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8/18

Game Week!

Come out and support the Pride at the first game of the season!  ROLL PR1DE!

Pinnacle High School  |  3535 E Mayo Blvd, Phoenix, AZ 85050

Mountain Pointe High’s LaCarea Pleasant-Johnson (left) says values instilled by his late mother helped him develop into an elite football player. The cornerback-receiver has offers from nine Division I schools, including Florida, Missouri and Nebraska. Mountain Pointe opens Aug. 24 at Pinnacle.    Zach Alvira/Tribune Sports Editor

Pride’s Pleasant-Johnson excels as loss of mother burns in his mind

The road has been rugged for Mountain Pointe High’s LaCarea Pleasant-Johnson, yet he has persevered, just as someone special to him would have wanted.

Among the gut-kicks that life deals, his greatest disappointment is that his mother did not get to see him become one of the best defensive backs in the nation.

“My mom really instilled the motivation I have in myself,” Pleasant-Johnson said. “I really do work hard for her.”

Jacquel Pleasant lost her battle with Stage 4 kidney cancer in 2011.

LaCarea was just 11 years old.

“I heard my uncle on the phone say, ‘I have to go to the hospital to see if my sister has cancer,’” Pleasant-Johnson. “I was torn.”

When Pleasant-Johnson was a child, his mom would wake him early to go for a jog, always making him stay active as he got into athletics.

She always asked how he was doing when they sat down for dinner, offering words of wisdom during times of struggle.

Those memories have stuck with Pleasant-Johnson.

“She’s my protector, my provider. She’s always on my side,” Pleasant-Johnson said. “It’s a blessing and a curse at the same time. God gives the hardest battles to his strongest warriors.

“My mom played a big role in the person I am today.”

Pleasant-Johnson is a team captain and a vocal leader of the Pride defense on the field. Those around him say his personality brings out the best out in people off the field.

“He is always in a good mood,” new Mountain Pointe coach Rich Wellbrock said. “He’s always got a big smile. He went through a lot when he was younger, but he always brings a light to every room he walks into.”

Wellbrock acknowledges that he didn’t know much about Pleasant-Johnson when he took over the program in February.

He had heard of a player getting attention from numerous college programs, but Pleasant-Johnson shocked Wellbrock with just how athletic he is.

“He’s got the DNA and is so long that he is able to get to places other athletes aren’t able to get to from a defensive back and receiver standpoint,” Wellbrock said. “His athleticism allows us to do some things on defense other teams I have had wouldn’t be able to do.”

Pleasant-Johnson, rangy at 6-foot-2, 180-pounds, will cover some of the best receivers in the state. He’ll likely be busy when Mountain Pointe opens Aug.24 at Pinnacle, with Oklahoma-bound quarterback Spencer Rattler tossing the ball.

New Pride defensive coordinator Conrad Hamilton loves the flexibility that Pleasant-Johnson gives him.

“I’ve never had a corner with his size and length,” Hamilton said. “He’s really a receiver by nature but has upside with his ability to learn the different techniques on defense.”

Pleasant-Johnson was primarily a receiver coming into Mountain Pointe. Last season, he led the Pride with 27 catches for 436 yards and four touchdowns. This season, he plans to focus more on defense, but Wellbrock said that Pleasant-Johnson likely will still be in the mix on the other side of the ball, too.

“We want to make sure we have the right match ups in every game,” Wellbrock said. “One week, that might be LaCarea playing on another side of the ball and another week it could be someone else.”

Pleasant-Johnson’s ability to play on both sides has boosted his college recruitment. Rated as a three-star cornerback, he has offers from nine Division I programs, including Florida, Missouri, Nebraska and Iowa State.

Pleasant-Johnson has a top five but isn’t ready to announce it because he anticipates that more offers may come and his rating could improve as recruiters get more film of him.

The thought of playing college football is always there, but as he begins to navigate his senior season, he has two goals: Win a championship and make his mother proud.

“Not a lot of people can handle what I’ve been through,” Pleasant-Johnson said. “I am blessed. My mom really instilled the motivation I have in myself and I feel like since she passed the sky is the limit.”

Returning Mountain Pointe starters Nick Wallerstedt, at quarterback, and running back Jakim McKinney give the Pride a solid nucleus on offense. MP reached the 6A semifinals last season.  [Kimberly Carrillo/AFN Photographer]

Mountain Pointe reloads under new coach with eye on wins

One by one, players on the Mountain Pointe football team walked across the school parking lot to the practice field, placing a hand on the sign that reads “Mark Lovett Field” before entering.

