Once-strug­gling teams are see­ing a ma­jor resur­gence

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Glendale had to can­cel its ju­nior var­sity football team three weeks ago when it was left with 13 play­ers for a game.

That hasn’t stopped the var­sity from thriv­ing in coach Rob York’s sec­ond sea­son. One of the old­est schools in the state, Glendale is 5-2 with winnable games against Phoenix Carl Hay­den, Phoenix Camel­back, Glendale In­de­pen­dence left. Fans are coming to games. Play­ers no longer feel in­vis­i­ble on cam­pus. And the play­offs are an out­side pos­si­bil­ity.

Last year, Glendale went 5-5, its most wins since 2006 when it won six games af­ter an 0-4 start.

In boom­ing Buck­eye, peo­ple were start­ing to won­der if Youngker would ever have a win­ning sea­son, even as hous­ing com­mu­ni­ties grew and ameni­ties took off.

Coach Tony Cluff, in his first sea­son as head coach at Youngker, has led the Roughrid­ers to a 5-3 record. The five wins are the most in a sea­son since they be­gan play­ing football in 2009.

Last year, the Roughrid­ers started 0-7.

This is sweet vin­di­ca­tion for a coach who was not hired back at his alma mater, Avon­dale Agua Fria, fol­low­ing a 5-5 sea­son in 2015.

Now af­ter wins, Cluff and York, who was part of Cluff’s staff at Agua Fria, text each other with con­grat­u­la­tory notes.

“The kids on cam­pus are ex­cited,” Cluff said. “They fill our stands each week. It’s never hap­pened be­fore. That’s what I’m hang­ing my hat on. The com­mu­nity is start­ing to get be­hind us.”

It takes pa­tience, pride, com­mit­ment, a coach who isn’t afraid to push the en­ve­lope and get kids ex­cited about football to go from pushovers to po­ten­tial play­off teams.

When Ed Cook re­turned to his alma mater to lead Phoenix Green­way’s pro­gram this year, he wasn’t look­ing at the two three-win and one two-win sea­sons that pre­ceded him un­der two dif­fer­ent coaches.

He was think­ing this is his dream job and jumped right in, like he did dur­ing his play­ing days in the late 1980s, when the Salmon broth­ers – Tim and Mike – were leav­ing their legacy as football and base­ball stars.

Cook, who grad­u­ated from Green­way in 1988, looks like he could suit up at mid­dle line­backer. He’s got the Demons com­mit­ted in the weight room and look­ing out for each other on the field on their way to a 6-1 record in 4A.

“I have a lit­tle bit dif­fer­ent en­ergy and vibe about me and I think the kids kind of feed off of that,” said Cook, who was as­sist­ing at Glendale Moun­tain Ridge, be­fore get­ting this head coach­ing gig. “I’m just my­self. I let them have fun and let them know it’s OK to make a mis­take. We have to keep learn­ing and get bet­ter.”

Both Cook and York are deal­ing with ad­ver­sity.

Cook lost his fea­tured run­ning back, Parker Reeves, three games ago to an in­jury. He had run for 348 yards and four TDs.

Ju­nior quar­ter­back Tyler Dun­can has de­liv­ered with added re­spon­si­bil­i­ties as a dual threat, rush­ing for 401 yards and four TDs and pass­ing for 1,856 yards and 25 TDs with just three in­ter­cep­tions.

Two weeks ago, in the team’s only loss (34-24 to Casa Grande), Dun­can ran for 117 yards on 20 car­ries.

Last week, in a 29-26 up­set of Peo­ria, Dun­can com­pleted 33 of 57 passes for 353 yards and two TDs.

“He be­lieves in us,” Dun­can said of Cook.

Last year, when pass-happy Jon Beck­told (now lead­ing Tempe Corona del Sol) was head coach in his only sea­son at Green­way, Dun­can said the of­fense was, “Throw here, throw there, just pass.”

“Now,” Dun­can said, “it’s more in­tense.”

Glendale has gone more than a decade with­out a win­ning sea­son, but the Car­di­nals are rid­ing mo­men­tum, de­spite los­ing tal­ented sopho­more tail­back/wide re­ceiver Kevin Daniels to a bro­ken leg in Fri­day’s win over Phoenix South Moun­tain. Daniels had about 500 re­ceiv­ing yards and 500 rush­ing yards be­fore the in­jury.

Daniels ran for 1,000 yards at quar­ter­back as a fresh­man.

“We had thun­der and light­ning with him and (run­ning back) Isa­iah (Briggs),” York said. “We have a good core group of kids that were here all sum­mer. We took 35 kids to camp. That’s a pretty good num­ber for us. Be­ing in the weight room helped us a bunch, es­pe­cially with the of­fen­sive line.”

De­spite a 5-2 record, Glendale is a long way off from mak­ing the play­offs. It is ranked 27th in 5A this week by the Ari­zona In­ter­scholas­tic As­so­ci­a­tion/ MaxPreps power points. The top 16 teams make the play­offs, but the re­gion champs get au­to­matic berths.

Glendale’s 40-36 loss to Laveen Betty Fair­fax on Sept. 28 could end up be­ing costly. That is Glendale’s only re­gion loss in the Union Re­gion that has Fair­fax (3-0) and In­de­pen­dence (2-0) on top.

The Car­di­nals know they can’t lose another game to get in.

But op­pos­ing teams are tak­ing them se­ri­ously.

“The school love is crazy now that we’re win­ning,” Briggs said. “Every­body wants to talk to a football player. When you start win­ning, they love you. It’s been a big deal.”


Coach Tony Cluff talks with his team on Oct. 9 dur­ing prac­tice at Younker High School in Buck­eye.

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