Since he first stepped foot on Hamilton High School’s campus, Brenden Rice has been determined to create a strong legacy.
He’s aimed to be a good person, a good friend and a good role model for all the players in the Huskies’ football program that are younger than him. That includes those who will come after he has already graduated.
Most importantly, he wanted people to recognize him as Brenden Rice, not just San Francisco 49ers legend Jerry Rice’s son.
“I came in my freshman year and that’s how people looked at me,” Rice said. “I wanted to be my own person so I started taking everything seriously. From the weight room to the field. I want to be known as a guy that gives his all 24/7.”
Hamilton missed the playoffs last season after finishing 3-8 in Mike Zdebski’s first year as coach for the Huskies.
But he, Rice and all the other returning players put last season behind them the day after they fell to Chandler in the season finale.
Their focus has been on Chaparral, whom the Huskies open the season against on Friday, Aug. 23. From the field to the track and weight room, they’ve continuously worked since that November day. And the seniors took what they learned from the previous class and have molded into leaders for the program with one goal in mind.
Creating a name for yourself isn’t easy when you’re the son of a Hall of Famer. Even to this day, Rice is still referred to in headlines as “Jerry Rice’s son,” despite multiple scholarship offers from Power 5 schools.
Rice was raised by his mother and stepfather, Rick Cunningham, who played eight seasons in the NFL, including three for the Arizona Cardinals. His son, Qualen Cunningham, graduated from Hamilton in 2013 and went on to play for Texas A&M.
Qualen recently graduated from Texas A&M and now works as a personal trainer in Mesa.
“That’s been my family since day one,” Rice said. “They’ve taught me how to stay level-headed and to always be humble. Especially when carrying the name ‘Rice,’ there are people that will look for any way they can to tear you down.”
Rice said the Cunninghams have helped him mature and prepare for the next level. Most of that has come in the form of learning how to train, as well as eating healthy to maintain peak body performance.
But his relationship with his father’s side of the family has improved. His brother, Jerry Rice Jr., offered to fly him out to California to work out together. He’s also received pointers from his father. On Jan. 21, Rice posted a picture of the two of them together.
“I’m happy he’s in my life and that we solved our differences,” Rice said.
As a junior, Rice caught 49 passes for 729 yards and 11 touchdowns. Hamilton struggled early on in the year, but every returning player vows this season will be different.
Along with Rice, fellow senior Pierre Taylor and junior wideouts Zach Lewis and Brady Shough will be playmakers for the Huskies on offense. Senior running backs Sebastain Dorman and Gabriel Armenta will lead the backfield along with senior quarterback Nick Arvay.
Arvay admits the talent around him makes his job easier, but was quick to point out the offseason work of the Huskies’ offensive line.
“They’ve been great,” Arvay said. “They give me all the time I need to make the right reads. This whole team has been working.”
Hamilton is lead up front by captains Dylan Mayginnes, a Washington State commit, and Finley Lecky, who has offers from the University of San Diego and Lake Forest College, among others.
While size, talent and experience headlines Hamilton’s offense, it also carries over to its defense.
Senior defensive end Sam Winegarden and linebacker Jeremiah Trojan lead a Husky defense that is poised to have a breakout season.
At 6-foot-4, 235 pounds, Trojan is a force both off the edge and in coverage for Hamilton. Before he committed to UCLA in May, he was gaining interest from nearly 20 schools across the country.
Trojan, Winegarden and senior defensive end Alex Wielert can be a nightmare for opposing linemen. Meanwhile, in the secondary, Lewis leads a talented group of defensive backs.
“Last year, most of us were all juniors trying to build up and learn from the seniors what it takes to lead a team,” Arvay said. “We know what the history with this program and what it is capable of.
“We are trying to bring the dynasty back.”
Chandler-area prep football teams gearing up for season
Chandler High School’s football program is reloaded after losing a flurry of senior talent from last year’s state-title team. Junior quarterback Mikey Keene will take over the Wolves’ offense, following in the footsteps of BYU-bound Jacob Conover, who led the Wolves to three consecutive championships.
Keene will benefit from star-power around him, with running back Jaheim Brown-Taylor and wideouts Quaron Adams, Gunner Maldonado and Kyion Graves among the many weapons on offense.
Maldonado will also help anchor a potent Wolves’ defense, along with Wisconsin-commit Malik Reed and Tate Romney, one of the best linebacking duos in the state. Chandler enters the 2019 season ranked No. 49 in the country, according to MaxPreps. With Rick Garretson taking over as head coach, Chandler will remain a favorite to win the Open Division title this season.
The Wolves open the season on Friday, Aug. 23 against Liberty High of Henderson, Nevada.
