Cobras reunite to overhaul Willow Canyon football

New Willow Canyon Football coach Justin Stangler gives instruction to his players during a weight training session on Thursday, Jan. 25, 2018 at Willow Canyon in Surprise. [Jacob Stanek/West Valley Preps]

Richard Smith
West Valley Preps

Justin Stangler took over the Willow Canyon football coaching job in December knowing the rebuild would be difficult for a program that has posted a .500 record or below in the last six seasons.

So it makes sense that his first major hire for his staff was not only a coach he was comfortable with, but one who has already helped engineer a similar turnaround. The Wildcats’ new offensive coordinator is former Sunrise Mountain head coach James Carter.

Stangler and Carter both cut their teeth as young assistant coaches at Cactus on Larry Fetkenhier’s staff in the 1990s. Carter then served as Ironwood’s defensive coordinator before leading the Mustangs from 2010 to 2015, making the playoffs all but one of those seasons.

Willow Canyon athletic director John Williams also is very familiar with Carter. He was the Mustangs’ head athletic trainer through most of Carter’s tenure before taking the Wildcats’ AD job in 2015.

Coach Carter is a grinder, he is relentless in his committment and work ethic. This kind of dedication is already becoming contagious with other coaches and players. I was a part of the success at Sunrise, and we look forward to building that tradition of success here,” Williams stated in an email.

His role will be new, since most of Carter’s career has been spent as a defensive assistant. Stangler said he retained defensive coordinator Travis Wasden from former coach Joe Martinez’s staff, along with assistants Andrew Tippins and Ryan Gallagher.

Carter was the Goodyear Millennium coach in 2016 but resigned abruptly in April 2017 and spend last season as the defensive coordinator at Chandler Basha.

He is already on campus and leading the Wildcats strength training program — and he is not alone. One of Stangler’s priorities was to build a larger staff, and he has.

Josh Goodloe, Bill Laing, Brandon Nichols, and Kendrick Farley (also the school’s new sprints coach) will be working with the offense as well. On defense Kenny Harper is working with the secondary, John Crano.

Varsity baseball coach Orlando Rodriguez and Gallagher are going to work with our lower levels. In addition, Stangler said, the program will have six to eight coaches on the freshman level.

“More coaches equal more individualized attention on every level,” Stangler stated in an email.

Like other Arizona coaches, Stangler is getting used to the concept of year-round practice and balancing the needs of multi-sport athletes.

It helps that Stangler is the track and field coach

“We are running a team practice once a week and position training randomly based on the position coaches’ schedule. Track and field is mandatory for any football players not in another spring sport. We have weight training daily before track practice,” Stangler said.

The Wildcats are in a revamped Desert West Region and away from behemoths Centennial and Liberty.

Buckeye Verrado and Millennium are the favorites based on recent history, but the region is more balanced than the Northwest was, springing hopes in Surprise.

“Our kids are excited and working hard. The excitement has started to spread and I have had several kids show interest in football that have not previously played. Our schedule is competitive and we feel we have the opportunity to win every week,” Stangler stated.

He stated the upcoming senior class is buying in and have been leaders in the weight room.

“Our focus is fast, high octane tempo in everything we do. Coach Carter takes the weight room serious and our players have followed his lead. We close out every session with a competition,” Stangler stated.

Williams said the feeling on campus in common for a coaching change, but mostly upbeat.

“Like anything new, there is excitement and anxiety. There is a definitive renewed excitement, and that starts with a passionate coaching staff, already working with the boys in the weight room, and instilling a culture of hard work and commitment. The process will define our season, and the boys are definitely buying into the process early on,” Williams said.

You are encouraged to leave relevant comments but engaging in personal attacks, threats, online bullying or commercial spam will not be allowed. All comments should remain within the bounds of fair play and civility. (You can disagree with others courteously, without being disagreeable.) Feel free to express yourself but keep an open mind toward finding value in what others say. To report abuse or spam, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box.