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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.”

Mountain Pointe’s Isaiah Pola-Mao attempts a diving catch agaisnt Pinnacle.  Photo by Kristin Grover, Special to Tribune

MP’s Pola-Mao named Central Region MVP

Posted: Monday, November 21, 2016 12:25 pm  |   By Jason P. Skoda, Prep Sports Director

The 6A Central Region selected its all region team.

Mountain Pointe’s Isaiah Pola-Mao was named MVP for this play at wide receiver and safety.

Desert Vista quarterback Nick Thomas was named Offensive MVP and Desert Vista linebacker Lelon Dillard was named Defensive MVP.

Here is a look at the full team:

6A Conference All-Central Region

MVP: Isaiah Pola-Mao, Mountain Pointe

Offensive MVP: Nick Thomas, Desert Vista

Defensive MVP: Lelon Dillard, Desert Vista

Offense

RB

First team

Rashie Hodge Mt. Pointe

Cameron Brice Corona Del Sol

Tyrese Allen Desert Ridge

Second team

Delano Salgado Mountain Pointe

Kohner Cullimore Highland

Gary Bragg Mountain Pointe

QB

First team

Jack Plummer Gilbert

Offensive Line

First team

Eddie Rivas Mountain Pointe

Myles Wilson Desert Vista

Rudy Rauls Mountain Pointe

Uriah Medder Corona Del Sol

Mason Honne Mountain Pointe

Second team

Mckenzie Potterf Desert Vista

Dallin Clement Highland

Matt Fick Corona Del Sol

Nick Omitt Desert Ridge

Ian Baxter Desert Ridge

WR

First team

Keishaud White Desert Vista

David Morales Gilbert

Jake White Desert Vista

Second team

Jared Zimmerman Highland

Dawson Tanner Gilbert

Ricky Pearsall Corona Del Sol

TE

First team

James Stagg Desert Vista

Second team

Garrison Turcotte Gilbert

Defense

Secondary

First team

Antwaun Woodberry Mountain Pointe

Kenny Churchwell Mountain Pointe

Steven Gomez Desert Ridge

Donjae Logan Desert Ridge

Second team

Alijah Gammage Desert Vista

Corvan Otanez Gilbert

Caleb Humphrey Desert Vista

Brad Beaver Desert Ridge

Interior Line

First team

Ashton Dana Highland

Dylan Conner Corona Del Sol

Matthew Pola-Mao Mountain Pointe

Shomari Hayes Mountain Pointe

Second team

Christian Medeiros Desert Ridge

Noah Evan Highland

Garrett Fulton Gilbert

Brett Johnson Desert Vista

End

First team

Jalen Harris Desert Ridge

Khalif Ravenell Mountain Pointe

Second team

Trey Bussler Corona Del Sol

Dylan Bryan Gilbert

Linebacker

First team

Christian Allen Desert Ridge

Chad Porter Desert Vista

Jacob Clemens Corona Del Sol

Second team

Xaiver Cota Mountain Pointe

Michael Washington Mountain Pointe

Tate Stevens Highland

Kicker

First team

Riley Erickson Desert Vista

Second team

Tony Decozio Desert Ridge

Punter

First team

Kaden Riforgiate Corona Del So

Second team

Austin Mcnamara Highland

Returner

First team

Jaydon Brooks Mountain Pointe

Second team

Connor McKernan Gilbert

Long Snapper

First team

Adam Bay Desert Ridge

Second team

Conor Egan Desert Vista

Honorable Mentions

Desert Vista

Tristin Flores, OL

Joe Money, TE

Larry Davis, LB

Nick Lopez, OL

Jared Ostendorp, OL

Highland

Sean McCord DB

Braiden Williams DL

Jake Ohara

Hunter Short DB

Jacob Wood LB

Jalen Johnson DB

Tyler Johnson DL

David Fabok DL

Noah Newburgh DB

Danial Castillo WR

Tyler Johnson WR

Jacob Wood RB

Brydon Horne RB

Connor Williams OL

Davis Brown OL

Cody Bartz OL

Jake Kersting QB

Riley Bond OL

Mountain Pointe

Noah Grover Qb

Sky Hinojosa WR

Justice Hudson OL

Alex Vogel OL

Marshawn Gibson DB

Donte Lindsey DB

Jacob Olsen LB

Daniel Pena DT

Dakota Fey P

Gilbert

Garrison Turcotte LB

Tyler Turcotte OL

Garrett Fulton OL

DJ Ruhl DB

Corona Del Sol

Griffin Baker TE

Alex Purcell C

Kaden Riforgiate LB

Jason Staples DE

Brian McCluskey DB

Kobee Marion DB

Desert Ridge

Kylar Day

Khris Broom

Tyler Mcleve

Jason Harris

Connor Goetz

Robert Mancha

Versatility on the offensive line fuels Pride offense

Posted: Thursday, October 20, 2016 10:04 pm

The Mountain Pointe football roster lists the offensive linemen without specific positions.

