From P.E. to the gridiron, the unlikely story of Gilbert’s defensive star

Joe Loveall's journey to the gridiron started in a PE class at Gilbert High School, where head football coach Derek Zellner convinced him to give the sport a shot.

Mick Signa is a sports journalism student at Arizona State University covering Gilbert High School athletics.

When thinking about a high school P.E. class, it sounds like a burden. The kind of burden that gets a student hot and sweaty, smelling of body spray for their next period algebra class.

However, being Gilbert High School’s P.E. teacher as well as head football coach, Derek Zellner knew he could use it as a tool to recruit kids to come play for his team.

Last season while Zellner was teaching a class, one student grasped his attention. That student happened to be then-sophomore Joe Loveall.

They were in the weightlifting unit and Zellner was astonished about how much he could squat for someone that was not on the football team.

“I looked at him and I go, ‘Joe you play football?’” said Zellner.

Loveall did not have a reliable answer and Zellner told him to come tryout during camp in spring.

“Coach told me I had a really nice physique and that I could do something out there,” said Loveall. “I was just doing P.E. to stay in shape, but when he said that . . . I took the initiative and went out there.”

Loveall has had past experiences with football, playing Pop Warner as a kid and more recently as a freshman in high school. However, he did not give much thought to playing anymore after his freshman season.

“I was really just wanting to focus on school,” said Loveall. “But after I tried out for the football team during spring, I knew this is what I wanted to do.”

Loveall appreciated the positive reinforcement Zellner gave him while he was actively being recruited for the football team last year.

“That was really encouraging,” said Loveall. “I didn’t really feel like doing anything other than just relaxing and doing weights.”

His reintroduction back into football turned out to be a great decision for both himself and the Tigers.

Loveall has rented living space in the opposition’s backfield. Making quarterback’s scramble out of the pocket, deflecting passes like an NBA center, and causing takeaway opportunities for his secondary.

After Gilbert’s blowout 42-0 victory over Nogales earlier this season, a game in which Loveall registered eight solo tackles and three sacks, offensive line coach Brent Hunt had nothing but high praise for Loveall.

When asked about what he thought of the team’s performance he just remarked, “go look at Joe’s highlight tape from the game.”

Almost any coach that was asked about Loveall gave similar answers. He’s a high energy guy, plays with intensity on every play, and an overall great person to have for this Gilbert team.

There is one coach in particular that shares a closer connection to Loveall than the others. That is defensive coordinator Quenton Maag. This is Maag’s second season with Gilbert so, similar to Loveall, he is relatively new to the Tigers’ program.

Maag first met Loveall last spring during camp and knew right away that he was a special talent.

“He did everything we asked him to do,” said Maag. “We told him to move to the D-line in the fall and he’s been our most dominant player.”

And dominate he has. This season alone the junior defensive lineman has tallied nine sacks, three forced fumbles, and an interception in just six games.

With production like this, his play on the field becomes contagious to his teammates. Loveall along with his fellow defensive linemen have registered a staggering 3.3 sacks per game.

“He’s going to go 110 miles per hour every time you ask him to do something,” said Maag. “It kind of sets the tone, especially for our line . . . everyone needs to match the tempo he’s going at.”

Loveall’s exceptional play this season has not only been noticed by the coaching staff. Teammate’s alike have had much to say about him.

“He’s the next Chandler Jones,'' said junior cornerback Carter Dickie after a Gilbert win against Betty Fairfax High School earlier this season. “He’s a dog.”

The game against Fairfax was almost a coming out party for Loveall in a sense. It was his third game and it also secured Gilbert’s first win of the season.

Loveall finished the night with five sacks and an interception, making that three-hour game a living nightmare for Fairfax quarterback Aiden Paredes.

Although being new to the team, Loveall carries a leadership within the Tigers’ defense. He hopes that they can play as a team the rest of the way en route to a potential playoff appearance.

Playoffs is the goal and Loveall knows that they are more than capable of achieving it.

“He’s everything you could ask for as a coach,” said Maag. “It’s finally shown up for him on the field and we’re all so proud of him.”

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