It’s a tradition established in the early 2000s, after former coach and Mountain Pointe Hall of  Famer Mark Lovett passed away suddenly on the field from a heart attack.

“They told me I better make sure I do it,” new Mountain Pointe coach Rich Wellbrock said of touching the sign. “It’s a tradition handed down. It’s something the kids feel very strongly about.”

Wellbrock was hired to follow legendary coach Norris Vaughan, who stepped down last December to move back to Georgia near family.

Wellbrock, the former Basha and Desert Edge coach, now hopes to extend the winning tradition at Mountain Pointe, which has nine straight playoff appearances, including eight semifinals, and a state title.

“This has always been a position you look at from afar and it interests you,” Wellbrock said. “The kids know the expectations. We’ve flown under the radar a little bit, and we’re fine with that. When it’s time to turn it up, we will do that.”

This season, hopes for success once again start up front for the Pride.

Seniors Cole Cundary, Alex Vogel and Zach Quihuis anchor the offensive line in front of returning quarterback Nick Wallerstedt.

As a junior, Wallerstedt passed for 1,567 yards and 11 touchdowns. He also rushed for 711 yards and nine touchdowns.

Some of Wallerstedt’s top targets graduated, including Sky Hinojosa, Delano Salgado and Marshawn Gibson.

But a talented group of receivers remain, led by senior Lacarea Pleasant-Johnson.

“I think we have one of the best groups we have had in the past couple years as a core,” Wallerstedt said. “We have a lot of guys that other teams have to look out for.”

Pleasant-Johnson hauled in 27 passes last season for 436 yards and four touchdowns.

Seniors receivers Jatu Gipson, Bashu Delco, Jathan Washington and junior Dominique Davis also will play a vital role in the passing game. Seniors Kenneth Lofton and Jerrick Dickson lead the way at tight end.

Mountain Pointe lost 1,000-yard rusher Gary Bragg to graduation but have another back, Jakim McKinney.

McKinney, known for his explosive burst off the ball, rushed for 1,334 yards and 18 touchdowns.

“I’m excited because it is my senior year,” McKinney said. “I’ve learned a lot from the new coaching staff. Even though people have doubted us, we are going to show them that we can make it far and even win state.”

Graduation and transfers left holes to fill in the Pride’s defense.

Defensive tackle Shomari Hayes graduated. Senior Matthew Pola-Mao, who has the eye of many college recruiters, transferred to Chandler. In the secondary, seniors Delano Salgado, Kenny Churchwell, Marshawn Gibson and Donte Lindsey all moved on to the next level.

But Mountain Pointe has capable replacements, starting up front with defensive tackle Anthony Dedrick.

“We are filling in the gaps really well,” Dedrick said. “I know what this team is and what we can do. We just need to be the greatest we can be and just go out there and play football.”

Mountain Pointe opens a week later than many schools with an Aug. 24 visit to Spencer Rattler and the Pinnacle Pioneers in north Phoenix.

It’s the start of one of the toughest schedules in the state.

Next up is a home game against rapidly improving Mountain View before the Pride heads to Las Vegas for the Polynesian Football Classic to take on national power Bingham High from South Jordan, Utah.

“What a great opportunity for our kids, community and school to be involved in something like this,” Wellbrock said. “That’s what we want. We want to be on the biggest stage not only here in the state but on the biggest stage nationally.”

Mountain Pointe then faces Hamilton, Queen Creek and Highland before taking on Desert Vista in the annual Ahwatukee Bowl.

The Pride wrap the season against Chaparral, Desert Ridge and Corona del Sol.

It will be a tough initial go-around for Wellbrock and the Pride, but they believe that they are up to the challenge.

“The schedule is brutal, but it’s exciting,” Wellbrock said. “The kids know it’s going to be a grind.

“Hopefully, when November comes around we will have learned everything we need to and go push for the gold ball.”

No. 4 Lacarea Pleasant-Johnson,6-2, 180, Phoenix Mountain Pointe, Sr. Patrick Breen/azcentral sports

, Arizona RepublicPublished 9:40 a.m. MT July 24, 2018

This is the “island” position, where nobody wants to be left behind, watching wide receivers wheeling down the sideline for touchdowns.

These are azcentral sports’ top 10 cornerbacks for the 2018 Arizona high school football season.

