Chandler High School’s track record of producing high-level Division I football players speaks for itself.
Last year, the Wolves had more than 20 players on their roster who went on to play at the highest level of college football. Several more went on to play at various levels, from Division II down to junior college. This season will be no different.
Not only will Chandler’s current talent be on display, but former stars will also be. Just one day after the Wolves open against Centennial on Sept. 3, Chandler alums will face off against one another on Sept. 4 when Arizona plays BYU to open the college football season.
“Those guys, most of them played together here and contributed at the same time,” Chandler coach Rich Garretson said. “It’s just so exciting to see your kids move on and play on Saturdays and on TV. It’s an exciting time for everybody in the Chandler community and Chandler football.”
Arizona, under new head coach Jedd Fisch, has seen an influx of former Arizona high school football stars either commit or transfer to the program. Some of which are former Chandler players.
Drake Anderson, Gunner Maldonado and Malik Reed — all former Chandler stars — transferred into the Arizona program after a brief stint at other Division I Power 5 programs. Anderson, a running back, and Maldonado, a safety, previously played at Northwestern. Reed, a linebacker, was previously at Wisconsin.
The three joined former Chandler quarterback Darrell Garretson — Rick’s son — who is in his first year as an offensive analyst for the Wildcats.
They will all see familiar faces Arizona lines up against BYU. The Cougars’ roster features the likes of former Chandler quarterback Jacob Conover, who led the Wolves to two state titles as the varsity starter. Gunner Romney, a star wideout for Chandler and now BYU, is entering his junior season. Cash Peterman, one of the top kickers in the state during his time with the Wolves, is entering his freshman season with BYU after serving his two-year church mission.
Linebacker Tate Romney, defensive lineman Sitalingi Havea and offensive lineman Sione Hingano — all former Chandler players — are either signed or committed to BYU and will enroll in the next two years.
Chandler’s ability to produce Division I talent stems from the coaching staff. Each member finds a way to not only relate to their athletes but bring out the best in them, too.
Of course, several were gifted with a natural athletic ability. Garretson is the first to admit that. But keeping each player grounded to not only succeed on the field but in the classroom has been key. As a result, programs flock to the school on a yearly basis.
This year’s Chandler team features the next batch of college football stars.
Kyion Grayes, a four-star wide receiver committed to Ohio State, enters his final year with Chandler. The three-year varsity starter has high hopes for the upcoming season, as has been the case for years now with the Wolves. He aims to have impressive stats once again with a slew of talent around him, including Iowa State commit Quaron Adams. But he will have to wait some time before taking the field after dislocating his elbow in Chandler’s scrimmage against Williams Field.
Nonetheless, both hope to one day be in a situation like their former teammates at Arizona and BYU where they meet at the next level.
“Seeing all of them out there is going to be a great sight to see,” Grayes said. “They all gave me an example of how to be a leader. Like they did with me, I try to show the younger kids the right way to do things without having to tell them.”
For the first time in five years Chandler’s coaching staff entered the season not knowing who the team’s starting quarterback would be. The room was filled with five quarterbacks to start spring ball, but that quickly dwindled by the time summer rolled around. One of the five, Junior Nsubuga, a star on the track, moved to wide receiver where his speed adds another threat to opposing defenses.
But with the season less than a week away, Garretson knew it was time to decide. Blaine Hipa, a senior transfer from Hawaii, got the nod from the Chandler coaching staff.
He beat out fellow seniors Kenneth Cooper Jr. and Ethan Moore, both out-of-state transfers, for the job.
“Blaine Hipa has been doing really well,” Garretson said. “Ethan and KJ have been excellent as well. I’ve got three really good players. They all have good leadership and tried to take control of the reigns.”
This season will be different than in year’s past for Chandler. The team is still dealing with heavy hearts after the deaths of former player KJ Taylor and in-game run coordinator Chris Chick. Both were beloved by the program.
Both deaths were unexpected and hit the team hard. Grayes and his teammates plan to honor them in the only way they know best: Win yet another state title.
“We want to win this for them,” Grayes said. “That’s the main goal. It was a heavy blow for our team. We are trying to take this home for them.”
Chandler football programs gearing up for the 2021 season
Hamilton was at the forefront of summer storylines after defensive back Cole Martin and running back Deshaun Buchanan announced they had transferred to nearby Basha following an incident involving a racial slur and assistant coach in the team locker room. But as has been the case since head coach Mike Zdebski’s arrival, the Husky roster is deep. Quarterback and West Virginia commit Nicco Marchiol returns for his senior season.
On defense, Russell “Deuce” Davis II is due for a big senior season after a breakout year as a junior on the defensive line. Hamilton opens the season on Sept. 3 against will be challenged early on facing Desert Ridge.
Basha’s rise under head coach Chris McDonald is starting to peak in the right way for the 2021 season. Along with the additions of Martin and Buchanan, three-star defensive back Jeremiah Vessel also transferred in from University Lab High School in Louisiana. This Basha defense could go down as one of the best all-time in Arizona, especially when factoring in its linebackers led by junior Wyatt Molkovoc.
On offense, quarterback Demond Williams is a year older and ready to officially stamp his place as one of the top players in Arizona as a sophomore. And he’s got a gritty offensive line to protect him led by junior tackle James Durand, who picked up five Division I offers recently. The Bears open the season Friday, Sept. 3 against O’Connor.
It's the start of the Landon Jury era at Casteel as the junior takes over under center with plenty of talent around him, including on the offensive line with center Rudy Varela. The Colts’ strength this season may be their defense, however.
Senior defensive end Shakaun Bowser is a force on the edge. Casteel opens the season Sept. 3 against Skyline.
Now in the third year under head coach Pete Wahlheim, Seton Catholic is still searching for its first playoff berth. The Sentinels went just 1-6 last season during the pandemic and were winless in region play. However, they do return their two top passing leaders in Jake Morris and Mikey Williamson, who will likely gravitate more toward the tight end position on offense and linebacker on defense. The Sentinels open the season Sept. 3 against Bradshaw Mountain.
Arizona College Prep
Arizona College Prep debuted its new football stadium on its campus this past Friday in a loss against Sabino. It was the first-ever true home game for the Knights, who previously used Chandler and Hamilton football fields for games. The new campus comes after ACP won its first-ever region title in 2020 and has what head coach Myron Blueford believes is his best team yet.
Valley Christian opened the 2021 season Friday with a win against 3A champion Snowflake. The Trojans reloaded once again on offense with Hunter Heeringa taking over under center. Heeringa will have line up in the backfield with the Trojans’ leading rusher from last season, Kaden Majercak, who is due for yet another breakout year after rushing for 734 yards. Valley Christian also returns its leading tackler in linebacker Justin Regher.
Chandler Prep opened the season with a win on the road at Tonopah Valley this past Friday, debuting a 2021 team that returns several starters from last year’s 4-2 squad. Sterling Harris takes over as the Titans’ lead running back after rushing for 362 yards as a sophomore. On defense, sophomore safety Creon Fulgham has become bigger, faster and stronger and will be a headhunter for the Titan defense this season.
Lincoln Prep graduated seven seniors from its 2020 team that went 1-4 during the pandemic. With a healthy amount of starters returning for the new year, the Lightning have already surpassed their win total for the last two seasons combined. It may only be Lincoln Prep's third season in the AIA, but a 2-0 start with plenty of experience has the Lightning in position to surprise some of 1A's best. They've outscored opponents 88-28 in their first two games, and will look to keep it going Friday against El Capitan.