Bradley Gonzales

Marana running back Bradley Gonzales takes a handoff in a drill during the Tigers’ spring practice last month.

Brad Allis/The Explorer

This time of year most high school students are looking forward to summer vacation. For football players, this time of year means spring football practice and getting a jumpstart on next season. All of the area high schools have different goals and philosophies for spring ball.

For Marana, Mountain View and Canyon Del Oro, spring ball will be about finding a new starting quarterback. For both the Tigers and Mountain Lions, that means replacing a three-year starter. Gone are Marana’s Ben Honea and Mountain View’s Cody Rochon, two players who assumed the starting job midway through their sophomore seasons and never relinquished them.

“I think it’s always tough when you have to replace a quarterback with three years varsity experience, but this year is easier than when we had to install the whole system anew,” said Marana coach Andy Litten. “Both quarterbacks, who are going to probably battle all summer, seem to have a very good grasp of what we want to do. Skylor Lee and Connor Leavens are both leaps and bounds ahead of where we had to start when we first started with (Honea).”

Of all the teams in the area, Marana is the only team that did not qualify for the postseason in 2013. The Tigers are in year-three of Litten’s rebuilding project and just missed out on the playoffs.

The Tigers hope to take the next step and qualify for the playoffs. Getting the bulk of their system installed will be key.

“We want to introduce as much of our scheme to the players that they can handle,” Litten said. “The more they become familiar with that now, the easier it is when we install again in the fall. I think it’s also important for our players who are returners to step up and start taking leadership roles.”

Mountain View also has a few candidates for their vacant quarterback job.

Mountain View is in their third year with coach Clarence “Bam” McRae. McRae inherited a team on their fourth coach in as many years, but also inherited a program with a solid core of players that made the playoffs in each of their first two years. The goal in year three will be to not only make the postseason, but to take it to the next level and be a team that can make a run to the semi-finals or beyond.

To do that, they not only need to replace Rochon, but must replace the bulk of their offensive line and All-State running back Richie Estrada.

Pusch Ridge also loses their leading passer, but brings back junior Cody Cropp, who attempted about 40 percent of the team’s passes a year ago.

Although Cropp has the experience, he hardly has the inside track to win the job. In the spring, head coach Troy Cropp likes to start to get his young players acclimated to the systems so that he can create as much competition at each position as possible.

“For us, it is about setting expectations, both on the football field as well as in life,” Cropp said. “It is sort of a reset of everything where we make sure everyone learns the basicis for the schemes.

“Everyone starts at ground zero,” Cropp added. “No one is guaranteed their spot on the depth chart. A three-year starter is in no better shape than an incoming freshman. Both have every opportunity to win a starting job.”

Cropp is also in year three of his job and after finishing 10-2 a year ago, feels he has the program heading in the right direction.

Matt Johnson is also a third year coach and although his Ironwood Ridge Nighthawks made the playoffs last year, they were just 6-5, having lost the bulk of the roster that won a state championship the year before.

Johnson clearly has the Nighthawks heading in the right direction and will again have a more experienced team that could feature well over 30 seniors, and lose less than 20. Dylan Key returns under center, while second leading rusher Cole McLafferty and leading receiver Matt Solverson also return.

Canyon Del Oro is several years removed from their state title, but coach Dusty Peace has the Dorado football machine cranking. Last year’s 10-2 finish was a return to form after a 4-6 season in 2012.

Max Smith, last year’s leading rusher, returns, as do three others who rushed for 1,00s0 or more yards a year ago. They also return a few solid pass catchers and three players who attempted a pass a year ago, although starting quarterback Jordan Closs-Lopez and his 2,500 yards of total offense will be missed.

Jeff Scurran is in his second spring practice with Catalina Foothills. Scurran inherited a team that was 0-10 the year before and led them to eight wins and a playoff berth. Last year he was just trying to keep the program together and convince players that better days were ahead. He credits last year’s seniors for buying in and now he has a full team of players who know they can win.

Next year’s squad will have just a handful of seniors but will have deep sophomore and junior classes. The sophomores are especially important to the program and include returning starting quarterback Rhett Rodriguez.

Much of the spring will be about putting in the systems and nomenclature and preparing for a busy summer that includes summer passing leagues and a lot of working out. What he is attempting to do has worked and the players seem to be thriving.

“The way I do things fits with the way they like to do things,” Scurran said.

Although the teams can take up to four weeks to get their practices in, most did it in two or three and none will practice the final week of school, instead allowing the players to focus on finals.

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