No. 1 Kelee Ringo, Scottsdale Saguaro, 6-2, 192, Jr.

He has a five-star ranking is the No. 1-ranked cornerback in the nation in 247Sports composite. And to think he came to Saguaro from Washington state last summer, thinking he would just play receiver.

MORE: 10 Arizona high school football players expected to break out in 2018

No. 2 Javin Wright, Chandler Hamilton, 6-3, 195, Sr.

Another long corner who can maneuver the field quickly and get in front of passes to break them up. He is bigger than his dad, Toby Wright, who ended up with a pretty good football  career at cornerback coming out of Mesa Dobson, playing  at Nebraska and in the NFL. This year, Toby will be coaching him as a position coach under head coach Mike Zdebski.

No. 3 Brandon Shivers, Saguaro, 6-1, 175, Sr.

He had major colleges all over him, before committing this summer to San Diego State. With Ringo and manning the corners, Saguaro’s secondary is off-the-charts talented.

No. 4 Lacarea Pleasant-Johnson,6-2, 180, Phoenix Mountain Pointe, Sr.

He is a three-star with offers from the likes of Nebraska, Iowa State, Utah and Missouri. His speed sets him apart. He has the  length, as well, to cover big receivers. A physical, quick corner who can change the game.

NAME GAME: Top 10 Arizona high school football player names for 2018 season

No. 5 Tashumbrae “Scooter” Brown Jr., 5-9, 180, Gilbert Williams Field, Sr.

He transferred in the spring from San Marcos, Texas, where he alternated from free safety to corner and had 85 tackles and two interceptions. His versatility in the a loaded secondary will make Williams Field tough to throw against.

No. 6 Kieran Clark, Peoria Centennial, 6-0, 185, Sr.

He became a hot recruiting prospect during track when he blazed his trails with fast times. He has the skill set to make himself a major player in Centennial’s plans to repeat as 5A state champs.

No. 7 David Eppinger, Chandler, 5-11, 180, Sr.

He transferred from Gilbert Perry, which finished second to Chandler last season in  the 6A state playoffs. Eppinger started on varsity his first three years at Perry. It’s uncertain whether he will miss any of the season provided he has a hardship. But he could make a difference the second half of the season when the Wolves typically peak.

INSIDE TRACK: Top 10 linebackers for 2018 Arizona high school football

No. 8 Denzel Burke, Phoenix Brophy Prep, 5-11, 160, So.

He started on varsity as a freshman and had 25 tackles, an interceptions and two pass break-ups. He is a lot better now and will likely see a lot of time on offense at receiver.

No. 9 Shaq Daniels, Mesa Red Mountain, 6-0, 170, Sr.

He had 26 tackles and three interceptions last season. He will play another big role on a tough defense. He is quick with great ball skills  and isn’t afraid to dig in and make the hit.

No. 10 Jaiden Hayes, Phoenix South Mountain, 5-10, 175, Sr.

Hayes is a leader on and off the field and will be counted on to play an even greater role after having a solid junior season with 64 tackles and an interception. He will probably see time at running  back, so Hayes has worked hard to make this a special season.

Mountain Pointe High School football practices with new coach Rich Wellbrock on July 25, 2018. Nick Oza/azcentral sports

Mountain Pointe enters new era with coach Rich Wellbrock

, Arizona RepublicPublished 7:06 p.m. MT July 25, 2018

Rich Wellbrock keeps seeing Spencer Rattler.

In his first loss as Chandler Basha’s coach last season, Wellbrock watched the Phoenix Pinnacle quarterback carve up his defense with four touchdown passes.

When he saw Rattler with his Oklahoma visor this June at 7-on-7 passing tournaments, Wellbrock would joke with him.

“I told him, ‘I just can’t get away from you,’ ” Wellbrock said.

For better or worse, Wellbrock will see Rattler again on Aug. 24 when Phoenix Mountain Pointe begins its Wellbrock coaching era. Rattler is 0-3 in his varsity career leading the Pinnacle offense against the Pride.

Mountain Pointe is moving past the Norris Vaughan era, a tough transition for any coach.

Vaughan set the bar extremely high. Mountain Pointe reached no less than the 6A state semifinals in eight of Vaughan’s nine seasons as coach.

His 2013 team was the last Arizona team to beat national powerhouse Las Vegas Bishop Gorman. It opened the season with a win at Bishop Gorman on national TV on its way to a 14-0 record and the school’s only state championship.

