Cummings Stands Tall among Chaparral Stars

Chaparral football has been defined over the past 12 seasons by glorious players who have brought glorious success that includes three state championships and seven appearances in the final four of the state playoffs. WR Mike Cummings is one of those players.

Chaparral football has been defined over the past 12 seasons by glorious players who have brought glorious success that includes three state championships and seven appearances in the final four of the state playoffs.


Chaparral players of this era have gone on to play at Texas, Stanford, Arizona State, Wisconsin, the University of Arizona, Oklahoma, Nebraska, San Diego State, Colorado, the U.S. Naval Academy and even the National Football League.


As good as any of them – and arguably better than them all – Michael Cummings led Chaparral on an improbable run last season to the state semifinals, including a 24-21 victory over eventual state champion Saguaro. That victory gave the Firebirds the Desert Sky Region championship. Cummings did it on both sides of the ball with performance that was both reliable and spectacular at the most difficult and critical moments. He was so good that it was almost taken for granted that when the Firebirds were in trouble, Cummings would do something to save the day.


In the midst of as many as four other players – from the opposing team – Cummings could twist and leap his way to the ball and then make the catch every time – either for a touchdown, an interception or some other game-changing result. He just needed to get near the ball and it was his. Along the way, he thrilled his teammates, his schoolmates in the Birdcage and even his coaches.


This year, a bigger, stronger and faster Cummings is prepared to put Chaparral in position for a run to its first state championship since 2003 and to create for himself an opportunity to star at the next level. He will again play wide receiver and also shift from cornerback to safety. The plan is to give him a chance to get the ball as often as possible and then to show what he can do.


Already, he has elicited ongoing interest from, among others, Stanford, Utah, San Diego State, Arizona, Arizona State, Nebraska, Wyoming, Colorado State, Boise State and Oregon State. All he wants is a legitimate chance, and he is willing to work for it.


And yet, improbable though it seems, a question lingers. Is he fast enough with his 4.59 speed to get the job done at the highest level? The Chaparral coaches will tell you that those questions exist only for those who have not actually seen Cummings play a game in person. When his leaping capability and sheer athleticism are combined with his actual game speed and his innate ability to simply play football better than nearly any of the other players, what you have is a player on the field who is nearly unstoppable and at his best under the most pressure. At 6-1, 195 pounds, he also is strong enough to compete with the best players across America.


"He has gone against the best defensive backs in the West this summer and none – and I literally mean none of them – can cover him," says Chaparral offensive coordinator Dave Huffine. "He's gotten a lot stronger in the weight room this summer and dominated in our 7 on 7 passing league games. When people see him this fall, the offers should come rolling in."


Chaparral head coach Charlie Ragle takes it a step further.


"Michael Cummings is a D1 player, no question about it," says Ragle, who spent a year prior to taking the Chaparral job scouting and recruiting players for Arizona State. "Some people worry about a 4.6 guy, but that is so overrated. It's manufactured speed. Michael plays fast and he's so explosive. I have yet to see a defensive back anywhere who can stand across the line from him and cover him."


The record bears out what Ragle says. In limited duty on offense last season, Cummings caught 35 passes for 790 yards, or 22.6 yards per catch, the best ever at Chaparral. Eleven of his catches were for touchdowns. On defense, he had 32 tackles and eight interceptions. At the end of the year, he was an All-Everything defensive back and even better on offense. He was nothing short of magical.


Against Saguaro he had touchdown catches of 26 and 36 yards in the second and third quarters. The third-quarter catch was a great catch between a pair of Saguaro defenders. His interception with a minute to play sealed the 24-21 victory for the Firebirds.


Against McClintock on Chaparral's last-chance drive with three minutes to play, he made an even more incredible catch for 43 yards on a pass from quarterback Casey Lytle and followed it up two plays later with a 15-yard catch for the game-winning (22-15) touchdown.


Even in a losing effort against Agua Fria, he had five catches for 116 yards and a touchdown to keep Chaparral alive until the end.


Cummings provided an important preview of what was to come in the 2005 semifinal loss (9-6) to Cactus. As a sophomore cornerback, he had four interceptions, one in each quarter. Three of the four were in the end zone, preventing touchdowns and his last one, on a diving catch with four minutes to play in the game, gave Chaparral a final chance to win. A year later in his next playoff game, he had three interceptions against Apollo – the last in overtime on the final play of the game to preserve the victory.


In all, nine of his 13 career interceptions have come in the state playoffs.


"I just have a lot of determination to go get the ball," says Cummings, who expresses no preference between offense and defense. "I always believe I can beat the guy across from me."


His capabilities extend beyond football, which is his preference because of the innate excitement and importance of every game. He also is a two-year starter for Chaparral in basketball, where his leaping ability draws similar raves. Before high school, he was a top baseball player and might still be able to start for Chaparral if he chose to focus on the game once again.


Don't expect anything like that, however. Cummings' efforts are on bringing a state championship back to Chaparral as he plays his final season for the Firebirds. He figures if he goes out and does his job the rest will take care of itself.


His work getting ready with new quarterback Blake Schembri, a transfer from North Canyon, and learning the intricacies of safety have him plenty busy. The rest of us will enjoy the results beginning Aug. 24 when Chaparral opens against Marana.

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