For the eleventh-straight year, West Valley Preps honors the best football players from schools in the Northwest Valley.
We picked three running backs for each team, since there was a bumper crop of tailbacks this year. With most teams running a variant of the spread offense, the first team has three receivers and the second team includes a tight end.
Also selected were four defensive linemen and four linebackers for each team.
Players may only be selected for offense or defense, but can earn a secondary nomination on special teams.
All players are seniors unless noted
QB – William Haskell, Ironwood
RB – Tommy Arnold, Sunrise Mountain
RB – Kavaughn Clark (sophomore), Centennial
RB – Levi Huisman, Northwest Christian
WR – Zachary Sutton, Shadow Ridge
WR – Daylen Batchan, Estrella Foothills
WR – Rashon Adams, Centennial
OL – Caiden Miles, Centennial
OL – Kyle Sfarcioc, Liberty
OL – Mason Tamayo, Sunrise Mountain
OL – Jack Chappelle, Shadow Ridge
C – Mason Cullop (junior), Cactus
DE – Justin Holmes (junior), Cactus
DE – Ben Strawn, Northwest Christian
DT – Ethan Price, Cactus
DE – D.J. Gleash, Centennial
LB – Owen Thomas, Sunrise Mountain
LB – Koltan Cortez, Liberty
LB – Aki Pulu (junior), Cactus
LB – Leo Palelei (junior), Shadow Ridge
CB – D.J. Williams, Centennial
CB – Theo Greenan, Northwest Christian
S – Jax Stam (junior), Liberty
S – Shane Pitts, Liberty
K – Shane Pitts, Liberty
P – Caden Murphy, Northwest Christian
KR – Brandon Bogard, Sunrise Mountain
PR – Dax Lindholm, Centennial
LS – Austin Hall (soph.), Sunrise Mountain
Shadow Ridge junior linebacker Leo Palelei (33) races around end to help with a tackle during the Stallions’ Nov. 20, 2020 game at Valley Vista. Palelei movd in from Tennessee over the summer and is a first team all-West Valley Preps linebacker. [Courtesy Dysart Unified School District]
All players are seniors unless noted
QB – Brock Mast, Liberty
RB – Damian Jiles (soph.), Cactus
RB – Cameron Mack (junior), Peoria
AP – Elijah Sanders, Ironwood
WR – Deric English (soph.), Mountain Ridge
WR – Malachi Mizysak, Glendale Prep
TE – Mekhi Mannino-Faison, Ironwood
OL – Jonah Wright, Peoria
OL – Mikaele Fuamatu, Millennium
OL – Chris Stoica, Shadow Ridge
OL – Keith Urbina, Dysart
C – Robbie Maple, Sunrise Mountain
DE – Josef Penella, Liberty
DT – TJ McRae, Centennial
DT – Quincy Clemons, Sunrise Mountain
DE – Jaelin McCullen (junior), Valley Vista
LB – Deryk Leverage, Mountain Ridge
LB – Ata Tetupe (junior), Cactus
LB – Quinlan Popham, Estrella Foothills
LB – Luke Johnson (junior), Northwest Christian
CB – Brandon Bogard, Sunrise Mountain
CB – Sebastien Fiery-Hardimon, Ironwood
S – Garrett Wojick, Willow Canyon
S – Micah Scott, Sunrise Mountain
K – Easton Black (junior), Sunrise Mountain
P – Bryson Wilke (soph.), Willow Canyon
KR – Marzion Cosby, Centennial
PR – Antonio Pratt, Cactus
LS – Tetupe (junior), Cactus
Glendale Prep senior receiver/linebacker Malachi Mizysak catches a pass Oct. 2 against Chandler Prep at Glendale Prep's stadium in Peoria. Mizysak won the Week 2 football player of the week vote for his performance Oct. 9 at Arete Prep. [Courtesy David McBee]