No one is listed as a tackle, guard or center. Everyone is listed OL.

It reflects the match-up strategy employed this year by the Pride coaching staff.

The same five players have started the last four games, but their positions change on the basis of on the strength of the opposition’s defensive front.

Four different players have started at center over the last four games. The lineup against Corona del Sol (4-4) this week for the Pride (8-0) will be different from what its lineup last week against Desert Ridge.

“In years past we couldn’t have done that,” Mountain Pointe offensive line coach Aaron Frana said. “Have a center go play tackle? That’s a tough assignment. These are guys are like, ‘You want me to move? OK.’ They never question it.

“I love it. They want to win and they do whatever it takes to do it.”

The key–other than the players’ versatility–is the level of play of senior Eddie Rivas, who is the strategy’s lynchpin as he is moved around to take on the opposition’s top player.

“I take it as a direct challenge,” said Rivas, who has played four of the five line positions. “The coaches put their faith in me to take on the top guy and I want that responsibility, plus I know whoever plays in the position I left is going to get the job done.”

His climb to one of the best linemen in the state didn’t start out all that well when he had a chance to play in the Chandler playoff game as a sophomore.

“I was like, ‘Whoa, tell me what to do,’” Rivas said. “I think (the defense) they were going to be that fast and strong. I knew I had a lot of work do when I pulled and I hit a linebacker and he didn’t move. I was like ‘get somebody else in there.’”

Two years later, he is the key to most versatile line in the state.

“He was a big raw kid,” Frana said. “He’s matured, got stronger in the weight room and now he can match up with anyone on the edge. When you have a kid who can play all five positions, you take advantage of it.”

The idea began to take shape when senior Joe Sales-Lopez sustained a concussion and had trouble getting cleared until this week.

With Sales-Lopez, who was going to be the starting left guard, out, the lineup starting changing. Star defensive linemen Matthew Pola-Moa and Shomari Hayes rotated at tackle.

When they needed a break because of their defensive responsibilities, sophomore Alex Vogel was inserted. And when he handled himself well, it became clear the unit had another capable body.

“I was not expecting it this year,” said the 220-pound Vogel, who has started at both tackle spots and center. “I made way on to the scout team and things progressed from there. I was kind of nervous at first but at the first snap you just play.”

The other three are junior Mason Honne, who has played left tackle and center; and seniors Justice Hudson, who has played center and left guard, and Rudy Rauls, who has played right guard all year.

With all the changes, many people might expect some struggles with continuity and/or rhythm. But the Pride is churning out 345 yards rushing a game with 33 touchdowns.

“Our offensive line has played really well,” Pride coach Norris Vaughan said. “We moved guys around in the past, like Natrell Curtis would play tackle or guard, but we’ve never done it at center before. That’s really unusual. They’ve played no matter where we’ve put them.”

Expect more of the same as the regular season wraps up and the Pride tries to clinch the 6A Central Region title this week—and possibly the fourth undefeated regular season since 2009 the following week against Gilbert.

There could be as many as six games remaining and there could just as many starting lineups along the offensive line.

“We will have a raffle to see who starts where,” Frana, who is also the co-offensive coordinator, joked. “It says a lot about them not only as athletes, but they have to be smart, too, to play different positions. We’ve put a lot on their plates and they keep going out an executing at a high level.”

