Mountain Pointe safety Kenny Churchwell feints toward ASU football, picks UCLA - Kenny Churchwell holds up four fingers as he sports a UCLA hat on Friday,... [ read more ]

Arizona Safety Kenny Churchwell is a Bruin - Arizona Safety Kenny Churchwell is a Bruin UCLA gets a commitment from... [ read more ]

Kenny Churchwell Commits To UCLA - Kenny Churchwell announced his commitment to UCLA on Friday morning. Kenny... [ read more ]

Wellbrock hired at Mountain Pointe -   Haley StesiakPosted January 23, 2018 at 11:23 am Rich Wellbrock has... [ read more ]

Phoenix Mountain Pointe hires Rich Wellbrock as next football coach - Rich Wellbrock, hired at Mountain Pointe, coached at Basha for one season... [ read more ]

Rich Wellbrock poised to become new Pride football coach - Rich Wellbrock selected as new Mountain Point High head football coach... [ read more ]

Arizona high school football Week 2 Game of the Week watch list: Mountain Pointe-Pinnacle

, Arizona RepublicPublished 12:49 p.m. MT Aug. 21, 2018 | Updated 1:09 p.m. MT Aug. 21, 2018

 

There is a chance to see some future Saturday football players on Friday when No. 2 (6A) Phoenix Mountain Pointe opens its season at 1-0 and No. 1 (6A)-ranked Phoenix Pinnacle in the azcentral sports’ Game of the Week.

Mountain Pointe

Lacarea Pleasant-Johnson, CB, 6-2, 180, Sr.

Long, athletic, fast corner who has a 3-star composite rating by 247Sports, Pleasant-Johnson should have a busy night with Spencer Rattler throwing the ball. Pleasant-Johnson likely will find himself guarding Pinnacle’s best wide receiver. He has offers from Florida, Iowa State, Nebraska, Missouri, Oregon State, San Diego State, Utah, and Northern Arizona.

Anthony Dedrick, DL, 6-4, 230, Sr.

He is being recruited as a weak-side defensive end. Holds a 3-star rating by 247Sports. So far four offers: NAU, South Dakota State, San Diego State and New Mexico State. Putting pressure on Rattler will help him get seen by more colleges who are looking for somebody with a large frame and quickness and speed.

Jerrick Dickson, TE/DE, 6-4, 220, Sr.

His father Marcus Dickson was a big-play running back at Phoenix Maryvale in the late 1980s. Great athlete who could make an impact on offense to get on the radar with major-college coaches.

Worth watching: QB Nick Wallerstedt, a senior, has committed to Arizona State to play baseball. Coach Rich Wellbrock may unveil 6-4, 185-pound senior Ahmen Williams at QB. He is a dynamic athlete who could make a splash in front of college recruiters. .. RB Jakim McKinney isn’t very big at 5-8, 170, but he has the speed and gears that make him stand out on the field.

RELATED: Mountain Pointe-Pinnacle leads high school football story lines

Pinnacle

Spencer Rattler, QB, 6-2, 185, Sr.

Seems like years ago that Rattler committed to Oklahoma. There has been no second-guessing that commitment since doing so last summer. Now after throwing for 415 yards and four TDs in last week’s opening win over Gilbert Perry, the five-star Rattler might be the most-watched high school quarterback in the nation.

RELATED: Spencer Rattler leads Phoenix Pinnacle to win over Gilbert Perry

Matt Goodlow, RB, 6-1, 190, Jr.

If Rattler endorses you, you know college coaches are going to listen. During Pinnacle’s preseason scrimmage, Rattler called Goodlow the best running back in the state. He has a chance to be. He has the size and speed. He can run through defenders and around them. College coaches will take a close look at him in this game against what should be a fast, physical Mountain Pointe defense.

Worth watching: Senior Athlete Kaleb Covington, 5-10, 175, has speed and gears that appeal to college coaches. Coach Dana Zupke has moved him from RB to WR. He is excellent in the slot. If last week was an indication, he will be used a lot to make plays in space. He caught four passes for 147 yards and a TD. … Senior LB Amelec Juntunen, 6-0, 190, has been moved from running back. He made a big impact on defense in the first game with 14 tackles, 11 solo, and a sack.

Mountain Pointe-Pinnacle leads Week 2 high school football story lines

, Arizona RepublicPublished 7:34 a.m. MT Aug. 21, 2018 | Updated 12:38 p.m. MT Aug. 21, 2018

Some teams make their season debuts this week. Others are trying to fix what went wrong last week. Still others want to use impressive openers as a springboard.

There are statements to be made, games to grow from and redemption to be had in Week 2’s 10 most intriguing Arizona high school football story lines.

No. 1 Pride factor

Phoenix Mountain Pointe (0-0) at Phoenix Pinnacle (1-0), Friday, 7 p.m.

