A blog by Richard Smith
West Valley Preps
I usually try to skip what is, by now, almost an obligatory football transfer column.
But something different happened this offseason.
It was not a sea change — players did not suddenly leave Centennial, Chandler or Saguaro for Dysart, Gilbert or Coronado. But there are some unique destinations.
And the wheels continue to spin. If I wrote this column three weeks ago as planned, Mountain Ridge was sitting pretty.
Rampant rumors in mid-July linked the Mountain Lions as the soon-to-be home of brothers and dominant linemen Cosmas and Eloi Kwete. But a couple of days later, the family decided to stay at Phoenix Central High School after finding a way to remain living in the area.
Then, two weeks later, Braiden Manusina — the Mountain Lions’ best player and elite rugby teammate of the Kwete brothers — moved to Utah to be closer to extended family.
That continues an unusual common theme to this transfer period — schools in Glendale are far more involved than in past years.
To be sure, Peoria schools still rule the roost in the West Valley. After a couple years off, the transfer carousel between neighboring Liberty and Sunrise Mountain is spinning again.
And the trickle of transfers to Centennial during three championship seasons in the last four became a flood this spring. Still, two very unlikely suspects were at the heart of the local offseason melodrama.
Dan Friedman took over the Deer Valley program with no illusions as the year started. He said he knew some returning Skyhawks would not buy in to his approach and some kids might leave the program.
Yet he could not have anticipated this set of circumstances. For nearly five months, the Skyhawks handled the transition smoothly and looked like a breakout candidate after dropping to 4A.
Then a late-May fight broke out at the Foothills Recreation Center near campus, pitting some younger Deer Valley players against a group of non-players. Promising sophomore quarterback Will Haskell and sophomore receivers Sebastian Fiery and Mehki Mannino-Faison were involved.
Before June began, that trio and two more Skyhawks decided to transfer to Ironwood.
In 10 years of doing this I can think of one transfer of significance to Ironwood — quarterback Andrew Espinoza from Joy Christian.
The last five years have been rough for the Eagles. And Ian Curtis is hardly the type of coach to seek out players from other schools.
The program also is known for avoiding the youth football scene entirely, only making contact with players when they set foot on campus. Sadly, that’s an old school philosophy these days — and the youth football/open enrollment topic is another can of worms for another day.
While Ironwood has a large population of students on a variance, the bulk of them are there for the school’s International Baccalaureate program and other academic offerings.
So what drew Haskell and friends to the Eagles? Comfort appears to be a primary factor. Haskell grew up in the area and attended Ironwood feeder schools before open enrolling at Deer Valley.
Without getting into too much detail on comments made by Deer Valley players and coaches, the general sense is the Skyhawks are taking the transfers — and the reason behind them — at face value.
If the Skyhawks believe Haskell and company had ulterior motives for leaving or did not mesh with the new philosophies, they’re hiding it well.
Centennial has three in-state transfers this year, all arriving from Goodyear Millennium. Seniors Davon Fountain and Frankie Hollinquest and junior Brad Young will sit out five games.
The Coyotes also received stud tailback/safety Tawee Walker, who moved in from Las Vegas and is eligible immediately.
Transfers did not play a large role in Centennial’s four straight title game appearances.
Open enrollment students? Sure. Kids continue to flock to the program from all corners of the West Valley.
But the Coyotes of recent vintage started less late-career transfers than in 2008, when I began covering West Valley Preps.
That is of little comfort to Valley Vista coach Josh Sekoch. Massive lineman Andrew Ruelas started for the Monsoon as a sophomore, then headed to Peoria for his junior year — filling in for an injured Marshal Nathe on the Coyotes 2015 Division I champions.
Also in that 2015 season, Gleson Sprewell emerged as an all-Division II safety at Valley Vista. By the next semester, he was back at Centennial, where he played as a freshman and then as a senior in 2016.
And Centennial is not always the destination. The cycle continues for schools in Surprise, who start to gain traction or hope, only to see young players head to Peoria district schools.
For example, the young Shadow Ridge receiving corps of 2016 provided hope for 2017 and 2018. Then, before last season, Zaach Cullop (Cactus) and Nate Duran (Sunrise Mountain) headed east, blowing a hole in the Stallions hopes.