Wellbrock is an established coach (he won a state championship at Goodyear Desert Edge), and he brought with him one of the best defensive coordinators in the state in Conrad Hamilton, who served in that capacity for two of Scottsdale Chaparral’s state championships in the Charlie Ragle era.

“It’s still going to be punishing,” said senior cornerback Lacarea Pleasant-Johnson, who is 6-foot-2, 185 pounds, has a long wingspan, off-the-charts athleticism and picked up eight college football offers in one week.

“Us losing Coach Vaughan, we didn’t lose nothing much. We’ve got a great head coach and defensive coach coming in. We come in with a lot of energy. We can run cover 1, 2, 3, 4. We’re going to execute. This is going to be a good season.”

Mountain Pointe will soon see how good it still is as it transitions from it’s greatest football era under Norris Vaughan.  Richard Obert, azcentral sports

Wellbrock will lean heavily on a loaded, fast defense, especially up front where he has three guys who could dominate off the edge.

Mountain Pointe’s offense may have a faster tempo than it did under Vaughan and should remain electric.

But who will lead it?

Wellbrock has two good quarterback options – the veteran Nick Wallerstedt and the ultra-athletic Ahmen Williams, who is ready to break out.

“Nick has done a phenomenal job, great kid,” Wellbrock said. “The other young man is a senior. They had even reps all summer. Now it’s ‘Who’s going to be the best leader?’

“I think both kids are tough kids and they’re going to want us to win football games. And that’s the biggest thing.”

Key returners

A punishing, big-play run game and physical defense have always been the Pride’s strong suits, and this team should be no different with running back Jakim McKinney (5-foot-8, 175 pounds) fresh off leading the Pride last season with 1,334 yards and 18 touchdowns rushing.

Wallerstedt is back after passing for 1,567 yards and rushing for 711 yards and totaling 20 TDs.

Pleasant-Johnson had 10 pass breakups, leading a fast secondary.

Defensive end Kenneth Lofton (6-3, 220) had 12 sacks.

Ready to break out

Senior slot Jathan Washington (5-9, 155) has a gear seldom seen on the field. He carried the ball just 10 times last season but averaged more than nine yards a carry. He could be electrifying on bubble screens, getting him out in space.

Defensive end Anthony Dedrick and tight end Jerrick Dickson are monsters on a front line that will make it tough for offenses to get going.

Safety Jatu Gipson is about to emerge as a star in the secondary.

Junior wide receiver Dominique Davis (6-1, 165) is ready to make his name as a big-play threat.

Key date

Mountain Pointe opens Aug. 24 at Phoenix Pinnacle, where it will try to keep Rattler, the No. 1-ranked 2019 QB in the nation, from beating the Pride for the first time in his career.

Final word

“I feel like they really understand what is going on with us and team and they’re trying to make us get better and win state.” – RB Jakim McKinney.

To suggest human-interest story ideas and other news, reach Obert at richard.obert@arizonarepublic.com or 602-316-8827. Follow him at twitter.com/azc_obert.

No. 8 Anthony Dedrick, Phoenix Mountain Pointe, 6-4, 235, Sr.

Sack attack: Top 10 outside linebacker/defensive ends in Arizona high school football

, Arizona RepublicPublished 9:18 a.m. MT July 9, 2018

They have maybe the biggest impact on defense, guys who rush the quarterback and can drop back in coverage and make plays.

When they’re not harassing quarterbacks, they’re gobbling up running backs and being a disruptive menace to offenses.

They are the outside linebacker/defense end.

MORE: Top 10 Arizona high school football offensive linemen in 2018

Here are azcentral sports’ top 10 for the 2018 Arizona high school football season:

No. 1 Damian Sellers, Scottsdale Saguaro, 6-4, 230, Jr.

He recently picked up an offer from Alabama during its camp. He became a difference maker on defense the second half of last season when he became eligible and ended up making  azcentral sports’ All-Arizona team.

No. 2 Jason Harris, Gilbert Higley, 6-8, 225, Jr.

He didn’t play his sophomore season because of shoulder surgery. It’s been almost two years since he played a football game, so Harris will try to show he hasn’t lost anything and gained more speed, quickness and strength since a breakout freshman season at Mesa Desert Ridge.

No. 3 Bralen Trice, Phoenix Sandra Day O’Connor, 6-4, 225, Sr.

