Once-struggling teams are seeing a major resurgence
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.