Nearby charter Paradise Honors does not have an attendance area, but still had a flurry of transfers recently. Many were from kids moving in from out of state or signing up when Arizona Charter Academy closed its high school.
But the Panthers lost starting quarterback Jordan Gourley and tailback Sekou Tyler shortly before the season when they transferred to Goldwater, the new home of former coach Doug Provenzano. Both had to sit out a year.
This summer, Willow Canyon was a surprise transfer benefactor. Kelly Garcia came in from Dysart and Dorian Singleton arrived from Valley Vista.
Still, it’s safe to say that the boundaries of Dysart Unified School District remains a net exporter of football, through open enrollment and transfers. That contributes to the lack of sustained success on the field at the four DUSD schools.
No easy solution
In year three of the “sit out half the season” transfer policy, it is fairly safe to say this rule is not a cure-all. If anything, transfers seem to have increased, compared to when the requirement was to move into the boundaries of the new school.
Those “domicile changes” could be a farce, with plenty of temporary apartments or odd explanations for new addresses coming into the picture. But now, the name brand schools have a clear advantage.
Kids are willing to transfer and sit out five games, knowing there’s a good chance they will play in three or four playoff games.
And no rule is airtight. The AIA considered a mileage requirement rule in 2013 — under it, transfers would have been eligible only if the receiving school was 25 or more miles away in an urban area or 50 miles or more away in rural areas. Kids within this mileage limit would have to sit out a year.
The rule change nearly failed, and it’s too bad. That one had more teeth than any recently used.
To be fair, loopholes come along with that rule, and any other proposal the AIA might consider. Nothing will prevent parents looking around for better opportunities, and in some cases those parents are justified — or their kids have legitimate reasons for leaving the school.
Here’s some ideas from local coaches:
• Friedman said he is in favor of the new rule passed by Ohio schools, which flips the Arizona rule on its head. Players are eligible for the first five games, but must sit out the last five (usually region games) and are out for the playoffs.
• New Willow Canyon coach Justin Stangler liked Ohio’s approach in the regular season, since region games and titles usually carry more weight for schools. But he thinks players should be eligible for the postseason, since playoffs are (usually) not a virtual guarantee.
• Curtis would prefer a rule tied to open enrollment under which ALL students attending a school outside their boundary are not eligible for sports. While it is a harsh approach, he believes this is the only way to truly stem the tide of transfers. Curtis also said he understands that the AIA will never consider this option.I like aspects of all three ideas, particularly the Ohio rule. As Curtis recognized, the toothpaste is too far out of the tube to consider academics-only open enrollment or later school changes — even though open enrollment was originally envisioned as an academic tool.
But, I think the answer lies somewhere in between. If a transfer has to sit out a year, it will give the transfer’s family pause.
Before laying out a blanket one-year competitive ban for any student that switches schools, I think this proposal should start small. And hone in on my main transfer pet peeves.
I want the AIA to disallow transfers in an athlete’s senior year. If there is a legitimate change that forced the transfer — i.e. a parent or guardian needs to move for a new job, or the student’s situation at his old school has become untenable for academic or safety reasons — then those cases should be heard on an individual basis.
But I’m tired of hearing about parents who want their seniors-to-be to have more “exposure” to college recruiters and happen to transfer them to programs where a state championship also is a good possibility.
If they are sincere about thinking their kid is overlooked, transfer for the spring semester in the junior year — when the big schools come around. Then your kid will be more visible and not playing the senior season at the powerhouse school will not matter because the player got a better offer.
In truth, the top college programs usually have noticed their recruiting targets well before their senior season. So it’s hard for me to believe that most of these moves are not made with high school rings in mind.
And it sucks for the less talented kids at big-time schools who worked for three years to improve themselves and looked forward to finally playing a role in their senior season, only to see a stud swoop in from another school.
The football player coming in may not know anyone at his new school — save a small handful of players and coaches — and may not see any benefit to changing schools beyond those fleeting Friday nights.
Most of all, senior-year transfers are rough on coaches of programs with some (or no) success. When last season ended, the coach looked at his board and asked themselves who will lead the next team?
Then, suddenly, that player the coaching staff invested three years developing on the field — and one would hope as a young man — is gone.