This is our Week 2 Game of the Week. Mountain Pointe is launching the Rich Wellbrock coaching era. There is a lot to live up to after Norris Vaughan left the program in mint condition. Can Wellbrock with his defensive coordinator, Conrad Hamilton, keep the Pride among the state’s more physical, fast teams in the state? Will Pinnacle QB Spencer Rattler finally break through against an opponent he lost to each of his first three varsity seasons? Rattler and the Pioneers are riding confidence after hanging 59 points on then-No. 2-ranked Gilbert Perry in last week’s 26-point win. Mountain Pointe will have to watch out for a solid ground game, as well, with Matt Goodlow ready to break out. Who will Pinnacle see at QB? Nick Wallerstedt or Ahmen Williams?

No. 2 Hungry Wolves

Queen Creek (1-0) at Chandler (0-1), Friday, 7 p.m.

This is an important week for two-time defending 6A champion Chandler after rendered powerless on Friday by Corona (Calif.) Centennial in a 35-13 loss. QB Jacob Conover managed only 133 passing yards and RB DeCarlos Brooks had 83 yards rushing on 18 carries. In the end, Centennial will prove to be a top-10 team in the nation. So alarms shouldn’t go off around the Wolves, unless they fall to Queen Creek, which is ready for 6A football behind accurate, big-arm QB Devin Larsen. Chandler’s pass defense got beat up last week, allowing 403 yards between two quarterbacks splitting time.

The eight best highlights from Week 1 of high school football. azcsports

No. 3 Payback?

Henderson (Nev.) Liberty at Scottsdale Saguaro (1-0), Friday, 7 p.m.

This might be the most difficult game on Saguaro’s regular-season schedule. Last year, in the second week of the season, Saguaro went to Nevada and got dominated by Liberty 51-20 in what was a rare non-competitive game by Saguaro in the Jason Mohns coaching era. Liberty is large, fast, physical, so Mohns has his team in full pads early this week to get ready for a physical game. This Liberty team is good enough to schedule national No. 1-ranked Bradenton (Fla.) IMG Academy on Sept. 7.

No. 4 Ground control

Queen Creek Benjamin Franklin (1-0) at Snowflake (1-0), Friday, 7 p.m.

Both these teams could see each other again in the 3A playoffs. Benjamin Franklin has a deep run game. In a rout of Ganado, it threw only one time and got 164 yards from Chandler Miles and 165 from Chanin Loving on the ground. Each had three rushing TDs. Snowflake’s balanced offense is led by running back David Brimhall, who had 84 yards and two TDs rushing in last week’s 22-7 win against Safford.

No. 5 Long rivalry

Yuma Catholic (1-0) at Phoenix Northwest Christian (1-0), Saturday, 7 p.m.

It’s been a few years since top-ranked 3A Northwest Christian beat Yuma Catholic, maybe the best, geographically furthest football rivalry in the state. These programs are always on top. This time, Rhett Stallworth is back in the saddle, coaching Yuma Catholic, after taking the past two years off in his role as principal. Both teams won their openers in dominating fashion, neither team giving up a point. RB Aren Van Hofwegen and WR Thomas Poe are Northwest’s main offensive weapons.

No. 6 Air show

Scottsdale Desert Mountain (0-1) at Scottsdale Chaparral (1-0), Friday, 7 p.m.

Chaparral junior QB Jack Miller (Ohio State commit) and Desert Mountain senior QB Kedon Slovis (USC) both passed for 400 yards last week, so expect a lot of passes and a long game. Desert Mountain’s rush defense struggled in a 48-41 loss to Glendale Apollo. Slovis passed 54 times, completing 32 for 401 yards and three TDs. Miller threw 47 times, completing 24 for 453 yards and three TDs in a 36-33 overtime win at Chandler Hamilton.

No. 7 Home again

Mesa Red Mountain (1-0) at Laveen Cesar Chavez (1-0), Friday, 7 p.m.

After traveling 2,500 miles for its opener in Alaska, Chavez, led by RB/LB Andrew Blitzke, plays its home opener against a team that is one of the most solid all-around teams in 6A. Red Mountain’s offense was solid behind new QB Darren Smith, who passed for 210 yards and two TDs with no interceptions in a 24-6 win over Mesa Desert Ridge. RB Ty McElroy had 106 yards and a TD on 16 carries. The defense is tough, led by LB Anthony Giraldi, who had 19 tackles last week.

No. 8 Born again

Glendale Cactus (0-0) at Tucson Catalina Foothills (1-0), Friday, 7 p.m.

This is as young a team Catalina Foothills coach Jeff Scurran has had since he turned an 0-10 team around five years ago while relying on a freshman QB, Rhett Rodriguez. But Scurran complimented his seniors for helping the young guys beat Sierra Vista Buena in last week’s opener. Cactus is playing its first game without coach Larry Fetkenhier since 1984. Joseph Ortiz makes his varsity coaching debut after serving as Gilbert Higley’s offensive coordinator. “It’s Cactus,” Scurran said. “They have the pride that Larry built. They have the talent, as usual, and the coach they hired has a great background.”