He was an absolute beast late in his junior season. Major college offers began to flood in this spring. With  added strength and overall athleticism and a work ethic second to none, watch for Trice to become one of the best defensive ends in the state.

OBERT: Make Arizona high school football transfers sit out playoffs

No. 4 Braxten Croteau, Peoria Liberty, 6-5, 240, Sr.

He had  70  tackles, nine sacks and 14 quarterback hurries as an edge end on Liberty’s 5A state semifinal team. Croteau is no surprise anymore and he will lift his game another notch or two.

No. 5 Seth Robinson, Saguaro, 6-4, 220, Sr.

He is an outside linebacker on maybe the best defense in the state at any level. He has a size and power to stuff the run and the speed and quickness to cover and make plays downfield.

No. 6 Logan Maxwell, Higley, 6-4, 215, Sr.

He is a two-way player (watch him make plays on offense as a big receiver) who has a knack for getting into backdfields quickly as a blitzing outside linebacker. He’ll be a defensive end, giving Higley maybe the best one-two defensive end combo in Arizona.

COUNTDOWN: 50 things to watch for in the 2018 Arizona high school football season

No. 7 Cosmas Kwete, Phoenix Central, 6-3, 230, Sr.

His twin Eloi made All-Arizona last season as a defensive tackle. Cosmas is just as good at getting to quarterbacks and stopping running backs from his edge spot on the line. He blew it up last year and he’s only gotten stronger.

No. 8 Anthony Dedrick, Phoenix Mountain Pointe, 6-4, 235, Sr.

This weak-side defensive end has the ability to change the game. He’ll probably see double teams to try to get him off of quarterbacks. He has worked hard to make this a season to remember. With defensive coordinator Conrad Hamilton in charge, Dedrick should become a focal point.

No. 9 Daniel Tootoo, Mesa Skyline, 6-3, 230, Sr.

Explosive, versatile defensive end who can play linebacker. He had an impact on last year’s 6A playoff team. This year, he is expected to dominate from start to finish.

No. 10 Max Sandlin, Chandler, 6-5, 225, Sr.

This recent Navy commit has the speed and power off the edge to be one of the forces on Chandler’s tough defense. He had 14 quarterback hurries as a junior and he is just now scraping the surface of his potential. He is ready to take off.

No. 9 Rashion Hodge, Mountain Pointe, 6-2, 225, Jr.

Inside track: Top 10 linebackers for 2018 Arizona high school football

, Arizona RepublicPublished 12:33 p.m. MT July 16, 2018 | Updated 5:57 p.m. MT July 16, 2018

This the second layer of defense, guys asked to fill gaps, stuff the run and occasionally blitz.

Here are the top 10 inside linebackers for the 2018 Arizona high school football season.

No. 1 Ryan Puskas, Liberty, 6-3, 220, Sr.

He has basically grown out of the strong safety position to become a fierce linebacker. Committed to California. He was All-Arizona last season at safety, but he is expected to make a big impact in this move closer to the ball. Puskas is so good is so many ways, even on special teams where he is a threat to block kicks.

No. 2 Connor Soelle, Saguaro, 6-1, 195, Sr.

A hybrid safety/linebacker, Soelle’s versatility allows the Sabercats to do so many things on defense. He can move around, but his speed, quickness and instincts make him an ideal inside linebacker in Saguaro’s scheme. Arizona State noticed and offered him a scholarship, where he could be cut in the mold of a Pat Tillman once he becomes a Sun Devil.

No. 3 Zach Bowers, Chandler, 6-0, 215, Sr.

Bowers missed some of last season with an injury but when he played his plays jumped off the film. He had a monster game against the top team in the country, IMG Academy of Florida, in August. He was an impactful game changer in the playoffs in the Wolves’ run to the 6A title. Committed to Hawaii.

No. 4 Andrew Blitzke, Cesar Chavez, 6-1, 210, Sr.

Just a great athlete and leader, Blitzke will do anything to help his team win. He has the instincts to be a dominate inside backer but he can also impact the game on offense at running back. He never gets tired and never wants to leave the game. He is carving his path as perhaps the greatest football player Chavez has ever had.

No. 5 Clay Randall, Saguaro, 6-2, 215, Sr.

Saguaro is so talented on defense that teams won’t know who to key on. That could open up plays for Randall to make. He is a tackling machine for the five-time defending state champions, who will play off of Soelle to make it tough for offenses to get going with the run game.

No. 6 Milton Rodgers, Desert Edge, 6-0, 210, Sr.

