Inaugural Makoa Big Man Challenge
Event in Chandler gives linemen their day in the sun
WEEKLY BLOG: 6/2/19
Offensive linemen usually live in anonymity. Most fans watching a game focus in on the ball, whether it be from a long pass from the quarterback to an open receiver, a running back exploding up the middle, or a cornerback jumping the route and intercepting a pass. The guys in the trenches do the dirty work play in and play out with little more than their position coaches and parents watching their every moves. Don't believe me? Quick, name five starting offensive guards in the NFL.
But on this first day of June, the big guys got to stand alone in the spotlight. There was nary a football to be found at the first Makoa Big Man Challenge at Chandler HS. This was not a co-op with a 7-on-7 where the linemen were relegated to faraway fields or a practice dome, here, they were THE event.
Launched by first-year Chandler head coach Rick Garretson and his staff, this was an invitational with 12 teams represented from 11 schools (a late cancellation caused the hosts to field a second squad).
There was no sleeping in or playing video games for the linemen. The competition began with a bench press (185 pounds) in the Wolves' weight room at 7:30 a.m. That was part of a Strength and Agility portion that also included a five-man sled push, tackling dummy carrying relay, agility obstacle course, and a tire flip relay.
After an intermission, the second phase began. It wasn't your typical tug of war that many critics dismiss as a non-football drill. It was a Pass Protection competition where players went 1-on-1 getting live reps.
The 12 teams were placed into two pools with a round-robin head-to-head (five matches). Five offensive linemen on one side, five defensive on the other. A pylon was placed seven yards behind the line of scrimmage and one-by-one, each individual battle ensued. If the defensive player could knock over the pylon in 3.2 seconds, a point was scored for his team. If not, the offense scored. In pool play, there were two reps for each group and then the other team went on offense. A second round occurred where teams could bring in their backups for the next two reps. A total of 40 points were at stake.
The wins and losses from these matchups were tabulated and the 12 schools were placed into a single-elimination bracket for the knockout stage. Because of the quick turnarounds, total points were reduced to 20 during the tournament.
With everything on one field, it was easy to get around and see each of the schools. So, in no particular order, let's take a stroll around at this field, which was certainly the most elite for a big man competition in the Valley for this summer.
The Scorpions were the lone 4A school at the event coming east all the way from Goodyear. But, while the enrollment (1,764) may be smaller than the 5A and 6A schools at this event, the Scorpions have held their own. DEHS has posted a record of 90-23 over the last nine years and claimed the 2015 Division III championship. Desert Edge has also put a few linemen into D-I schools in recent seasons, and it has another crop of heralded young players.
"We have three returning starters on the offensive line," OL coach Trevor Chaco said. "They're more physically mature. Their skills have improved with a year of work."
Those starters are tackle Logan Corfield, and guards Max Garcia and Gavin Broscious. They will continue to impact the Scorpions as Corfield and Garcia are juniors while Broscious is a sophomore.
Desert Edge had their two weeks of spring ball and came through it healthy. Last season, the Scorpions (9-4) advanced to the semifinals against Saguaro.
"This is our first time competing against other schools since last season ended," Chaco said. "It's nice for us to see how our kids are coming out."
Broscious has seen gains in multiple areas in his first full offseason with the program.
"I'm getting better at 1-on-1's, run blocks, getting downfield faster, and getting stronger," Broscious, who has already received an offer from Arizona State, said.
In the event phase of the competition, the 6-4, 290-pound lineman competed in the bench (17 reps), sled, and dummy carry. He said the sled push is good for run blocking while the dummy carry helps get downhill fast with someone in your hands.
In this era of year-round training and practicing, Broscious said the Scorpions have been hard at work.
"There really wasn't an offseason for us," Broscious said. "We were always working in the weight room getting faster, better, and stronger."
Here's a look at him tossing people around.
The Wolves are another team with three returning offensive linemen. That can't make others in 6A feel real good as Chandler has taken the past three state championships. The current run the Wolves have been on is one of the best in the nation. Chandler is 73-11 over the past six years with four state titles. Five of those 11 losses have come against out-of-state teams.
