WEST VALLEY PREPS

2020 Preps football preview: Valley Vista

Posted 9/27/20

It’s certainly not the senior season they dreamed of, with play beginning Oct. 2, the schedule changing seemingly by the week and almost nothing guaranteed.

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WEST VALLEY PREPS

2020 Preps football preview: Valley Vista

Valley Vista junior defensive player Jeremiah Ruiz (#42), Christian DeJesus (#40) and Vernon Thompson converge on Copper Canyon receiver Joseph Huizar for a tackle during an Oct. 11, 2019 game at Valley Vista.
Valley Vista junior defensive player Jeremiah Ruiz (#42), Christian DeJesus (#40) and Vernon Thompson converge on Copper Canyon receiver Joseph Huizar for a tackle during an Oct. 11, 2019 game at Valley Vista.
[Courtesy Elliott Glick/For West Valley Preps]
Posted

It’s certainly not the senior season they dreamed of, with play beginning Oct. 2, the schedule changing seemingly by the week and almost nothing guaranteed.

And not everybody that began the journey in Valley Vista football’s class of 2021 is there for the end. But these seniors, who fueled an 8-1 freshman team and 7-2 junior varsity squad are thrilled to have another chance to lift the program to new heights.

The inconsistency of offseason workouts as COVID-19 cases spiked in Arizona was tough, senior quarterback Burton Delay said. He and the 27-senior class enter the season with no illusions — in 2020, nothing is guaranteed.

“These are going to be the last games for a lot of us,” Delay said. “A lot of us aren’t going to play in college. We have to make it worth it because we don’t know when it could be everybody’s last game. We don’t know if we’re going to get a full season.”

With Avondale LaJoya likely to bow out of 6A Region 7 play and compete with only fellow Tolleson Union and Phoenix Union schools, the rest of this new region has reasons to feel they also are on the verge of a breakthrough year.

Boulder Creek (No. 11) and Mountain Ridge (No. 14) joined Valley Vista (No. 12) in the first round of the 6A playoffs last year. O’Connor (No. 17) and Shadow Ridge (No. 19) were two of the first teams to make the postseason.

In this shortened season, playoff beths are more scarce. 6A will likely have no more than 13 playoff teams — including the open division — so Region 7 may be battling for one berth.

“It’s almost like the Mountain West Conference and one of us becomes Boise State,” coach Josh SeKoch said. “Teams that have always been 12 through 15 seeds. We know it’s going to be challenging.”

SeKoch spent the early fall maxing out his phone plan as the coach played schedule maker. None of the Monsoon’s first four opponents — Avondale Agua Fria, Scottsdale Notre Dame Prep, Mesa Westwood or Buckeye Verrado — were on the Monsoon’s original schedule.

Willow Canyon was on the original schedule and is not now. Despite winning the last nine games in the rivalry, SeKoch said the community is missing out and the game should have been preserved.

Similar other 6A-vs-5A neighborhood rivalry games — like Chaparral-Saguaro, Pinnacle-Horizon and Liberty-Sunrise Mountain — survived the schedule turmoil. SeKoch also did not agree with Willow Canyon coach Justin Stangler’s assesment that a small or non-existent crowd will take the luster out of a rivalry game.

“U of A is playing ASU, Michigan plays Ohio State and Penn State plays Ohio State,” SeKoch said. “I don’t agree. I think it means a lot to the kids but it’s out of my hands. It’s still nice to beat them because we all compete for student athletes. But we’ve moved on. With a new coach at Shadow we know they’re gunning for us. For a long time we were the hunter and we’re now becoming the hunted.”

Delay said he thought it was weird not to have a game with Willow Canyon, but Valley Vista is past it. The quarterback and his classmates have bigger goals.

“Our potential is through the roof,” senior defensive back Vernon Thompson said. “We have unlimited talent on this team and are coming together for our goal of winning day by day. We’ve been coming out sacrificing our time and our bodies for this sport.”