An under-valued playmaker who might be the Scorpions’ best player. He will plug the middle of the defense with his speed and skills. He’s not afraid to lay a big hit and he can move laterally as well as anybody.

No. 7 Tate Romney, Chandler, 6-2, 200, Jr.

His brother Gunner was an All-Arizona wide receiver at Chandler last season. Tate is a totally different player. He loves the defensive side of the ball. Continues to make physical gains to go with a fierce drive that will take him to big places in football.

No. 8 Jack Littleton, Casteel, 6-1, 205, Jr.

Consistent, hard-working, technically sound, Littleton had 128 tackles on Casteel’s 14-0 2017 season in 3A. He’ll find out quickly in 5A how much he has improved his game when Casteel opens at home against defending state champion Peoria Centennial and all of its speed.

No. 9 Rashion Hodge, Mountain Pointe, 6-2, 225, Jr.

Athletic and strong, Hodge will deliver a hit that opposing backs won’t forget. His speed and quickness make it tough to get a good block on him. He’ll be a force on what could be one of the best defenses in the state in 6A.

No. 10 Zach Kriens, Skyline, 6-2, 225, Jr.

A middle linebacker, he had nearly 100 tackles on varsity as a sophomore. He has added about 20 pounds since then and and has  gotten faster and more athletic. He is a natural leader who will key a strong Coyotes defense.

Mountain Pointe Head Coach, Rich Wellbrock.   [Billy Hardiman/Special for The Republic]

10 new Arizona high school football coaches who could make an immediate impact

, Arizona RepublicPublished 5:02 p.m. MT July 10, 2018

They can be rookie head coaches. They can be new to Arizona. They can be new to a school.

Watch for these 10 new coaches to make an impact in 2018 during the Arizona high school football season.

Coaches are listed in alphabetical order.

Sean Freeman, Glendale Copper Canyon

He was a late hire at a school that began taking some positive rebuilding steps in the  last couple of years under Shawn Kemmer. Much of Freeman’s coaching career has been spent in the Canyon Athletic Association. He took over at Apache Junction Imagine Prep in 2016, playing in an 11-man league and leading it last year to a 7-4 record and the state final. He’ll turn the Aztecs into a more pound-and-ground team in 6A. Don’t be surprised if they have a winning season.

Jon Kitna, Phoenix Brophy Prep

Kitna has been at Brophy since February, so he’s had plenty of time to get to know the  players, his staff, and the area. Brophy had a rare one-win season last year, so the Broncos can only go up under Kitna, a 14-year NFL quarterback, who led Tacoma (Wash.) Lincoln to two district titles in thee years and turned around Waxahachie (Texas) in three years. It’s tough duty playing in the 6A Premier against the Chandler district heavyweights, but Kitna will get the most out of his players.

Eric Lauer, Tempe Marcos de Niza

Talent is there for the first-year head coach, who learned under Norris Vaughan at Phoenix Mountain Pointe. Lauer is a strict disciplinarian who will get the most out of his players and will keep them in line. He has a strong voice in the locker room and will demand excellence both on and off the field. The Padres are in the same 4A Desert Sky Region as Scottsdale Saguaro. But they’re capable of finishing second.

Chris McDonald, Chandler Basha

Great fit. McDonald’s personality should resonate, and the offense should click. He had success as head coach at Maricopa, building it into an explosive, high-scoring team. After winning just two games and seeing 10 players quit last season, the Bears are looking to take big strides and keeping everybody together with McDonald in charge.

Mike Mitchell, Wickenburg

This is his first year coaching in Arizona, but he has 50 years coaching experience, even coaching in two other countries. Mitchell, who is coming in from Oregon, usually wins wherever he goes, so if he’s all in at Wickenburg, the Wranglers should improve on last year’s 6-5 record.

Bobby Newcombe, Queen Creek Casteel

This is Newcombe’s first season as a head coach, but he couldn’t have stepped into a better situation. Spencer Stowers confidently left Newcombe the keys to his program on his way to Minnesota this summer. Newcombe, a former quarterback, receiver and kick returner at Nebraska, who was heavily influenced in life by former Cornhuskers coach Tom Osborne, commands the room. And he’s got Casteel’s first senior class engaged, ready to make noise in its first year at the 5A level.

