Already in its 12th season of play, the Arizona Football League fields 12 teams from across the state, giving graduating high school players who haven’t signed with a college a chance to continue developing their skills and stay in shape and on film, while preparing to play at the next level.
Kevin Pakos says there are more than 3,000 high school football players who graduate each year – but only 7 percent of those will get a chance to play in college. So what happens to the other 93 percent who aren’t ready to give up playing at a competitive level? Pakos, the league director, hopes they will take a look at the Arizona Football League.
“These kids have spent the last 7 to 12 years of their lives as football players,” he explains. “If they don’t get an opportunity to play in college, they have to go into some other sport, or completely retire. Arizona doesn’t have an intermediate level for football, like other sports have AAU or legion ball.
“We don’t even care if they play college football,” he adds. “This may just be a chance to get refocused in their life. After graduating from high school, a lot of kids just spin out and don’t know what to do with the rest of their lives.” Thus the impetus for the amateur, full-contact AzFL: “Our program is not like typical minor league football, where the players are generally older and looking for a shot at the pro’s; the odds are long for that happening. We have one of the lowest average ages for ‘minor league’ teams because we recruit right out of high school.”
Pakos says the AzFL gives players a chance to stay on film and keep in shape, so they’re ready when a nextlevel opportunity comes along.
That does happen, he says, pointing out that four players have gone on to play for the Rattlers in the Arena Football League and more than 150 have returned to college to play. The players in the AzFL buy their own uniforms and pay their own expenses.
There are 12 teams in the league this year, all community-based, and stretching “literally from the Mexico to New Mexico borders, and all points in between.”
“There are so many high schools in Arizona that sometimes there are good players who never get a chance to play,” he adds, pointing out the need for a ‘second chance’ program like this. “This is an opportunity for them to get that chance to play.”
Here’s a partial list of AzFL players who graduated from Valley high schools:
Ian Hoover – Buckeye 2002 John Suggs – Phx Christian 2001 Kyle Young – NW Christian 2005 Jeremy Barker – Benson 2002
Joel Detrick – Chapparal 2004 Peter Molina – Marcos De Niza 2006 Robert Reyes – Higley 2003 Joseph Sorholus – Tempe 2003 Damon Braxton – Desert Ridge 2004
Verde Valley Coyotes
Damien Wirth – Sunrise Mountain 2005
Cave Creek Dragons Matt Belarde – Higley 2003 Robert Mitchel – Cactus 2004 Ray Morrison – Sunrise Mountain 2003 Saul Carranza – Peoria 2002 Adrian Ward – Dysart 2005
Greg Castle – Dobson 2005 Robert Upton – Chandler 2005
For more information on the league, go to www.azfl.com.