Yes, Chandler does lose its three-year starter at quarterback, a 2,000-yard rusher, and a Division I tight end. But, it will be up to the guys up front to make the next wave of skill position players become household names.
"If you want to have returners, offensive line is definitely the spot," Garretson said. "We plan on that being the best unit on our football team."
Senior Nehemiah Magalei will be a three-year starter at offensive guard. He'll be joined by senior tackle Alexis Castro and junior center Tevainui Neher.
With the depth that the Wolves have, players can't get comfortable and just assume that the rings will keep coming when it may be their turn to be a starter.
"They can't get complacent because if they do, they won't play here," Garretson said. "We have competition every day. The kids know there's always someone over their shoulder waiting to take their place."
With the track record of success at CHS, it's no surprise that the goals are high.
"I want to get back to the championship," Magalei said. "I know it's Open playoffs this year, so we're shooting for that."
Part of the new process for the 6-2, 305-pound lineman is that of a leadership role. Familiarity with the program means it's his time to pass on that Ohana culture to the newer varsity players. One of those is his younger brother Zion, a 6-3, 200-pound junior defensive end.
"It's teaching the young guys to always go hard and not stop even when we're doing sprints or in the weight room," Magalei, who has offers from Air Force, Memphis, and Northern Colorado, said.
The Chandler players appreciated the modified big man events with an emphasis on the 1-on-1's. The Wolves employ a no-huddle offense that requires conditioning and quick thinking.
"(Offensive line) Coach Chick and Coach G wanted to do more on what we'll do in actual games," Magalei said. "It helps with making changes during a game and how the pace is going."
The Mountain Lions have asserted themselves as the elite team in Mesa with a 10-0 East Valley Region record over the past two seasons. Red Mountain also comes up big when it matters most with five playoff victories in the last three years.
Some position changes were made among the staff and new Offensive Line coach Doug Detrick led RMHS into this competition at Chandler.
"This is a very good blue-collar group," Detrick said. "Everyone shows up with the old hard hat and lunch pail."
The highlight among the Lions is with recent Arizona State commit Ben Bray. The offensive tackle credits Detrick for shaping him into the player that he is. Bray has an incredibly high (4.7) GPA and plans to graduate in December so he can early enroll at ASU next spring.
"Every single day, he's a sponge and gets better," Detrick said of Bray. "Any tiny little thing you tweak, he absorbs."
Ralph Amsden interviewed Bray for Arizona Varsity shortly before his commitment to Arizona State. Here's his Q & A along with information on his recruitment and film analysis.
In addition to Bray, Red Mountain has interior lineman Costen Cooley and tackle Jake Griffin. The two seniors are expected to play both ways this year with Griffin doubling at defensive end. The other defensive end and tight end Tre Smith has been getting recruiting attention with offers from Abilene Christian and South Dakota State.
For this event, while Bray was there some of the other regulars weren't due to church trips, SAT testing, or work. That allowed some of the talented players from Red Mountain's '22 class to get some valuable experience.
"A lot of younger guys got reps today, kids that are going to be sophomores," Detrick said. "Getting them here and evaluating them against the top talent in the state is important."
While there are critics of 7-on-7 not being "real football", having the 1-on-1's as a part of the big man challenge make it closer to the game everyone takes part in on Friday nights.
"You take the helmet out of it, so there's not as much bull rushing or head butting," Detrick said. "As far has being hands-on and physical, if you're not, you're going to lose."
One of the reasons for the creation of the new Open Division Playoff in 2019 has been the dominance of the Coyotes in the 5A/Division II level. Centennial has been a model of consistency. In the past 16 seasons, the Coyotes are 193-24 with seven state titles. One of those came in 2015, when realignment forced CeHS into an elite 17-team Division I. Even more impressive is the school's current streak of 16 consecutive 10-win seasons.
For Centennial, the mood for this event was a combination of having fun and being businesslike. Later in the day, the skill position players won the West Side 7-on-7 out in Peoria. With school out for the summer, busy days like Saturday are on the calendar.
"We go to ASU and other big man challenges every June," Offensive Line coach Joe McDonald said. "It's great to go against other competition rather than against your guys grinding all the time."
With multiple strength/agility events, pool play, and the tournament, events like this are a chance to see who wants to be a part of the action in a few different areas.
