Firebirds Enter Season with High Expectations

Chaparral enters a new era with a new head coach and a new field but have kept the same winning attitude.

So much is new in Chaparral football this year. Ron Estabrook has retired as coach, replaced by Charlie Ragle. The field has been torn up and replaced by a beautiful new "Field Turf" surface. Half the school has been torn down and is being rebuilt as part of a massive renovation project that will not be completed until 2009. Casey Lytle has graduated and will be replaced at quarterback by a transfer from North Canyon.


What has not changed are the expectations. They remain at the highest level, and another 11-3 record with a loss in the state semifinals would be viewed as a disappointment. If the seniors can provide the needed leadership and if the offensive line can develop effectively, Ragle and right-hand man Dave Huffine, the offensive coordinator, fully expect Chaparral to be a major contender for the state championship. Included in that mission, of course, will be the defense of the Desert Sky Region championship the Firebirds won last year over eventual state champion Saguaro.


"We've got a big job, but this is Chaparral where we seek out high expectations," says Ragle. "We want Chaparral to be regarded as the best program in the state regardless of classification. This is a team that we believe has the capability to take us a long way toward that goal."


Indications in the summer passing league and in the weight room have been outstanding. The Firebirds were a match for any and all comers, including the state's best 5A programs. And, led by star wide receiver/safety Michael Cummings and defensive back Derek Osterblad, who also will see duty on offense, the Chaparral players made tremendous progress in increasing their collective strength.


"It has been clear through the spring and summer," says Huffine, "that this season is extremely important to a lot of the guys on the team. A lack of success is simply not an option to them and, as a result, I think we have a great chance to be playing in December."


With a new coach will come a change in philosophy. Chaparral will move away from the wing T that had come to define the program under Estabrook to an offense that features multiple sets designed to get the ball most often to the most dangerous playmakers – Cummings, Osterblad and tailback Ross Kamela. Look for a lot, as well, from tight ends Tyler Williams, Craig Roh and Rob Stopler, all of whom will do far more than simply block. Two of them frequently will be on the field together.


At quarterback, Blake Schembri takes over from Lytle. He has worked hard this summer to acclimate himself to an offense in which he will have to deliver the ball through the air more than handing it off as would have been the case at North Canyon. He has earned the confidence of his coaches and his teammates with his persistent work ethic.


"We have spent a lot of time together on the field and we click very well," says Cummings, who will be tough for anyone to stop.


The offensive line will be captained by senior Easton White, who has moved to left guard from tight end and has built himself up to 220 pounds in the process. With him, look for Zach Graham (235 pounds) at center, Ethan Lewis (240 pounds) at left tackle and Lance Coleman at right guard. In the mix at right tackle are Nick Streich, Peter Niggeman and Bobby Santoro.


On defense, coordinator Mike Angelone has worked with Ragle to realign the Firebirds to a base 4-3 set with two safeties, which is a switch from the last five seasons in which there has been one less safety and one more lineman in what was a version of the "46"defense Buddy Ryan made famous with the Chicago Bears.


This new approach gets Cummings and Oserblad to the middle of the field where they can make more of the big plays that highlighted their efforts last year, when the season came to a conclusion many regarded as premature after Casey Lytle broke his arm in the quarterfinal win over Cienega.


At corner, the Firebirds will have Devron Carr on one side. He is a newcomer from Caesar Chavez. Cory Shano is challenging on the other side. The linebackers, led by Charlie Lytle and Matt Berney (who has moved from fullback), are very strong. Those two are joined by Tommy Russell and Kyle Miller, who have greatly impressed Angelone.


The defensive line also will be a strength, headed up by juniors Roh and Ryan Holmes at end and Colton Rahav and Derrik Nsubuga at tackle.


"We have an excellent chance to be much stronger defensively that we were last season," says Angelone.


There are many other players working to get into the mix, especially heading into preseason camp in Payson as this is written. Among them is Spencer Stone, a last-minute transfer from Brophy and Newport CA. He played quarterback at Brophy last year but could be in the mix here at both receiver and defensive back. He will have a chance with others to show what he can do. If the players adapt to the system and continue to develop together, the results probably will match the expectations. But, as has become the way at Chaparral, the bar has been set high.

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