It’s been a roller coaster of a year, but we’ve finally arrived at the most anticipated week of the year for Arizona high school football.
It’s game week.
You can catch the action on GameTime Arizona with our featured matchup of the week between Centennial and Hamilton at 7:00pmMT/9:00pmCT.
CONTROL WHAT YOU CAN CONTROL
When spring football was shut down at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic what started out as a potential two-week hiatus, quickly turned into two months, then four months.
Throughout that time period, coaches across the state had a common message for their teams: control what you can control.
“You always want to be in control of things, but a lot of times in a situation, you really have little control of it,” Liberty head coach Colin Thomas said. “It doesn’t matter what you wanted, this is what it is and you have to make it work.”
Many programs made it work by conducting Zoom meetings with position coaches, sometimes multiple times a week around virtual class time, and modified at home workout schedules that were accessible to every player.
— Mason Osborn (@MasonXOsborn) April 26, 2020
“Most people met twice a week on Zoom,” Chaparral head coach Brent Barnes said of the Firebirds’ adjustments at the start of the pandemic. “Whether that was going over Xs and Os, or just talking about how things are going, we tried to do as much as we could to give those guys home workouts and things that we knew they could do regardless of if they could get in a gym or anything else.”
“We were just doing anything we could to try to keep them connected and also to have a goal in front of them and something to accomplish.”
Highland head coach Brock Farrel looked at the virtual meetings as a chance to focus on the mental side of the game.
“Instead of looking at this like, this stinks, (I said) we have an opportunity to watch a lot of film and really digest the mental side of it, so that we’re mentally prepared when we begin,” Farrel said. “I thought it went well and I thought the kids really embraced it. For not being able to get together and all that, I still think it ended up being beneficial.”
The mental toll that the wait of the decision to play had on players was evident as coaches, families, and media members took to social media pleading with the Arizona Interscholastic Association to set reasonable metrics in order to get back on the field.
Per @AZPreps365 @DavidHinesAz The AIA executive board moves positive test COVID metric from 10 people per 100,000 to 75/100,000 for football to begin competition‼️@AZHSFB @gridironarizona pic.twitter.com/ESzB3empSX
— Cody Cameron (@CodyTCameron) September 17, 2020
For the coaches, being away from the team and having no control on the outcome was also difficult.
“In all of my years of doing this, outside of maybe Christmas break, I’ve had to spend a couple weeks away from our players really ever in my life,” Barnes said. “I’m an on-campus coach and I’ve got (the players) in weights or class. I really shouldered a lot of (the uncertainty), just because that’s what we do as coaches. We want what’s best for these kids and kind of feeling a little bit helpless on how we could do anything for them. That was the most difficult part.”
When teams began to ease off of Zoom and back to the field, there was still not a clear message on where the season stood.
“As we started to come back, things would change on a daily basis,” Hamilton head coach Michael Zdebski said. “We’d think we had a plan in place and then a day later, it changes.”
Zdebski and the Hamilton coaching staff met with the families of players weekly in order to make sure everyone was up to date with as much information as the staff knew. The weekly meetings proved valuable for both the players and their parents, Zdebski, said.
— HamiltonHuskyFootball (@Husky_Football7) May 6, 2020
Scheduling was one of the biggest challenges for Brophy head coach Jason Jewell, he said.
“I tried to set schedules so that everyone could know what was going on, but then it became pretty obvious, pretty quickly that you couldn’t set a schedule more than maybe two weeks in advance,” Jewell said.
Brophy is not in a school district, so while other coaches were waiting on guidelines from their districts, Jewell worked with advisors and school administration on the best way to proceed with the football program.
“I talked to our AD multiple times a day to figure out exactly what was going on,” Jewell said. “There were times in June, July and August it was maybe 10 times a day to figure stuff out. We were pretty conservative in our approach.
“It took until the end of September to move into our phase two and then we just moved in to our phase three where we could tackle. We’re no different than a lot of places, but we are a little behind.”
Chaparral was scheduled to start the season against their rival Saguaro on Friday, but a positive test for the Firebirds resulted in the cancellation of the game by the Scottsdale Unified School District.
@ScottsdaleUSD cancels Chap JV &Varsity Football operations over one positive case. It is clearly written by SUSD and @AIAFootball that a single incident does not meet the criteria for suspension of activities. @AZHSFB @AZPreps365 @azc_obert @AZNFF @SBLiveAZ @gridironarizona pic.twitter.com/t7dz5BZ4Gg
— Chaparral Football (@ChapfootballAZ) October 1, 2020
Chaparral will have to quarantine for a mandatory 14-day period which will also cancel their week two game against Sandra Day O’Connor. Their third game against Hamilton could also be on the verge of cancellation due to the way the quarantine period falls.
Brophy and Chaparral are scheduled to be the GameTime Arizona featured matchup of the week on Oct. 23.
Unfortunately for the Firebirds the 2020 season is on pause, but there are still plenty of great games still on schedule come Friday night.
Brophy graduated 30 seniors in 2020, but the Broncos have a talented group of juniors and seniors that Jewell said he is looking forward to seeing in game action.
— Jason Jewell (@jason247scout) September 25, 2020
“We’re playing the best teams in the state,” Jewell said. “Our schedule is brutally tough. If our kids are serious about wanting to compete and be good at football, this is the best opportunity for them to show that they can compete at that level.”
Farrel is also looking forward to the challenging schedule that Highland has. The competition is fierce in Arizona’s 6A division and has been dubbed the ‘SEC West.’
— Brock Farrel (@farrel_brock) September 24, 2020
“In the craziest year ever, we might have the opportunity to have one of the best football seasons Highland has ever had in terms of our schedule and I think our team is really good,” Farrel said. “Who we play, we’re going to have to rise to the challenge every week and I’m looking forward to that.”
The Hawks will be featured on YurView Arizona on Oct. 30 against Queen Creek.
Thomas is a first year head coach of the defending 6A State Champ, Liberty Lions. While his first year has not gone according to plan, he too is ready to see his team continue to rise to the occasion.
Leave No Doubt 🏆💍 2019 🦁🏈 pic.twitter.com/V1BaeJ63Ip
— Liberty Lions Football (@LibertyFBLions) December 7, 2019
“We have a tremendous program, a tremendous culture and these kids work so hard all year round for those, right now, guaranteed eight games and hopefully a lot more,” Thomas said “I just want to be out there with them on Friday nights and experience the joys of that.”
Despite the challenges that this year has presented, the consensus among everyone, coaches and players, is immense gratitude that there will be Friday night lights.
“I’m just thankful we’re playing,” Farrel said. “The scrimmage (on Sept. 23) was great, it felt like real football. We had lights, the kids were hitting. It was awesome. I told my wife I wasn’t even upset at the mistakes because it just felt so good to play football.”
The GameTime Arizona season kicks off with two of the state’s top programs: #13 Centennial Coyotes vs. #5 Hamilton Huskies – Friday, October 2nd at 7:00 pm MT/9:00 pm CT.