A high school football All-Star game in the middle of summer, in the Arizona desert? What were they thinking?
It happened over the weekend, with teams assembled from Arizona and Southern California ‘all stars’ meeting at a spring training baseball facility in Surprise, the culmination of a couple of years of planning by the two states’ coaching associations.
The California squad won the inaugural event, 27-7.
After the game, the coaches on both sides put a good spin on the outcome of this first attempt to begin building an annual event. But, from a fan’s perspective, it has a way to go.
The temperature on the field hovered somewhere around the century mark. Not exactly the traditional “football is in the air” exhilaration that comes in early fall.
Organizers estimated they had a crowd of 3,000 on hand for this historic event. That may have been a slight exaggeration.
But even with that many, by the time you factor in the players’ parents, families and friends; students from the dozens of schools represented on the rosters; and the coaches’ families and friends… there weren’t many on hand who were there just because they didn’t want to miss this opportunity to enjoy high school football on a baseball field in the middle of June.
Unfortunately, the show on the Arizona side of the field probably didn’t match up to the expectations of the home crowd.
Arizona’s only score came when Dallas Nichols from Central High in Phoenix recovered a fumble by the California quarterback, Vernon Adams, and carried it 82 yards for the score. It was enough to give Arizona a 7-6 lead at halftime, but meant little else.
The AZ offense couldn’t get on track and the CA defense put the hammer down the rest of the way.
Frustration built throughout the contest, as Arizona’s record-setting QB from Showlow High School, Rathen Ricedorff, was intercepted twice in the first half and the team as a whole came away empty-handed twice when it had first-and-goal opportunities.
Perhaps the most exciting moment for the Arizona fans was a 95-yard kickoff return by Jordan Champion. But that, too, ended in frustration when California forced a fumble on the two-yard line to quash the potential score.
But the heat, and the fact that these kids hadn’t seen this kind of competition for almost six months, weren’t the only factors that contributed to a less-than-stellar outing. Many of the state’s top players, who should have been on the field, were not there.
These teams are made up of recently-graduated players and the better athletes among them have already committed to college programs. They don’t want to take a chance on getting hurt before they get to their new programs and, in many cases, their new coaches don’t want them participating for that very same reason.
As a result, only five players from The Arizona Republic‘s All-Arizona team were on the field representing the state.
Ricedorff , the Small Schools Player of the Year who threw for more than 8,000 career yards, was there because he was in a different situation than most of the others who have committed to a college. An unfortunate injury wouldn’t have the same impact because he will have two years to mend while on a Mormon mission. And he also hasn’t committed to a college yet.
One coach who was probably among those most pleased with the play on the field wasn’t on either sideline. Scott Brown, the new defensive line coach at Arizona State, had to be pleased with the play of Shaq Jenkins, the defensive tackle from Hamilton High School. Jenkins, who has said he plans to be a walk-on at ASU, led the Arizona defense with four tackles for losses.
But all things considered, the coaches’ associations need to get this game moved to cooler weather, and at a point on the calendar before all of the college commitments are made. They’re reportedly looking at some time in December or January, but have to get the Arizona Interscholastic Association to make a change in a bylaw that currently prohibits that from happening.
The organizers also were said to be looking at some kind of arrangement with ESPN to televise the game nationally, hoping to piggyback off contacts from a major sponsor, Under Armour.
That’s a grand vision. But first there are enough other issues that need to be addressed to help this event succeed.