(Photo: David Kadlubowski/azcentral sports)
Coach Norris Vaughan leads Mountain Pointe High School football practice Wednesday, July 27, 2016 in Phoenix, Ariz.
Phoenix Mountain Pointe football coach Norris Vaughan, riding in his golf cart, gave a tour of the facilities that are enclosed with a Wall of Fame wind-resistant banner along the fence (thanks to Under Armour and the booster club). That banner shows action photos of top players since Vaughan began restoring pride in the Pride in 2009.
Jalen Brown, Wesley Payne, Kenny Lacy, Emmanuel Butler and Natrell Curtis are among the honored players.
It’s been an assembly line of great talent since Vaughan arrived with more ready to take center stage this season when the Pride line up against the likes of Chandler and company to try to make another run for the state championship in the 6A Conference.
Mountain Pointe’s only loss last season was to eventual champion Peoria Centennial in the state semifinals.
“It makes you more desperate to win,” said Rashie Hodge, one of the state’s best athletes who can play running back, receiver, tight end, safety and linebacker.
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Vaughan said that Noah Grover would have been the starting quarterback last season if Jack Smith hadn’t moved in from Indiana. Smith, now at Arizona State, was a good runner who can pass. Grover might be a better passer, Vaughan believes.
Mountain Pointe lost only one 7-on-7 passing league tournament game in June, and most of the success was due to Grover.
“I think we have one of the best quarterbacks in the state,” Vaughan said.
Watch for a balanced attack with speedy junior Gary Bragg emerging as the go-to ball carrier on the ground. The line is stacked with Eddie Rivas and Mason Honne back to anchor it. Senior running back Anthony Stephens will miss the first two games, but watch out. He’s got 4.4 speed in the 40.
Grover will have plenty of targets, led by 6-foot-4, 195-pound Isaiah Pola-Mao and Jaydon Brooks (5-10, 165).
Pola-Mao is a two-time All-Arizona safety who will be on defense all the time. He has double-digit major college scholarship offers, but Vaughan believes he could be a Division I receiver, also.
“We’re going to pass it 20-plus times again and we’re going to run it I hope a lot,” Vaughan said. “We’re going to have a good line.
“We have some good players. We expect a lot.”
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This could be as good a defense as Vaughan has had, which is saying a lot because that 2013 team that went 14-0 was absolutely loaded on defense.
But down the middle, led by the Pola-Mao brothers, this team is fast, physical and nasty.
Cornerback Antwaun Woodberry is ready to have a huge season.
“Everybody is fast on defense, even our D-line,” Woodberry said. “We have to keep the bar high. If we go down low that can cost us some games. That could hurt us.”
Vaughan says he has seven very talented offensive linemen, and “our defensive line might be even better.”
Aside from the younger Palo-Mao (6-2, 300), a sophomore who made a varsity impact as a freshman, the Pride line up Shomari Hayes (6-2, 270) and Khalif Ravenell and Michael Washington, who can both play linebacker.
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On the lookout
Rashie Hodge, LB/RB, 6-0, 195, Sr.
Vaughan says this guy is reminiscent to Wesley Payne, the heart and soul of Mountain Pointe’s only state championship team in 2013.
“I would rank him right up there with Isaiah Pola-Moa,” Vaughan said. “I know you’ll look at me funny, but as a football player, that’s where I’d rank him. He’s fast. He’s strong.”
On the calendar
Sept. 8, vs. Chandler at Mountain Pointe
This is a Cox7 Thursday night TV game in the third game of the season for the Pride. These teams could be ranked 1 and 2 in the state at the time. They didn’t play each other last season, but two years ago, they were involved in two of the more physical and entertaining games of the year.
On the record
“It should wake us up a lot more and come back a lot better.” – sophomore DT Matthew Pola-Mao.
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