Posted: Thursday, August 18, 2016 11:05 am
The mounting expectations at Mountain Pointe High School haven’t fazed anyone in its football program.
Instead of letting that pressure stifle their growth, each Pride squad just keeps adding to it by maintaining a high standard.
This year the stadium has a ring of honor of sorts: past players are pictured in banners circling the entrance of Karl Kiefer Stadium.
Those banners both symbolize the team’s past success and inspires the current group of players who are strapping on the maroon and gold.
“I want to be up there some day,” senior cornerback Antwaun Woodberry said. “Those guys did things that gave us the things we have. If they didn’t do what they did, we wouldn’t be expected to keep it going.”
Mountain Pointe, which has the best record (48-6) among big-school programs over the last four years, is entering the year ranked No. 23 nationally by MaxPreps and is considered one of the favorites in the 6A Conference title chase.
One of the top and stable coaching staffs, led by Norris Vaughan, has some of the best talent around annually to work with and it has led to one state title (2013), one state runner-up finish (2012) and four other state semifinal appearances since 2009.
The 2016 squad expects to add to the program’s legacy.
“When you put on the Mountain Pointe jersey, you are expected to perform,” senior wide receiver Jaydon Brooks said. “Maybe it’s a lot for young guys at first, but you begin to understand what it means pretty quick. There’s a lot of stuff around here with all the banners and records.”
The players believe they have a chance to reach similar pinnacles as those before them, but there are still 10 games, including a tough California trip (Aug. 27 versus Upland at Norco High), and a new Central region schedule to navigate over the next two and half months.
“We know how good we can be,” senior wide receiver/safety Isaiah Pola-Mao said. “We know what it is going to take. We’ve made it to the semis but that’s not the goal. This team wants to be and can be great.”
The offense has a combination of established players (Brooks, Palo-Mao, linemen Mason Honne and Eddie Rivas) and ready-to-prove-they-belong players (quarterback Noah Grover, running backs Gary Bragg and Anthony Stephens, lineman Justice Hudson.
Grover is one of the team’s top students and makes good decisions. Words is he is one of the most accurate passers the Pride has had in recent years.
“I’m ready to take over,” said Grover, who was 9 of 15 for 105 yards with two touchdowns in three games last year. “I’ve been in the system for a couple of years and there is a lot of talent around me so I just have to get the ball out and in their hands.”
The running back situation will be one of the storylines to watch as Bragg, who is coming off a huge junior varsity year, figures to get the first look; Stephens is suspended the first two games for an unspecified disciplinary reason.
Others, like Rashie Hodge and Woodberry, will get an opportunity to carry the ball for a program that has average 3,300 yards per year since 2009.
The defense has more established players returning than the offense does, although there might be less depth after the first unit.
“We can be really good on defense,” Vaughan said. “Some of those guys might be the best in the state at their position. We are bigger up front compared to other years but we don’t have as speed on the line. If they stay on assignment it could be one of best defenses we’ve had.”
The front line and defensive back field are both units that rank among the best in the state.
Khalif Ravenell, Shomari Hayes, Matthew Pola-Mao and Daniel Pena are big, strong and hungry on the defensive front and they give the defense the flexibility of playing three- or four-man front.
The defensive backfield has Woodberry and Cesar Chavez High School transfer Donte Lindsey at the corner spots with Kenny Churchwell and Isaiah Pola-Mao at safety.
The linebacker corps is led by Hodge, but the others are getting their first real taste of varsity action in Xavier Cota, Michael Washington and Jacob Olsen.
“No one knows the linebackers other than Hodge, but they are good,” Woodberry said. “With the big guys (on the line) they’ll be open to make tackles all over the field.”
It adds up to a campaign that should fall right in line with what Mountain Pointe has been able to do in transforming the program since bottoming out at 2-8 in 2008.
“We want to win our region, but that’s not our goal,” Brooks said. “At Mountain Pointe we watch the older guys play for state titles and when we get to varsity we expect to do it, too.”
– Contact Jason Skoda at 480-898-7915 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JasonPSkoda.
– Check us out and like the Ahwatukee Foothills News on Facebook and follow on Twitter @AhwatukeeFN.
Mountain Pointe schedule
Coach: Norris Vaughan (76-15 at MP in eight years, and 248-110-2 overall*)
* = time as interim coach (about four wins) not recorded because of incomplete information
Last year: 12-1, lost in state semifinals
Last 10 years: 88-33
Aug. 19 Sandra Day O’Connor
Aug. 27 vs. Upland (Calif.), (Brothers in Arms Tournament)
Sept. 2 Bye
Sept. 9 vs. Chandler
Sept. 16 vs. Mountain View
Sept. 23 at Pinnacle
Sept. 30 vs. Desert Vista
Oct. 7 at Highland
Oct. 14 at Desert Ridge
Oct. 21 vs. Corona
Oct. 28 at Gilbert