"I want to see what guys are going to step it up and through competition, who's not going to be in the back of the line," McDonald said.
Some of those who were stepping it up on Saturday were George Roeder IV, Oscar Abundis, and Filipo Teofilo. Roeder is a senior that can play center or guard while Abundis and Teofilo are junior tackles.
"We're getting strong and hitting the weights," Abundis said. "Getting ready for the season."
The 6-6, 320-pound lineman started as a sophomore and is more prepared with that year under his belt.
"I was kind of nervous the first game against Casteel," Abundis said. I wasn't used to the speed and strength on the varsity. But now that I've seen it, I'm actually ready for it."
Abundis is accustomed to the tire flip drill as Centennial has practiced the event on campus. He believes there is a translation from that event to game situations with the muscles and techniques.
"You have to stay low, pop up, and explode," Abundis said about the tire flip challenge. "It's the same thing on Friday nights. You pop up out of your stance and keep the guy out of the way."
Here's a look at sophomore center Raul Aguilar, who attended a camp at the University of Arizona on Sunday.
In 10 seasons as an AIA member, the Black Hawks have never won fewer than eight games in a season. In that span, Williams Field has a record of 106-20, including the 2016 5A state championship. Last year, WFHS rolled through 11 straight Arizona opponents before falling by a touchdown against Notre Dame in the 5A semifinals.
Saturday was the start of a busy stretch as Williams Field has Arizona State's 7-on-7 tournament and big man on Thursday night followed by Northern Arizona's event this Saturday morning in Flagstaff.
"Any time we get together, it's always fun to compete with someone else," Offensive line coach Andy Koch said. "I knew Coach Garretson would do a great job."
It's safe to expect the winning to continue as the Black Hawks have arguably the state's best offensive line in 2019. Seniors Noah Nelson and Cooper Darling have committed to Power Five schools. Nelson, an offensive tackle, will be attending Oklahoma while Darling, an offensive guard, announced his commitment to Oregon State last week. In addition to those two, senior offensive tackle Andrew Garcia has FBS offers from Liberty and New Mexico State.
One of the most impressive things is the wingspan and amount of space that Williams Field covers. Running backs should flourish with the holes that will be created.
Koch cautioned that just because they have these three studs, that doesn't mean things are automatic.
"It's amazing," Koch said. "But that's all fluff. We've got to put the work in and make it happen."
The Bulldogs made the move up to 6A last season and didn't skip a beat, winning seven games before losing in the final minute of their first-round game against Red Mountain.
Growth in the Southeast Valley has continued to push the enrollment higher and higher. QCHS was a 3A school in 2003, went up to 4A in 2004, and reached 5A (previously Division II) in 2015. One thing that has remained the same, the Bulldogs have made the playoffs in 16 straight seasons. And in 14 of those, Queen Creek won a postseason game.
It will be interesting to see if enrollment begins a downward turn with the opening of Eastmark HS this fall. However, it has become a destination school in the area, receiving a few transfer students.
One change for this year is a swap of the head coach and offensive line coaches. Travis Schureman, who led the team since 2013, will be the OL coach and Joe Germaine, who was the head coach from 2010-2013, assumes that position once again. Both were on hand watching a young line that will require some coaching.
"We have one returning player that got playing time on the offensive line," Schureman said. "We have a lot of rebuilding to do, so it'll be fun."
With the limited experience coming back, the newcomers will be hungry with plenty of opportunities.
"We're excited about the competition in the spring," Schureman said. "When you don't have a lot of returners, we've got a lot of kids competing for jobs."
Schureman said he was using the Chandler event like a practice to get better. He liked how the 1-on-1's are a football specific drill.
The players expected to contribute this fall on the line are a mixture of juniors and seniors. Offensive guards Adam Bowcutt and Gus Campbell are seniors while Isaia Glass, Derrick Brown, and Christian Franklin are juniors. Glass is a three-sport athlete that plays basketball, throws on the track team, and is a tight end/defensive end. Brown was particularly impressive with his 6-4 size. He was usually lined up on the defensive side. Franklin is 6-3, 265 pounds, and plays defensive tackle.