Louie Ramirez, Marana

Ramirez may only be 25, but his work ethic is second to none. He’ll make his first head coaching job memorable with quarterback Trenton Bourguet ready to set 5A and southern Arizona passing records. Andy Litten left the Tigers in good shape after they went 9-3 last year. Ramirez will put the right pieces together. Watch his first team take off.

Kerry Taylor, Phoenix Arcadia

Arcadia ruffled feathers at 7-on-7 tournaments in June, but Taylor’s personality was heard loud and clear. The former Arizona State and Cardinals wide receiver is not going to let the Titans be road kill anymore. Last year, the Titans reached staggering depths. Even though Taylor’s first Arcadia team is young, it won’t be shy, and it will let opponents know they are in a battle.

Rich Wellbrock, Phoenix Mountain Pointe

Wellbrock’s fiery personality fits Mountain Pointe better than it did in his one year at Basha. That’s because Wellbrock’s temperament isn’t that much far removed from Norris Vaughan, who became a legend in his time turning the Pride into not only a state power but one recognized nationwide as a feared football team. Adding defensive coordinator Conrad Hamilton to the sideline gives the Pride even more fire. If the players buy in, this could be a team chasing down Chandler and Gilbert Perry for the 6A title.

Mike Zdebski, Chandler Hamilton

A hall of fame high school coach in Michigan, once Zdebski got accustomed to the heat, he got the Huskies used to his personality. He won’t let the defense collapse and he’ll have the offense moving fast with enough talented athletes and lunch-pail players that could return the Huskies back to that bunch the Chandler Wolves struggled against.

New Mountain Pointe football coach Rich Wellbrock directs the Pride during a 7-on-7 tournament at Arizona State on June 8. 

Rich Wellbrock leads new era of Pride football

 

Rich Wellbrock understands that he is following a football coaching legend at Mountain Pointe High.

“This is on Mount Rushmore, as far as programs go,” Wellbrock said during a break from his first summer of drills as coach of the Pride.

“Everybody looks from the outside and sees Mountain Pointe as one of the top programs in the state and nationally.”

If Mountain Pointe is on the Mount Rushmore of high school football, the man Wellbrock follows could be there, too. Norris Vaughan’s teams built a dynasty during his nine years as Pride coach, going 99-19 before resigning in December and moving to Georgia to be closer to family.

Three weeks ago, Vaughan was named offensive coordinator at Athens Clarke Central High.

“When you get to a program like this, you already know the expectations. It’s exciting and that’s what we’ve all signed up for. We all came to this program to be part of the conversation,” Wellbrock said.

That conversation involves teams contending for a state championship, which has become tradition at Mountain Pointe. Vaughan’s teams appeared in the title game three times and won the state title in 2013. They reached the final four – the big-school state semifinals – in eight of his nine years.

While Wellbrock said his relationship with Vaughan was purely professional, he doesn’t hide his admiration for him.

“He’s built such a tradition here,” Wellbrock said. “They play hard-nosed football and obviously he has moved this program into another stratosphere.”

Not every coach is up for following an act like that, yet former Mountain Pointe principal Bruce Kipper, who recently moved into Temppe Union High School District’s athletic director position, fielded applications from dozens of coaches with winning pedigrees who wanted to give it a try.

Not all of them were right for the circumstances at Mountain Pointe, Kipper said.

Because Wellbrock had a long run of success on a campus similar to Mountain Pointe’s – Desert Edge in Goodyear – Kipper said that Wellbrock was the best fit for the Pride.

It was an opportunity Wellbrock couldn’t pass up. He, too, saw the parallels: kids with character, work ethic and chips on their shoulders to succeed in an elite program.

Kipper said at the time that he regarded last season as an anomaly on Wellbrock’s resume.

In one year as coach at Basha, the Bears were a disappointing 2-8. That flew in the face of Wellbrock’s tenure at Desert Edge, where his teams won 75 games in seven years, including a state title in 2014.

Wellbrock has a talented roster to uphold Mountain Pointe’s legacy. He expects big things from Jatu Gipson, Anthony Dedrick, Rashion Hodge and Jerrick Dickson.

He also is complimentary of quarterback Nick Wallerstedt, the returning starter, although Wellbrock has yet to publicly announce a starter.

“It took him a little bit to get that throwing motion changed,” he said of Wallerstedt, who also starred on the baseball diamond for the Pride. “He’s had a really good summer and he’s excited about the offensive changes we’re making. What a great kid.”

The Pride faithful can expect more hard-nosed football with a few exceptions: Wellbrock hopes to open up the playbook.