Cactus: Pono Banuelos (soph.), WR/DB; Will Galvan (Soph.), QB; Centennial: Austin Glimpse (Soph.), QB, Dylan Roberts (Soph.), DT; Deer Valley: Rudy Gonzales (Soph.), QB, Jason Montgomery (Soph.), DB; Dysart: Phillip Hernandez (Fr.), S; Julian Laborin (Soph.), OT; Estrella Foothills: Ty Huggins (Soph.), DE; Glendale Prep: Jason Cullum (Fr.), WR/DB, Jonah Smith (Soph.), OL/DL; Ironwood: Kyle Clinkenbeard (Soph.), OL/DL, Zachary Douwstra (Soph.), OT; Kellis: Xavier Aldaco (soph.), DT; Steven Le (Soph.), DB; Liberty: Zaccheus Cooper (Soph.), RB, Zach Wallace (Soph.), RB; Mountain Ridge: Brendan Anderson (Soph.), QB, Sam Thielen (soph.), WR; Northwest Christian: Judah Huisman (Soph.), QB/DB; Paradise Honors: Josh Morales (Fr.), WR, Caden Shipley (Soph.), DE; Shadow Ridge: Anthony Garcia (Soph.), RB, Logan Getejanc (Soph.), OG; Sunrise Mountain: Micah Johnson (Soph.), WR, Caleb Scott (Soph.), LB; Valley Vista: Blaise Nelson (Soph.), WR; Willow Canyon: Vance Cooper (Soph.), RB, Wilke (Soph.), DB.
Shane Pitts, senior FS/K, Liberty. Our first overall player winner for his defensive and special teams skills, Pitts entered the year as the Lions “other” safety and left it an indispensable playmaker. Pitts was named the Peoria Unified School District defensive player of the year — quite an accomplishment when considering the district produced five teams that either qualified for the Open Division or made a state final.. Beyond his 83 tackles, Pitts added three interceptions, two forced fumbles and a knack for making game-changing plays in Liberty’s numerous close contests. Add to that his value as the West Valley’s money kicker. Pitts made seven of eight field goal attempts, including two of 40 or more yards, plus 30-34 extra points.
Runner-up: Rashon Adams, senior WR/FS, Centennial. Adams could match his Liberty rivals Pitts and Stam as one of the state’s elite safeties or cover like a corner if needed, pacing the Coyotes with four interceptions. His receiving stats were good, 24 catches for 395 yards and four touchdowns, but don’t leap off the page. Then you watch the film. Most of Adams’ catches were events, as he leapt and contorted his body to snag several downfield throws that were a bit off. While having to deal with shuffling quarterbacks, Adams and Marzion Cosby emerged as deep threats and loosened up defenses wanting to stack the box against the Coyotes’ running games.
William Haskell, senior QB, Ironwood. In half-seasons as a freshman at Deer Valley and a sophomore at Ironwood, Haskell gave early hints of his talent. He continued to develop as a junior, leading the Eagles to their first playoff berth in eight years. This season it all came together and Haskell and the other members of the team’s core four — Fiery-Hardimon, Mannino-Faison and Sanders — led Ironwood to a miracle run to its first state title game since 2002. Haskell paved the way with 24 passing touchdowns and 12 rushing scores. He threw for 303 yards and three touchdowns in the upset of Sunrise Mountain that got the Eagles into the playoffs. Then, trailing Desert Mountain 24-7 in the first round, Haskell caught a touchdown pass, ran in two more and threw the game winner. Four more touchdown passes against Notre Dame Prep in the semifinals and suddenly Ironwood was in an all-district 5A final.
Runner-up: Tommy Arnold, senior RB, Sunrise Mountain. That final was a Mustangs-Eagles rematch and it was no contest, partly because Arnold had 25 carries for 205 yards, compared to seven rushes for 25 yards in the regular season loss. Arnold powered the Mustangs to major early wins over Mesquite and Liberty. He concentrated on linebacker during losses to Ironwood and Desert Edge. Before the playoffs, coach Steve Decker switched the offense to a two-back spread that ran 95 percent of the time. More than half of those carries went to Arnold. The result? Eight touchdowns and 592 yards on 79 carries. And the Mustangs’ first state title.
