Firebirds on the rise
RB Williams part of experienced skill position players at Chaparral
WEEKLY BLOG: 7/13/19
Now entering their second season as a 6A program, the Chaparral Firebirds got off to a 5-2 start in the 2018 regular season. Ultimately, a big injury derailed the offense down the stretch.
Chaparral still qualified for the playoffs with a 5-5 record, but the 'Birds were bounced in the first round against No. 3 seed Desert Vista.
Looking at the roster for this season, what stands out are the skill positions. And that starts with quarterback Jack Miller, who has been committed to Ohio State for a full year now.
With Miller at the helm for the first eight games, Chaparral averaged 41.2 points per contest. A medial collateral knee sprain ended his season prematurely. In the last three games, the Firebirds were limited to 42 total points (14 per game).
"It starts when you have a guy like that pulling the trigger," Chaparral head coach Brent Barnes said. "There were a number of guys we were able to get the ball to. He can spread the field and have other guys make plays."
In his second year at CHS (after starting his freshman year at Scottsdale Christian), Miller threw 27 touchdown passes giving him an even 100 for his varsity career. The 11-man state record is 137 held by Chase Cord of Sunrise Mountain (2013-2016).
Miller represented Chaparral and the state of Arizona at the Rivals Five-Star Challenge in Atlanta last month. Arizona Varsity's Cody Cameron caught up with him there.
Spoke with @ChapfootballAZ QB and Ohio State commit @jackjamesmiller about the upcoming Chaparral season. He listed off a ton of players who he thinks are set for breakout seasons next Fall @AZHSFB @jacksonHholmes @HightowerKamdan @BEddleblute @JaxonRichards3 @jacejorgensen_ pic.twitter.com/nNoydBbggZ— Cody Cameron (@CodyTCameron) June 28, 2019
Heading up the receiving corps is Tommy Christakos. The 6-4, 215-pound pass catcher is also a Division I player having committed to Cal in early June. He came out of the starting gates on fire with 238 yards against Hamilton. Later in the year, Christakos had four TD catches in a win over O'Connor. In addition to his play as a receiver, he was the Firebirds' punter (42.4-yard average) and field goal kicker (6 made FGs with a long of 53).
Chaparral lost receiver Deavon Crawford (transfer to Cesar Chavez), but is excited about senior tight end Jack Helsten, junior Max Minor, and junior Capri Hamilton.
But, that's not all. Sophomore Charlie Borowsky has transferred in to CHS from Pinnacle. Borowsky is a big receiver at 6-3 and 200 pounds.
The Firebirds mostly play a one-back, one-tight end offense and use the multiple spread offense, 11 personnel, meaning there are three wide receivers on the field. They will use multiple formations, but not a lot of RPO.
When it comes to total yardage, Chaparral was more of a passing team (291 yards per game vs. 133 on the ground). With Darvon Hubbard's transfer to Willow Canyon, junior Jared Williams will see most of the action in the backfield.
Last season, Williams had 100-yard rushing games against La Joya and Saguaro. He finished with 522 yards and five touchdowns. Barnes is pleased with what he's seen out of Williams this spring and summer.
"He's had as good of an offseason as anybody," Barnes said. "He's always going 100 percent. He's the most active and emotional guy in the weight room."
Williams, who has put on some weight and while also increasing his speed, could play some defense in certain packages.
If all those skill position players are to put up big numbers, it will be dependent on the offense line, and there is only one returning starter up front. Senior Brian Groeger has moved from guard to center.
The four players around Groeger will be new. Junior TJ Ritter and Sardar Azeez (6-2, 305) will be at the guards. Junior Mason Osborn, who is big and physical will be at one of the tackle positions. The other spot is still up for grabs with sophomore Ethan Leigh and junior Colin Buchanan battling for it.
"Our O-Line has had a great offseason," Barnes said. "We'll be a lot bigger and stronger up front, just not as experienced."
Barnes said the total roster (JV and Varsity) is over 110, which is a pretty healthy number. He is concerned about depth at both the offensive and defensive line positions.
Chaparral took its team out to Desert Vista last May for one of the showcase events that attracted many college scouts. Arizona Varsity's own Chilly took his Sideline Vlog out there for the event, which also included Desert Ridge and Salpointe. Included in this piece are interviews with Chaparral offensive coordinator Tim Kohner and Miller.
Click the link and check out the latest episode of #TheSidelineVlog https://t.co/qUYoNek45l@JUSTCHILLY talked famous people w/ an all world RB, a talented ‘19 QB w/ a big opportunity helps break down the QBs from DR DV Sal & Chap, and 2 QBs put folks on notice.. and Blair.. pic.twitter.com/elLSOH47IN— ArizonaVarsity.com 🏈🏈🏈🏈 (@AZHSFB) July 13, 2019
One area of concern for the Firebirds last year was the defense, which allowed more than 30 points seven times (season average 31.9 points allowed per game). However, Barnes simply calls it a "sign of the times".
Case in point, Chandler scored 65 in its title-game win over Perry. Centennial posted 60 while winning the 5A title over Notre Dame. Chaparral may find itself in some shootouts this year.
"You're going to give up 20-30 points to a good team each week," Barnes said. "We play 4-5 really good teams and if we hold them to 30, we have a good chance to win. We want to focus on not giving up big plays and making stops in the red zone."
Barnes has experience in this area. As head coach of Norman North in Oklahoma, his 2016 team went 12-1 and reached the 6A title game. The Timberwolves averaged 51.8 points per game and allowed 23.7. Norman North won playoff games that year by scores of 42-40 and 68-42.
Jaxon Richards returns at one of the defensive end spots. He got to the quarterback, registering 10.5 sacks, which ranked seventh in all of 6A.
In the secondary, Kamdan Hightower recently committed to UC Davis and intercepted three passes last season. He is joined by free safety Ben Eddleblute, who had 57 tackles.
Another difference with this season's team is Barnes has had more time to work with them. He was hired in March of 2018, but didn't move to the Valley until June. Barnes teaches in the Physical Education department on campus and the football players have a class daily during the school year.
"I'm excited going into our second year together," Barnes said. "With a full offseason, our guys have spent so much time together. The grind of the summer is nearing an end."
Chaparral will wrap up its summer work with a team camp at Embry Riddle University in Prescott from July 27-30. Those dates will coincide with the first couple days of "official practices".
Each day when the players head out of the field house adjacent to the turf field, they see the poles with the banners of past Firebird glory. Chaparral won state titles in 1999, 2000, and 2002. Then, the Firebirds won three straight from 2009-2011. In fact, Chaparral has the longest streak of any big-school team in the state with 22 consecutive playoff appearances dating back to 1997.
If the key offensive players can stay healthy, and the defense can keep the games from getting out of reach, this Chaparral team stands as good a chance of any other Firebird team in recent years of reaching the coveted top eight and a spot in the first Open Tournament.
"There's a lot of tradition and championship banners," Barnes said. "We're just trying to get back to that. We're not going to shy away from competition against the best."