The Pride battled Queen Creek to the end last season, falling in a 29-27 game. Facing a tremendously difficult schedule, Mountain Pointe was 7-5 in its first season under Rich Wellbrock. Three of the five losses for MPHS came by a touchdown or less.
There are some changes to the defense at Mountain Pointe as last year's defensive coordinator, Conrad Hamilton, is now the head coach at Desert Mountain.
At Chandler, this was a team that came and flat out competed.
"A lot of kids fighting for this battle, in the pass pro," Defensive Line coach Darnell Chavez said. "It's a fun time for the kids."
One of the Pride seniors got injured during the event dropping the team to just nine players. That meant someone was having to play continuously on both offense and defense during the 1-on-1's.
"These guys are giving their hearts," Chavez said. "We ranked No. 5 in the seeding and their battling their way through right now."
Indeed, I watched the Pride gut out an 11-9 win over Brophy in the knockout tournament to make it to the quarterfinals. It's that attitude that will help when a few more bodies get suited up.
"We want to let them know that Mountain Pointe is back on the map as far as defensive line and offensive line," Chavez said.
The Knights reached the 4A semifinals and battled Saguaro to the final play in 2017. In '18, Higley played so well that many may not have realized it was moved up to 5A. A 7-3 regular season was followed by a first-round victory over Ironwood Ridge and a 34-27 win over Casteel in a rematch from the regular season that the Colts had won. Higley reached the semifinals and fell to Centennial to finish 9-4.
Higley loses defensive end Ty Robinson, last year's Curley Culp Award winner for top defensive lineman in the state. He'll be playing for Nebraska and it's time for the Knights to work on the start of the depth chart for 2019.
"Depth is a little bit of a concern," Defensive line coach Josh Licht said. "We lost a couple really good seniors. Reps are key in the summer for us and great events like this one really help us in that."
The list of returners include another Division I player in Jason Harris. The senior defensive end has more than 25 offers in football and is also very skilled in basketball. Other returners are seniors Jackson Solomon and Mason Moskowitz along with junior Stephen Louis. Solomon is a defensive tackle that had five sacks last season and consistently won battles on Saturday. Moskowitz plays defensive end and Louis played defensive end on the JV team last year.
Higley also gained a pair of transfers with senior offensive tackle and long snapper AJ Laux (from Casteel) and Collin Kramer, a sophomore from Mesa.
Harris was once a transfer from Desert Ridge. Why do the Knights get so many transfers? Part of it may simply be from the success of the program selling itself.
"Our consistency," Licht said. "We're getting kids to college. When you make deep runs in the playoffs, people starting hearing 'Higley'."
The Knights earned a bye after pool play and reached the semifinals in the knockout round. Still, the goal for the day was building towards the bigger picture.
"No one's going to win a gold ball today," Licht said. "Just get good reps, coach them up, and make sure our kids are improving every day."
Perhaps no team was scrutinized more in 2018 than the Colts. Casteel had won the 3A title in 2017 with the criticism that it was too big for that division (it was the second year of the realignment). In 2018, CHS went up two levels to 5A, hired a new head coach in June, and . . . continued to win.
Casteel finished 9-3 and made it to the quarterfinals. The seniors that paved the way of the school's first four years went 36-6. Now, it will be a new group of players to continue the winning tradition.
Head coach Bobby Newcombe, who was promoted from within, celebrated the event for his linemen.
"This is a great day for the bigs," Newcombe said. "They got their day."
The program has lost some due to transfer, but Newcombe prefers to talk about the players he has. And there are a lot of them.
"It's a phenomenal group of kids we have in our program," Newcombe said. "140-plus kids in all three levels, plus seventh and eighth graders (Casteel goes from 7-12). I've had an overwhelming amount of support from parents who are committed to the vision of Casteel football and the direction we are going."
Some may feel it's a surprise that Casteel was the only other Chandler District school invited to the event. The success and the way the program goes about its business led to that, for which Newcombe was grateful.
"Without bigs, there is no football," Newcombe said. "Garretson and the Chandler Wolves gave us an event to do that. To be considered among this group is very humbling for us."
Standing out among the Colts to me was Donzell Howard. The 5-10, 235-pound defensive tackle was a backup last season and is preparing to make an impact in his senior year.