No. 9 Shock system

Mesa Desert Ridge (0-1) at Avondale Westview (0-0), Friday, 7 p.m.

Westview’s 23-7 first-round win over No. 2-seed Desert Ridge was the most shocking  result of the 6A playoffs last year. It won’t be so much a shock if Westview wins again after Desert Ridge struggled offensively when QB Cooper Schmidt got knocked out of last week’s Red Mountain game. The line is strong, and RB Lucas Wright had more than 100 rushing yards. But the offense becomes more predictable  without Schmidt, unless coach Jeremy Hathcock can find a solution quickly. Schmidt wasn’t able to play in last year’s playoff loss to Westview, either. Desert Ridge’s secondary was hampered after the first play last week when safety John Butler suffered a pulled hamstring.

No. 10 Return game

Peoria Sunrise Mountain (1-0) at Gilbert Williams Field (0-1), Friday, 7 p.m.

Like Chandler, Williams Field opened in California, losing to a really good team. Concerning was the 329 rushing yards allowed by the Black Hawks. They’ll have to get that fixed for a dynamic Sunrise Mountain offense, led by QB Keegan Freid, who has playmakers to keep the staunchest defenses off balance.

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.

Mountain Pointe defense is fast and punishing led by CB Lacarea Pleasant-Johnson Richard Obert, azcentral sports

Mountain Pointe DB Lacarea Pleasant-Johnson driven by mom’s spirit

, Arizona RepublicPublished 7:00 a.m. MT Aug. 23, 2018 | Updated 3:29 p.m. MT Aug. 23, 2018

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Lacarea Pleasant-Johnson raises his right arm, then his left.

On the right bicep, it says, “Jaqu31.” On the left, it reads, “Pleasant.”

His mother’s name, Jaquel Pleasant, run deep in his heart. The tattoos were put there after he moved from Washington two years ago and began his Phoenix Mountain Pointe football career as a long, athletic cornerback who remembers his mom pulling him out of trouble as a child and giving him paths to succeed.

She steered him into football, took him to his games and cheered from the sideline until she lost her battle to lung cancer when she was 31 and Lacarea was 11.

“Having to go through that was big,” Pleasant-Johnson said. “But I tell you what, not a lot of people can go through this. But I think I was chosen at that time, just like this.”

The time is now for Pleasant-Johnson to ball out on the field. He is a senior , one of the state’s top-recruited cornerbacks, an athletic freak at 6-foot-2, 180 pounds, who wears jersey No. 31 to signify the age his mom died.

He’ll take her spirit with him Friday night at Phoenix Pinnacle, where he’ll be assigned to senior quarterback Spencer Rattler’s hottest receiver, perhaps Kaleb Covington, who averaged 38 yards on four catches against Perry.

Rattler is the big name in high school football in America. He came into the season ranked as the No. 1 prostyle quarterback in the nation in the 2019 class, a five-star, who this week was among the Chosen 25 by USA Today.

“Spencer is going to make plays, but we just have to know how to bounce back,” Pleasant-Johnson said. “He’s a great quarterback. But we also have a good defensive coordinator (Conrad Hamilton) and also a head coach (Rich Wellbrock).”

It will be a chance for Wellbrock and Hamilton to bounce back after being at different places last season.

Wellbrock won just two games in his only season leading Chandler Basha after taking Goodyear Desert Edge to two state finals, and winning a championship, during his West-side run.

Hamilton was defensive coordinator at Scottsdale Chaparral last year and appeared to be in the hunt to return as head coach, a position he once held there, before the Firebirds went out of state to hire Brent Barnes.

Mountain Pointe was left in great condition by Norris Vaughan, who resigned to return home to Georgia. The program under Vaughan’s watch has always been filled with tough, fast, physical athletes.

“The biggest thing is numbers and length,” Wellbrock said about comparing the athletes at Mountain Pointe to his time at Desert Edge. “This is the longest football team I’ve ever coached. Just from our DB and wide receiver and linebacker positions, our length is phenomenal. And we’ve got a lot of growth to make.

“What we see Friday night won’t be what we see when we move into October.”

Mountain Pointe has never lost to Rattler, who is in his fourth year as the varsity starting quarterback at Pinnacle.

Wellbrock embraces the pressure that comes with keeping up Vaughan did to make the Pride a powerhouse.

“We all know what we signed up for,” Wellbrock said. “When these kids come to Mountain Pointe, they know that type of pressure, that they’re going to be under the spotlight.”

Pleasant-Johnson is an engaging athlete, fun-loving, smiling, outgoing, driven — things his mom left him. His grandmother, he said, stepped up in his life after Jaquel died. His father, he said, lives in Seattle.

“Just the competitive drive, she left that with me,” he said. “Getting up at five in the morning to do a job. I play for her. She plays a significant part in my life.

“She was my confidence when I was a little kid. It could get ugly at times, but you have to stay strong.”

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.”

We have a lot going on this Saturday, August 11th.  Come out and support MP Football!

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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.”

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.