“We want to make the tough runs when it’s time. That’s Mountain Pointe football. But we’re spreading it out a bit more.

“Hopefully we’ll have a little bit more diversity within the offense. We’d like to see our receivers get the ball in space,” Wellbrock said.

The Pride offense and defense will be put to the test immediately, as they open at Pinnacle on Aug. 24 against top quarterback prospect Spencer Rattler, who is headed to Oklahoma next year.

“We’re just excited to be done with this 7-on-7 stuff and really get to working on the 11-man grind,” Wellbrock said. “I’m very excited about the opportunity.”

No. 6 Jakim McKinney, Phoenix Mountain Pointe, 5-8, 170  [Sr. Carlos Salcedo/Special to azcentral sports]

Running wild: Top 10 RBs for 2018 Arizona high school football season

, The Republic | azcentral.comPublished 2:34 p.m. MT June 11, 2018

In this age of the no-huddle offense fueled by the passing game, very great offense has to have a quality running back.

There will be no shortage in Arizona high schools during the 2018 football season.

Top 10 running backs

No. 1 Bijan Robinson, Tucson Salpointe Catholic, 5-11, 190, Jr.

He has proven to be a dynamic back on Friday nights since he was a freshman. Last year, he emerged among the top eight candidates for azcentral Sports Player of the Year with his ability to make plays out of nothing and to dominate in 4A, helping  the Lancers reach the 4A final.

No. 2 DeCarlos Brooks, Chandler, 5-10, 190, Sr.

With offers from Pac-12 California and Oregon State, Brooks is ready to impress the country as the marquee, featured back with Drake Anderson moving onto college at Northwestern. Brooks had more than 1,000 yards rushing last season as a parttime running back in Chandler’s potent, well-rounded offense.

No. 3 Darvon Hubbard, Scottsdale Chaparral, 6-0, 200, Jr.

He moved from Akron, Ohio, late last summer, and gave a sampling of what’s to come this season with his ability to break tackles. Great downhill runner who will be asked to catch passes out of the backfield in a new spread offense. Has a few gears that makes him a top weapon.

No. 4 Tawee Walker, Peoria Centennial, 5-10, 195, Sr.

This was a gift from Las Vegas heaven for coach Richard Taylor, who was wondering how he was going to replace two-time, 2,000-yard rusher Zidane Thomas. Walker, who recently moved in from Las Vegas, fills those shoes with power and speed. He ran for more than 1,500 yards and 18 touchdowns last season at Mohave in Nevada.

No. 5 Israel Benjamin, Scottsdale Saguaro, 5-9, 190, Jr.

He has transformed his body during the off-season, becoming much stronger and faster, according to coach Jason Mohns. Understands the offense after transferring in last summer from Brophy Prep. Very good coming out of the backfield to catch passes. Watch for a big season from one of the best students in the classroom.

No. 6 Jakim McKinney, Phoenix Mountain Pointe, 5-8, 170, Sr.

Fast, elusive, great cutback moves, he ran for 1,334 yards and 18 touchdowns last year. Averaged nine yards a carry. Great at catching the ball. A threat to score every time he touches the ball with his breakaway speed.

No. 7 Juwuan Price, Peoria, 5-10, 180, Sr.

Electric player who runs under 11 seconds electronic in 100 meters. Ran for more than 1,600 yards, averaging nine yards a carry, during a breakout junior season. He also is a threat to take it back on kickoffs, averaging 40 yards a return in ’17. He scored more than 20 touchdowns for the Panthers.

No. 8 Ali Mohammad, Glendale Apollo, 5-10, 180

Mohammad should be even better after he ran for 1,530 yards and 22 touchdowns last season. Quick, fast, elusive, he has gotten stronger in the weight room without losing speed and agility.

No. 9 Deonce Elliott, Mesa Red Mountain, 5-10, 180, Jr.

Red Mountain found  an answer to its run game with Elliott recently transferring from Mesa Desert Ridge. But he may have to sit out the first five games because of the Arizona Interscholastic Association’s transfer rules. To have this speedy athlete for the second half of the season should help the Lions in their push for the 6A playoffs.

No. 10  Marqui Johnson, Saguaro, 5-8, 160, Sr.

A recent transfer from Chaparral, Johnson will likely sit the first five games with the move. But he’ll probably play nine games with the Sabercats again the favorite to win 4A. He is lightning, great in space, has moves that make it tough to get a good hit on him.