D.J. Gleash, senior DE, Centennial. The wiry defensive end emerged in 2019 as a pass rushing specialist and started to become an every down player. That transformation was complete this year, as Gleash got bigger and stronger in quarantine. Beyond leading Centennial in sacks with 12, he was the Coyotes’ second leading tackler with 69 in the nine-game season. This is very rare in the Coyotes’ 4-3 defense. But those who watched their games, or watched Gleash’s film. He proved equally adept at setting the edge on rushing plays or getting upfield on passing downs while playing against most of Arizona’s best high school teams.
Runner-up: Owen Thomas, senior LB, Sunrise Mountain. While Sunrise Mountain’s running game got the attention in the playoffs, the Mustangs’ defense was a season long story, and the backbone of the championship team. 4A champion Mesquite put up 40 points and open division semifinalist Liberty had 33. In the final eight games, though, the defense allowed an average of 15 points a game and did not give up more than 26. Several players in this unit stood out but Thomas was the clear focal point, leading Sunrise Mountain with 94 tackles, 20 tackles for loss and 12 sacks.
Colin Thomas, Liberty. This was, by far, the most difficult coach of the year decision in this awards’ 11-year history. And every coaching staff deserves kudos for pulling this season off during a pandemic. We’re doubling our awards to honor four coaches this year, and at least five more deserve consideration. Sean Hegarty led Shadow Ridge to a smaller 6A playoff field in his first year. Dysart’s John Ganados and Glendale Prep’s Robert Adicott completely turned around their programs to reach the play-in round. Centennial’s Richard Taylor and Northwest Christian’s Dave Inness maintained their programs’ standards for excellence while moving up a division and playing much bigger schools. After much deliberation, though, Liberty’s first year coach is the choice. And the Lions’ 35-34 overtime loss to five-time state champion Chandler in the open division semifinals is the tie-breaker. Thomas entered his first year taking over the 6A champions, but also figuring out a team that lost 40 seniors. Given Liberty’s brutal schedule, few people expected a winning season. Instead, the Lions went 5-3, abusing future 6A champion Chaparral, beating 6A contender Queen Creek on the road and making the open division. Thomas did this by using much of his roster in key roles, particularly with star tailback Zaccheus Cooper limited after the first game, and leading receiver Cailin Knapp suffered a season-ending knee injury in the fourth game. In the open division playoffs, Liberty gained revenge against Centennial, beating the Coyotes on Thomas’ gutsy and clever two-point variation of the “Philly special.” Then the Lions came back from a 28-7 halftime deficit at Chandler, to force the fifth-ranked team nationally to overtime.
Runner-up: Steve Decker, Sunrise Mountain. Entering the season it appeared Decker would have one of the easiest jobs in this COVID-altered season, thanks to 18 starters returning from 2019. A revolving door at quarterback popped up in midseason losses to Ironwood and Desert Edge. Eventual winner Hunter Kronengold was knocked out early in the final game of the season against Cactus Shadows. At halftime Decker switched the offense to a twin-back spread that suited his stable of backs and physical offensive line. It was so successful and such a departure from the wide-open, quarterback-centric spread offense Decker called for the past 10 years that the rest of the state learned what the West Valley has known for a long time — Decker is one of the state’s best offensive minds and play callers. He also joins a fairly exclusive list as a state championship coach.
Second runners-up: Joseph Ortiz, Cactus and Christopher Rizzo, Ironwood. Along with Thomas, these two standout young coaches are the future of football in the Peoria Unified School District. Along with Decker, they led their programs to state finals and coached in their first title games. Ortiz kept his young Cobras competitive early while waiting for seven transfers to gain eligibility. Then he blended the newcomers expertly in to a dominant 4A team. Cactus reached its first state title game since 2011, and were unlucky to lose to Mesquite by 1. Rizzo made subtle tweaks, relying on Haskell less on designed runs and cultivating enough of a traditional running game to complement the big-play passing attach. Players like Steinar Christianson, Nehemiah Lindo, Junior Shima and Elias Hernandez improved greatly. Finally, facing quarantine and having only one practice between the end of the regular season and the playoffs, Rizzo kept his Eagles calmed and focused and led them to one of the more improbable state finals trips in Arizona since the Ironwood’s last title berth in 2002.