Basha High’s football program had a strong start to the Chirs McDonald era, winning its first five games and challenging fellow Premier Region teams. Gabe Friend returns as a senior to lead the Bears’ offense, along with athletes such as Andrell Barney, Camden Mateen and Micah Harper.
Barney, Mateen and Harper will also see time on defense. Harper, who has several Division I offers, is one of the top-rated cornerbacks in Arizona for the 2020 class. Seniors Matt Depodesta, James Knos and Mikey Sliskovic will anchor both the offense and defensive lines for the Bears this season as two-way starters.
Basha opens the season on Friday, Aug. 23 against North.
Is this the year the Pumas dethrone district-rival Chandler? The Pumas lost talent to graduation, but like have also reloaded on both sides of the ball. Senior quarterback Chubba Purdy, who committed to Louisville in the summer, will make plays all year long for the Pumas along with wideout Jorden Young and running back Peyton Hill.
Perry lost four of its top tacklers from last year’s 6A runner-up team, and will now turn to defensive back Andrei Mayberry and linebackers Cole Sabetta and Jackson Ford to lead the charge. The Pumas remain in contention to make the first-ever Open Division playoff.
Perry opens the season on Friday, Aug. 23 with a showdown against Pinnacle.
Casteel High’s football program has been one of the top in the state since its 3A state title season in 2017. The Colts went 9-3 in their first season in 5A in 2018, and will reload on both sides of the ball with its first senior class now graduated. Junior Dane Christiansen takes over at quarterback for Washington State-bound Gunner Cruz.
Fellow junior Jayce Knutsen will man the backfield with Christiansen, as he is coming off a sophomore season where he was the leading rusher for the Colts.
Casteel will benefit from junior tackle Brock Dieu up front, who has become one of the top prospects for the 2021 class after impressive outings at offseason big man competitions. Linebackers Dalton Card and Jack Littleton, two of the top tacklers last season, return to man the defense.
The Colts open the season on Friday, Aug. 23 against 5A power Centennial.
Pete Wahlheim makes his return to Seton Catholic as head coach after coaching the Sentinels from 2001-06. He leads a team with several new starters, including senior quarterback Joey Lalicatta. But the return of senior running back Keyshon Upchurch, along with sophomore Mikey Castro, will provide a potent rushing attack for the Sentinels.
On defense, Seton is led by linebacker Sam Zadel, who Wahlheim described as a “downhill, nasty type of kid.” He, along with 6-foot-5, 240-pound junior defensive tackle Matteo Ortiz, will wreak havoc for opposing offenses.
Seton opens up the season on Friday, Aug. 23 against St. Mary’s.
Vinnie LaGatta did a little bit of everything last season for Valley Christian, as he was the team’s leading rusher, threw for 688 yards and had 461 receiving yards. Now a senior, he will likely be called upon by second-year coach Kirk Sundberg once again, as the Trojans lost quarterback Peyton Hanzal and wideout Matt McCreight to graduation.
While LaGatta holds down the offense, defensive back Justin Stinson will do the same for the Trojans on defense. Stinson is one of the top players at his position, and has been offered by Abilene Christian University and New Mexico State. The Trojans have long been one of the top teams in the 3A Conference, and will look to carry on that tradition in 2019.
Valley Christian opens the season on Friday, Aug. 23 against Scottsdale Christian Academy.
Arizona College Prep
Arizona College Prep might make the biggest improvement in 2019, as they went 1-9 last season. The Knights return most of their starters from a year ago, giving them experience at nearly every position. Mark Chavez, who threw for 1,715 yards last season, will benefit from 1,000-yard receiver Bryan Dyson on the outside. Deven Kukreja, Keaton Masserole and Octavio Diaz all return for the Knights up front.
On defense, a large majority of starters will also return. Defensive ends Eric Decoster, a team captain, and Alex Gilchrest will man the defensive line, while linebackers Kolby Forshee and Kellen Gibson will do the same for the linebacking corps. Safety Saar Zutshi, one of the captains, has started to gain interest from college programs.
The Knights open the season on Friday, Aug. 23 against Chandler Prep.
A strong season for Chandler Prep in 2018 has set up the Titans for what could be an even stronger 2019 campaign. Led by coach Chris Goodman, Chandler Prep returns several starters from last year’s team, including Samuel Martin, the team’s leading rusher. Reese Vilaboy will likely step into the full-time starting quarterback role for the Titans.
On defense, Chandler Prep returns leading tacklers Martin, Aidan Daly and Isaiah Usher. The Titans are the favorite to repeat as 2A Gila Region champions and contend for the conference title.
Chandler Prep opens the season on Aug. 23 against Arizona College Prep.