There is no off-season for MHS football; just out-of-season. That’s where head coach Brandon Harris has tracked improvement in the players coming back from a team that was 5-6 and qualified for state play from arguably the toughest region in 5A.
The 2019 season starts Friday at McClintock.
“Summer was good for us,” Harris said. “We participated in a lot of 7-on-7 tournaments. It was nice. We came home and won the whole tournament here at Copper Sky.”
That involved the Arizona Football Coaches Association, and Harris said “everybody in the state that is somebody was there,” including Hamilton, Mountain Pointe and Higley. Maricopa players placed second in a Tucson tournament. Out-of-season he had them working on speed and agility, skills and drills. Some players migrated to track and field to stay in shape.
“Seven-on-7 isn’t football, I say that all the time,” Harris said, “but it gives you an indication of how you match up skill-wise with other teams in the state. I think we match up really well this year, more so than we did last year. We’ve got weapons everywhere.”
MHS Athletic Director Jake Neill likes the direction the program is headed.
“We’re just getting compliments on how hard we play, in talking with football coaches who maybe didn’t expect the game they got from us,” Neill said. “That’s a credit to the kids and coach Harris and his coaching staff. The consensus is that if a team is going to get a win [against MHS], it’s going to be a tough one.”
The 7-on-7 participation told the most about the growth of senior quarterback Daxton Redfern.
“We realized how good he was when we went down to U of A in Tucson,” Harris said. “He’s grown exponentially. He knows our offense really well.”
In that 7-on-7 tournament, Redfern threw 42 touchdowns in 13 games against one interception. Coming up behind him is sophomore Merhauti Xepera, who is a tight end when not quarterbacking. “He’s a big kid, an athletic kid,” Harris said. “He’s going to be the future.”
When it comes to team leadership, no class has the upper hand.
“Whoever emerges as a leader is a leader,” Harris said. “I don’t care if that’s a freshman, sophomore, junior or senior, because I’ve been in programs where I wasn’t the head coach, I was offensive coordinator, it was like, seniors are in charge. If they weren’t leaders as sophomores or juniors, what makes them leaders just because the calendar changed? Teams end up rising and falling on that. I’m not a believer in a senior has to be the guy.”
The program is experimenting with a new leadership model. Noting the reluctance of a new crop of teenagers to emerge from a crowd, the team has created “position groups.”
We’re setting it up where we’ll have senators, if you will. So, in each position group, there are going to be several people responsible for the position group,” Harris said. “We hold those guys accountable for the performance on campus, off campus, being on time to class, things of that nature. So, three or four guys in each position group meet with me every week.”
Having graduated a batch a of elite players with big personalities, the 2019 edition of the Rams will look a little smaller, but they’ll be fast. They’ve also grown close as a team, helped along by the “transformative experience” of camp in Flagstaff.
“I like this team. I think we’re more of a team this year in a lot more ways, offensively and defensively,” Harris said.
Leading the running back corps is returning junior Mister Chavis along with junior Steven Forrester. Among the wide receivers, “We’ve got some guys that can go,” Harris said. Namely, senior Ilijah Johnson is “Pretty special from both sides of the ball” with a 46-inch vertical leap. Tylek Mooney is an “explosive player, who’s shifty and slippery.”
Bryan Pick will join Xepera at tight end. Junior Hunter Taylor is also a tight end and defensive end, “a bigger version of his brother Logan,” and Anthony Valenzuela is a “high-motor player” who can “just run all day.”
The Rams have players and coaches coming in from other corners of the country. With Corey Nelson leaving to help coach Sequoia Pathway, Harris shifted his assistants.
Stephan Nelson continues to coach linebackers and running backs. Bill Poyser is the defensive coordinator. Ed Jordan coaches the secondary, while the defensive line is in the hands of Dean Hanneman. Harris is letting Gerald Campbell coach the quarterbacks while he moves over to the wide receivers. Andres Zelaya coaches the inside wide receivers.
The team will run the same gauntlet through San Tan 5A, still one of the toughest in the state.
Harris’s recipe for a successful season?
- No catastrophic injuries
- Academic health during season and beyond
- Building on what we started
“We’ll be fast. We’re always going to be fast here, explosive, resilient, family, very close team this year,” Harris said. “We got into the playoffs. Now the next step is to win some games in the playoffs, which is what I’m used to doing. That’s the goal. We think we have a really good chance of doing that.”
Aug. 23 7 p.m. at McClintock
Aug. 30 7 p.m. vs. Millennium
Sept. 6 7 p.m. vs. Apollo
Sept. 13 7 p.m. vs. South Mountain (Homecoming)
Sept. 20 7 p.m. at Central
Sept. 27 7 p.m. at Higley
Oct. 4 7 p.m. vs. Campo Verde
Oct. 18 7 p.m. vs. Williams Field (Senior Night)
Oct. 25 7 p.m. at Casteel
Nov. 1 7 p.m. at Gilbert