Valley Vista junior quarterback Burton Delay IV stiff-arms a Gilbert Highland defender during Friday night's game. [Elliott Glick/For West Valley Preps]

Valley Vista begins with Delay, who took over the starting quarterback role late in his sophomore year.

Two of his protectors were starting then, late in 2018, senior center Garrett Sutliffe and junior guard Jaden Lay. Left tackle Reif Peterson and right tackle Gibson Yazzie are returning starters in new spots, while senior Emmanuel Ramos and junior Ryan Koberstein battle for the remaining opening.

The other skill position players are all new. Junior Dylan Hoyt will start at tailback but share carries with junior Meven Obregon and senior Jeremiah Ruiz — a starting linebacker and the Monsoon’s main two-way player this year.

Senior Tyson Givens looks like the top receiving threat. His twin brother Trenton will start at cornerback. Both burst onto the national track scene over the summer and look much improved on the football field.

“They are more fluid in football and it comes more naturally whereas they used to be two track kids trying to play football,” SeKoch said. “We tried to play them both on offense, but Trenton at corner is so long and athletic. They’re super academic kids, one’s a 4.0 and the other’s a 3.9.”

Thompson also has a twin brother ready to play a bigger role. Senior Vincent Thompson is bigger yet more likely to stay in the secondary

“Of the twins those two are night and day different. The Givens twins are almost identical,” SeKoch said.

Senior safety Kaiden Stewart figures to join the Thompson brothers and Trenton Givens in the secondary

Another senior safety, Mike Passi, came back to the program before this season.

Senior Kendrick Miller and junior Andrew Zacek will join Ruiz at outside linebacker.

Senior Rocky Daoud barely played last season after transferring from Shadow Ridge in 2019 and sitting out the first five games of 2019. Yet Daoud was taking the role of middle linebacker and sarving as the unit’s focal point.

“He’s a different kid,” SeKoch said. “He’s become the leader and he calls the signals. He’s the guy that controls everything for us and I’m impressed by that. He’s the middle linebacks and that’s not what I would have seen but he’s flipped it. His mentality is cool to see and what we want here.”

While Daoud emerged as the defensive leader, junior defensive end Jaelin McCullen has arrived as the most talented player on the defense — and indeed on the senior-dominated team, SeKoch said.

McCullen, the younger brother of former ASU player Koron Crump, will not leave the field much and is surrounded by more quality depth on the defensive line than the Monsoon typically muster.

Senior defensive end Andrew Sullivan returns after starting early last year, and SeKoch felt confident enough in the returning offensive line to move Ray Sutton to nose tackle. Junior Morgan Foster can come in and play tackle and end.

The result is a defense that does not look all that similar to 2019 but has a higher ceiling.

“As a young defense with a couple of seniors, we took it upon outselves on every Sunday and Monday we could to get together and do some DB work,” Thompson said. “We did cone drills, coverage drills and pass drills — anything we could do.”

Valley Vista junior linebacker Vernon Thompson tackles Shadow Ridge junior receiver Zachary Sutton during the showdown of these Surprise schools Oct. 25, 2019 {Elliott Glick/For West Valley Preps]

Beyond just having a chance to play, Delay said, the seniors are looking forward to the challenge of an almost all-new schedule.

Following the flurry of changes, the Nov. 20 season finale against Shadow Ridge is the only rematch with a 2019 opponent.

“We have 27 seniors I think,” Delay said. “We’ve been looking forward to being seniors since our freshman year. We’re all ready. We’re going to go into every game thinking we have to fight for this because we have a really new schedule, a whole new region setup and everything is new.”

SeKoch is looking forward to this season for his quarterback the most. Delay threw for 1,847 yards, 16 touchdowns and 13 interceptions, and ran for 394 yards and five touchdowns.

But he has been running around and tossing the ball on Valley Vista’s field for almost a decade now.

“I’m excited for these guys,” SeKoch said. “Burt Delay has been around here since he was the ball boy in fourth grade. Now he’s the best athlete we have.”

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