Kerry Taylor San Tan Charter

San Tan Charter head football coach Kerry Taylor is in his second year of trying to establish a new culture with the program. Now that it’s been set, he aims to take the next step in competing for a title at the 2A level.

This is part one of a two-part series previewing Gilbert high school football teams for the upcoming season.

When Kerry Taylor was hired to take over the San Tan Charter football team, a program that would be part of the Arizona Interscholastic Association for the first time, he set out to accomplish specific goals.

He wanted to establish a new culture, one that weeded out those who were not willing to buy in to a mentality centered around hard work on and off the field. He also wanted to make San Tan Charter a destination school not only for its academics but athletic programs, too. But most importantly, he wanted to use his connections to help send athletes to the next level.

“The reason I’m coaching high school football is to help them get there,” Taylor said. “I’m blessed and lucky enough to know a lot of guys at the next level. Being here at a 2A school, yeah, it’s harder, but I have those connections to get these kids to the next level. That’s my main goal.”

Taylor hasn’t had any trouble establishing his idea of a successful culture at the school. He does so in loud and boisterous ways, which often rubs other programs the wrong way across the East Valley and state.

And he isn’t coy when it comes to athletes who transfer into his program, especially on social media. Recent tweets resulted in a warning from the AIA about potential recruiting violations. Taylor said it came as a surprise, but he doesn’t harp on it.

He remains focused on building San Tan Charter into a 2A power. He understands it’ll take time – last season’s 3-5 campaign with several freshman playing tackle football for the first time made that clear. But despite the perspective of Taylor and his program from the outside looking in, his main goal is to help his players succeed. And they adore him for that.

“He’s made me want to be more of a team leader than a team player,” sophomore quarterback Zayden Neill said. “I want to do my best for this team. Whether it’s school or on the field. We’ve been able to connect as a team more with him. We all want to get better.”

Neill was forced into a starting role at the varsity level last year as a freshman. There were growing pains, but he found his way. He threw for 1,691 yards and 16 touchdowns. He also rushed for 63 yards and two more touchdowns.

Neill’s top two wideouts both graduated in May. His third most-targeted receiver was Daniel Dippre, another freshman who had never played tackle football. Now as sophomores, the two are leaned upon by not only Taylor and the rest of the staff, but his teammates – both new and old.

It’s a role they’ve learned to embrace. It has also become easier to develop relationships with the rest of the players this offseason than last. When Taylor was hired, he had to meet his players via zoom due to the pandemic. Even in the summer they were still limited, which slowed the building of chemistry on the field.

But now, even the transfers that came into the program this past offseason are beginning to trust one another. At this point, it’s just a matter of them putting it all together. And for Dippre specifically, he’s finding ways to be a leader for the new members of the roster.

“I’m definitely embracing it,” Dippre said. “Last year I was a freshman on varsity, and I didn’t get that many looks. I’m looking forward to being a big contribution to the team this year and helping the other guys get used to everything.”

The San Tan team in the first half the season will look drastically different than the back half. Logan Gentry and Hunter Pletka, who Taylor refers to as the “twin towers,” will make an impact at tight end and defensive end once eligible after transferring from Basha. Brody Wakefield, a linebacker, also figures to make an impact alongside 6-foot-5 offensive and defensive tackle Ahmadou Dieng. Both transferred from Skyline. Taylor expects several other transfers, including some receivers, to be contributors.

“They bring leadership, toughness, experience,” Taylor said. “They bring 6A experience to this level. Sometimes at this level you get kids that are new to football. But this is a group of guys that add a lot of experience and value to our team.”

The first half of the season is all about survival. Taylor hopes to win as many games as possible, but with only 18 players available he knows every game will be tough. Especially when facing the likes of Santa Cruz Valley to open the season on Aug. 27, Blue Ridge (Sept. 10) and Scottsdale Christian (Sept. 18).

But at the 2A level, where winning the region means an automatic playoff berth, Taylor hopes to field perhaps the best team in San Tan history once players become eligible.

From there, it’s about taking that next step with a program he has come to adore.

“We’ve got a good group of kids this year that are focused, want to work hard and are coachable,” Taylor said. “I’m super excited for this team.”

Gilbert football teams gearing up for new season

American Leadership Academy – Gilbert

ALA-Gilbert came just inches away from winning a state championship last year. The Eagles fell on a controversial call to Snowflake as time nearly expired. ALA returns leading passer Austin Izydorczyk, but he will transition back to wideout this season. That opens the door for junior Adam Damante to lead a Eagles team that figures to once again contend for the title.

Gilbert Christian

Gilbert Christian no longer has the leg or big-hit ability of 2021 grad Jace Feely on roster. Feely now is the placekicker for nearby Arizona State. The Knights went 4-3 last relying heavily on the legs of running back Brody Curtner. But with him now graduated, Matthew Hershey will be handed the reigns of the offense in a more expanded role. Despite losing key players, head coach Danny Norris routinely makes the Knights competitive. This season will be no different.

Arete Prep

It’s the curtain call for the Matthew McCLelland show at Arete Prep. The senior quarterback and safety has quietly become one of the best players at the 2A level with his strong arm and tight spiral on offense and headhunter-like mentality on defense. The Chargers lost only three seniors who were at or near the top of their position group, setting them up for what could be their best season since head coach Cord Smith resurrected the program in 2017.

Have an interesting story? Contact Zach Alvira at (480)898-5630 or zalvira@timespublications.com. Follow him on Twitter @ZachAlvira

 

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