"I just focus on being ready wherever they need me," Howard said. "We have a next man up mentality and I try to use that every day."
Howard started at Casteel following eighth grade and said he loves it and they are developing him quite a bit.
As for the events on Saturday, Howard said the sled reminded him of a fourth-and one run play where the entire O-Line needs to truck forward for that yard. He's also a fan of the 1-on-1's.
"Pass rushing is never giving up and always working towards the ball," Howard said.
It's a trying time for the Broncos as veteran players are now on their third coach in three years. But, this isn't your regular run of the mill head coach.
Jason Jewell, who has experience coaching at Glendale CC, has covered recruiting in the state for a long time. More importantly, he has the energy needed to boost the spirits in the event that times get tough.
Fortunately, things have gotten off to a good start. A week ago, Brophy won the 7-on-7 tournament at Cesar Chavez. On Saturday, the team had a few players out, but showed improvement with what it had.
"I was really happy we won that passing tournament at Chavez," Jewell said. "It was good confidence for our kids coming in. We lost to Mountain Pointe (in the tournament), but we competed. We lost 32-8 to Chandler, but battled Mountain Pointe tough to 11-9."
Unlike most of the other schools in the Valley, most Brophy players go to summer school. The Broncos have also seen a huge influx with 100 players in the varsity/JV program and 100 new incoming freshmen. The schedule makes for some long days that require discipline.
Brophy (which finished 7-4 last season) goes from 6:00-7:30 a.m. with practice. The kids then attend summer school until noon. After lunch, they lift from 12:45-2:00 p.m.
BCP got out about a week before most other schools, so it scheduled spring ball accordingly. That has made Jewell look forward to this month.
"I'm calling it 'Get Jacked June,'" Jewell said. "We need to get swole in the weight room. That's why I wanted them to see the kids at Chandler. There's a reason why they've won so many championships. It's because they're good in the trenches and that's where we need to be."
Brophy's best lineman is Andrew Milek. The 6-5, 285-pound offensive tackle has seven FBS offers, including Boise State, Colorado, and Utah State.
It was a dream season for the Hawks, who superseded everyone's expectations and not only finished 9-1, but won two playoff games and took mighty Chandler to overtime before falling in the semifinals by one point.
But now that the calendar has turned to 2019, all of that is in the past. Also in the past are all five members of the offensive line, who were seniors. Head coach Brock Farrel is excited about the mix of players with experience along with the newcomers.
"I like how a couple of our returners have competed and our young kids are getting a lot of really good experience," Farrel said. "We have a few guys who got varsity time. The rest, we've just got to coach football."
Highland may have to be carried by its defense in the early going and that's where experience returns along the line with defensive ends Cooper Brown and Kyle Olson. Brown is a junior, who was particularly impressive in the drills, and played in 12 games as a sophomore. Olson will be a senior this fall.
Also filling out the D-Line are Jackson Tewalt, a senior transfer nose guard from Rio Rancho, New Mexico and Colton Ellsworth. Ellsworth, a junior, played on the Hawks' JV team last year.
While the players from the great 2018 team may be gone, one thing that remains is the culture, which is being carried on with this group.
"I like how our team knows what to expect," Farrel said. "The tempo of our practice has been good. There's been no issues with kids being late or getting in trouble at school."
If Highland is to have another successful season, it will come down to the offensive line. And on Saturday, they got some great reps.
While every team took away a great experience, there was also the matter of scores that were kept in the events. When the numbers from the strength and agility portion were tallied, Chandler came away with the win. Williams Field finished in second place followed by Desert Edge.
In the 1-on-1 pool play, Chandler, Casteel, Williams Field, and Higley each earned byes into the second round of the elimination tournament. Each won their matchup against the play-in team and comprised the semifinalists.
The hosts took home both plaques as the Wolves defeated Casteel in the final, 13-7.
Garretson took the microphone afterwards and thanked the teams for their participation and said they'll do it again in 2020.
Unlike many 7-on-7 tournaments, the event was kept on schedule and ended at the announced time (noon).
"I just wanted to give all the big guys a possibility of getting in front and making it their day," Garretson said. "We thought we had the best programs."