– Contact Jason Skoda at 480-898-7915 or jskoda@ahwatukee.com. Follow him on Twitter @JasonPSkoda.

– Check us out and like the Ahwatukee Foothills News on Facebook and follow @AhwatukeeFN on Twitter.

 
 

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Running back Anthony Stephens #1 of Mountain Pointe is hit out of bounds during the first half of the 20th annual Tukee Bowl high school football game between Desert Vista and Mountain Pointe at Mountain Pointe High School on Friday, September 30, 2016 in Phoenix, Arizona.  [Photo by Billy Hardiman/Special to Tribune]

Stephens, Pride running game continue to roll without Bragg

Posted: Thursday, October 6, 2016 10:51 am

A characteristic of a seasoned running back is patience, waiting for a play to develop before turning up field.

Anthony Stephens has shown signs of being that type of runner, but he admittedly didn’t have it in him in Mountain Pointe’s third game of the year.

It was his first after being suspended for disciplinary reasons the first two games, meaning every carry was like three carries in his mind as he tried to make up for his mistake.

“I was anxious and I just wanted to go,” he said this week. “I wanted to make up for that lost time. I was the starting running back and then just like that I wasn’t. I had to calm down and see things differently.”

He sees things differently not only with the ball in his hands, but also what it truly meant to be a good teammate.

Missing that time because of something he did in the offseason cost him a more prominent role to start the year and vital time on the field.

More telling was the fact that he put himself before the team.

“I learned a lot,” Stephens said. “When you are in it for the team, it comes with a lot of sacrifices and commitments. I should have known it all along but that mistake really showed me what it means to be a teammate.”

The guy who took over his starting spot, junior Gary Bragg, tore his right anterior cruciate ligament two weeks ago in the win over Pinnacle.

Bragg was on his way to an all-state type of season with 891 yards and 11 touchdowns in five games, but now he is in rehab mode.

“All I can do is work hard and come back stronger,” Bragg said from the sidelines of the Ahwautkee Bowl.

It means Stephens and others have a chance to become the main back in the Pride’s dominant running game, which averages 327.5 yards a game entering Friday’s game at Highland (2-4).

The one thing that separates the 5-foot-10, 168-pound Stephens is that fact he only plays offense while Antwaun Woodberry (cornerback), Rashie Hodge (linebacker) and Delano Salgado (cornerback) have started on defense.

“We are going to mix it up, but we have to limit some of these guys on offense because they are so important on defense,” Pride coach Norris Vaughan said. “Woodberry can be special, but he is kind still learning back there. Hodge could be the guy, but we don’t want to wear him down too much.”

With the way the offensive line is playing, and the versatility it has shown in recent weeks, whoever lines up in the backfield is going to find holes to their liking.

“We are going to hold this position down,” Woodberry said on Friday. “We will pick (Bragg) up. He was going off, and now we have to step up.”

Senior Eddie Rivas has played every position depending on the opponent, Mason Honne moved from tackle to center,

Justice Hudson went from center to left guard and only right guard Rudy Rauls has played the same position, Sophomore Alex Vogel has found his way into the lineup at left tackle as Matthew Pola-Mao and Shomari Hayes started to concentrate on defense only.

“If we do our job it doesn’t matter who is back there,” Honne said. “They’re all good, and we have been creating some holes. We’ve made some changes and we’ve all adjusted to it.”

It’s been a winning combination, but Vaughan said the passing game may be counted on more without Bragg, whom he called the best running back in the state.

“It’s not going to change much,” he said. “It hurts you, but these guys are going to get better. Going forward though we are probably going to throw the ball more.”

However it shakes out the rest of the season, Stephens, who is the second leading rusher with 43 carries for 316 yards and three touchdowns, is ready to make the most of his opportunity.

Patiently.

“If I see it I’ll take it, but sometimes you have to wait it out,” he said. “You have let things develop and then turn it up. A good back can do both and I think we all have it covered.”

– Contact Jason Skoda at 480-898-7915 or jskoda@ahwatukee.com. Follow him on Twitter @JasonPSkoda.

– Check us out and like the Ahwatukee Foothills News on Facebook and follow @AhwatukeeFN on Twitter.

 
 

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