dame (Scottsdale), but the Huskies have dropped passes and had trouble running the ball despite the experienced offensive line.
Instead, the Huskies will have defensive back Cole Luke play offense as well, something Belles explored doing before the season started, but the move at this time could be more than a sporadic wrinkle.
“It’s not one thing, it’s been everyone on offense,” he said. “We played well enough on ‘D’ to win the last two games. I don’t think we’re at a panic level and we don’t have anyone we feel comfortable could do better at this point. We have to play like we’re backed up in a corner and nowhere to go but forward.”
While Hamilton will try and play its way out of the doldrums, Mountain View is taking the middle ground.
The Toros’ second year under Chad DeGrenier has been a frustrating 0-2 start because the Toros feel as if they’ve been close to putting a full game together twice.
A 65-yard touchdown pass allowed was immediately followed by a fumble return for a touchdown which cut off the Toros’ comeback against Desert Mountain in Week 1. Five turnovers by Desert Ridge weren’t turned into Mountain View points in Week 2.
“I think we’re right there,” DeGrenier said. “You turn the ball back over and it negates what we’re trying to accomplish. We’re ahead of what we were last year but we need to take those opportunities.”
John Clark replaced Chase Funk at QB during the Desert Ridge game and threw for 284 yards and two touchdowns, but the Toros’ plan moving forward is to have both quarterbacks on the field switching between quarterback and receiver.
DeGrenier used this tactic with Dylan Classan at Cactus Shadows, and believes both of them playing is simply a continuation of the two alternating repetitions during summer practices and passing league.
“It was good for (Chase), sometimes it takes the pressure off,” DeGrenier said. “It allows him to have a little more fun than just being a QB. He gets to catch and run and throw. Chase is a great team player and leader, we need him to play QB and WR, and run the ball.”
"Sometimes you need to play off (your position) to get back in the swing.”
The decision to make changes — or not — might add scrutiny to these under-the-microscope programs going forward. But these are veteran coaches who’ve succeeded before, and that rarely happens without making tough choices, whether they lead to more fruitful or more famished results.
“Kids can see it, coaches can see it,” DeGrenier said. "I know we’ll be ready to go and accomplish what I think we can and then get rolling. We just need a little jump-start.”
Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune sports editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (480) 898-6576.