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MHS football

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The other shoe finally dropped.

The football programs of Maricopa and Central high schools were given an official warning by the Arizona Interscholastic Association at a Monday board meeting, the result of an altercation between the head coaches after the Sept. 14 game.

The violations were self-reported.

Central reported its own coach, Jon Clanton, was the aggressor in the Homecoming night incident. The report stated Clanton pulled Maricopa head coach Brandon Harris into him during the post-game handshakes and yelled expletives at him after the Rams won 55-0. He then knocked off Harris’ visor as the Maricopa coach verbally engaged with him.

Clanton was placed on administrative leave, where he has remained.

As for Maricopa, it reported the situation was quickly put under control by the actions of students, assistant coaches and administrators. The school suspended Harris for one game.

According to AIA bylaws, a warning “places a school in jeopardy in that further violation of any rules or regulations may result in probation.”

At the same AIA board meeting, the MHS volleyball program was given “advisement” after it played a transfer student who had not sat out 50 percent of the season. Advisement is a word of caution.

This year's MHS Rams include (from left) Trey Keel, Jake Meyer, Jordan Huddleston, Tylen Coleman and Michael Flood. Photo by Victor Moreno

 

There was very little leisure for Maricopa High School football players this summer.

“We call it ‘one heartbeat;’ it’s kind of the analogy we use. We all have to work in concert for it to work.” — Coach Brandon Harris

New head coach Brandon Harris ran practices every morning, five days a week. Many nights were filled by 7-on-7 tournaments. Two weeks before the first day of school, the team left to its annual football camp in Winslow.

The coaches spend more time with athletes than ever before, Harris said, a practice in measuring the team’s pulse on – and off – the field.

MHS head coach Brandon Harris. Photo by Mason Callejas

“We call it ‘one heartbeat;’ it’s kind of the analogy we use,” Harris said of the team’s culture. “We all have to work in concert for it to work.”

When they weren’t running drills, teammates worked in unison fundraising for the program. They were coached by Harris on representing the school and the city well, he said.

The kids reportedly received compliments on their polite behavior during car washes and other engagements where athletes and coaches introduced themselves to the community.

“We are working smart; we’re working hard,” Harris said.

This summer, athletes hit the weight room after their meals – an intake of protein and carbohydrates developed by coaching staff. And while participating in any activity together, Harris only allows uplifting communication between the group.

“We don’t coach from any negativity or fear because fear is very close to hatred and you can’t play well with either one of those feelings,” Harris said.

Harris is an experienced leader on the gridiron, having previously coached championship high school state team sand collegiately.

His goal is to reinvent the Rams, who will sport redesigned uniforms, into a team that not only wins games, but wins in life.

New district Athletic Director Jacob Neill likes the approach.

“If you have a high level of participation and you’re successful in what you’re doing with the kids in your program, it’s going to ultimately have a positive impact on the culture of not just your athletics program but your entire school,” Neill said.

In 2016, Neill left the district after working four years as head basketball coach at MHS. He was the AD and assistant principal of Poston Butte High School in San Tan Valley before his recent return to Maricopa.

That experience has lent well to the football program under Harris.

“First of all, he’s a former coach,” Harris said of Neill. “He’s been doing this awhile and he gets it.”

While the Rams work to recreate themselves and improve upon last year’s 6-4 record, the team is also adjusting to a new, competitive region.

Harris said the team had “flashes of spectacular play” against opponents in the 5A San Tan Region during the 7-on-7s this summer.

But Neill and Harris agreed the region will be a great test for the program that is still developing its pulse.

“We are a team that’s loaded with a lot of players and talent, and now it’s just a matter of us putting that talent to use,” Harris said.

MHS Football
All varsity games at 7 p.m.
Aug. 17 vs. McClintock
Aug. 24 @ Millennium
Aug. 31 @ Apollo
Sept. 7 @ South Mountain
Sept. 14 vs. Central
Sept. 21 vs. Higley
Sept. 28 @ Campo Verde
Oct. 5 @ Williams Field
Oct. 19 vs. Casteel
Oct. 26 vs. Gilbert


This story appears in the August issue of InMaricopa.

 

Kemo Akins tries for extra yardage at Sunnyslope, where he served as running back and wide receiver. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

 

An episodic game that switched from slow-starter to barn-burner to heart-burner, the Maricopa High School football team lost a region game to Sunnyslope on Friday, 33-20.

After the Rams had fought to a tied score and seemed destined for overtime, the Vikings scored 13 points in the final 10 seconds. The loss moved Maricopa’s record to 5-3. The Rams are 1-2 in the 5A Metro region and in fourth place.

Maricopa had its hands full with Sunnyslope running back Xamoi Penn and wide receiver Tanner Hill. They did not help themselves with a sluggish start. To pile it on, the Rams’ top receiver, Jacob Cowing, nursed an injured hand much of the game.

“It took us a little bit to get going,” MHS head coach Chris McDonald said.

When the Rams did get going in the second quarter, they were already trailing 10-0. A strong kickoff return to the 31-yard line by senior Longman Pyne started an impressive scoring drive of less than two minutes. In the middle of it, senior Kemo Akins had a 35-yard run and, at the end of it, Akins grabbed a toss from senior quarterback Alec Smith and ran in from the 7.

The Ram defense completely stymied the Vikings in their next, brief possession. The Maricopa offense looked like it was in trouble, too, as time ran down and a sack put them at third-and-20. But Smith passed to Akins, who tumbled in for the score and the 14-10 lead at the half.

Sunnyslope used Penn to score from the 15 and take back the lead near the end of the third quarter. Having trouble getting past MHS defenders Edward Donaldson and Tylen Coleman near the goal line, the Vikings were in easy field-goal range. Instead they opted to go for the touchdown with a pass attempt.

Injury notwithstanding, Cowing made them pay for that, grabbing the ball out of the air and running all the way back to Sunnyslope’s 15-yard line. Soon after, senior running back Cameron Sanders took the ball in from the 10 to put Maricopa on top 20-17.

The Vikings answered with a field goal with 1:40 left in the game. The Rams turned the ball over on a controversial call after it seemed forward motion had ceased, and that set up Sunnyslope’s scoring drive, capped by Penn rushing for a touchdown on third down. It gave Sunnyslope the 27-20 lead with 10 seconds left.

That left Maricopa with a desperation play with 2 seconds remaining, a lateral that backfired when the ball got away. That would have ended the game in a loss for Maricopa anyway, but Sunnyslope’s Maurice Hayes picked up the ball and scored with no time left.

McDonald said he was disappointed in the Rams’ play.

“We thought we had a good game plan, and I think right out of the gate they (Sunnyslope) started playing harder,” he said.

Maricopa may be feeling the effects for a while. Cowing, who easily leads 5A Metro in receiving yards, may have broken a bone in his hand.

Next up for Maricopa is a region game at Kellis (5-3, 0-3). The game starts at 7 p.m. Oct. 20 at 8990 W. Orangewood Ave., Glendale.