The County Line
10 months ago Andrew Luberda 0
Welcome back to The County Line, my blog on news and notes surrounding the athletic programs we cover at CountyLinePreps.com.
Well, here we are – game week. I’ve spent the last 7-10 days visiting fall football camps at Poston Butte, Coolidge, Queen Creek, and Combs, previewing the seasons for each. If you haven’t already, go check them out.
I’ll be at Valley Christian on Thursday night, when Florence visits for a scrimmage. I’ll post the Gophers’ season preview with video shortly after and before their season opener on Aug. 24.
In this edition, I’ll provide an update on Jason P. Skoda’s status at CLP, as well as two new additions to our staff, I’ll explain my added interest in Westwood’s visit to Queen Creek on Friday night, and three more guys make my Bucket List.
Let’s walk the line…
Temporary Leave of Absence (sort of) – As most of you know, I was fortunate to get the opportunity to have Jason P. Skoda contribute to the site, which he did beginning in the spring. The original plan called for Jason to cover more events this school year, starting with football before moving to wrestling coverage in the winter, then baseball and softball in the spring.
Most of that plan remains in place with a slight change during the upcoming football season.
Jason will co-host the AZPreps365.com Friday night wrap-up show with Mike Grose on 1580 AM – The Fanatic. As a result, he will not be available for football game coverage.
However, Jason will be publishing a weekly 6A Football Coaches Poll on the site. He will release the poll and provide analysis with it every Tuesday, starting Aug. 14.
Additionally, Jason remains on the Selection Committee for the Ed Doherty Award, which is presented by the Grand Canyon State Gridiron Club.
#EdDohertyAward Selection Committee hitting scrimmages in advance of Zero Week! #BeRelevant. S/O to @ralphamsden @JUSTCHILLY @jason247scout @JasonPSkoda @kevinmccabecbs @JordyHamm @davezorn72 @azc_obert @gridironarizona @AZHSFB Looking forward to the season! #ItsABigDamnDeal pic.twitter.com/yexHWDw3pS
— GCS Gridiron Club (@gcs_gridiron) August 10, 2018
I’m happy that Jason gets to work with the radio show and even happier that I will still benefit from his contributions. Like many others, I consider him one of the best and most respected high school athletic reporters in the state.
New Hires – As the site approaches the first anniversary of its launch, which was Aug. 18, 2017, I’ve been reflecting on some of the things I learned and how I can make the site better.
One thing I learned is covering eight teams was a greater challenge than I could keep up with. The addition of Jason P. Skoda was a start, and I was able to make another hire to alleviate two concerns – make my life easier and provide more coverage, improving the quality and volume of the site’s content.
I’m happy to announce that Caela Fox has agreed to join our staff as a reporter. Caela is an ASU graduate from the Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Her previous work in Sports Journalism includes her duties as the beat reporter for Santa Cruz High School in Eloy. She covered the Dust Devils’ football team all through its state runner-up finish last season.
Caela also wrote this story on Queen Creek baseball while still a student at ASU.
Please follow Caela on Twitter @FoxCaela to receive updates from the events she covers.
I’m also pleased to announce that Corey Cross has joined our staff as a photographer. Corey’s work has appeared in the East Valley Tribune and other publications. He was highly recommended by Jason and my good friend Andy Silvas, who told me Corey is a “bad a$$ photographer.” Happy to have Corey aboard. Please give him a follow on Twitter @ccrossphotog.
Although not a new hire, I’m fortunate to have the continuing feature contributions of Sports360AZ’s Eric Sorenson. Few, if any, produce better video content than Eric. Here’s some evidence to support my claim:
Had the pleasure of meeting 17-year-old pro 🛹 @treywood who has a BIG future and his sights set on the 2020 Olympics. Meet Queen Creek’s own. My latest feature for @CountyLinePreps WATCH: 👀➡️ https://t.co/UDR7sk6Y3a pic.twitter.com/yVxyGa1lQD
— Eric Sorenson (@EricSports360AZ) June 12, 2018
Fond Memories – In addition to it marking the start of the high school football season, I’m looking forward to Westwood’s visit to Queen Creek this Friday for another reason – the opportunity to catch up with Warriors’ defensive coordinator Jesse Hart.
During my first year covering area athletics, Hart had been named the varsity head coach of the Combs football team, which had only one win in the two seasons before his hire in 2013 and four in the previous three, including a winless year in 2011.
Hart volunteered for the position under difficult circumstances but committed to the job because of the relationships he developed with the players as middle school students.
He succeeded in changing the culture at Combs, leading the Coyotes to six wins and the school’s first-ever playoff appearance in his first year. At the time, it was arguably the greatest one-season turnaround in the state. Perhaps it still is.
Hart led the Coyotes to three-straight playoff appearances before the streak ended following his fourth and final year at Combs.
I have great memories of our time together; he was genuine, honest, intense, and accommodating. It was a great time to cover the Coyotes as the culture surrounding all of the athletic programs was changing for the better, led by the man who I believe deserves partial credit for starting it all – Coach Hart.
My list includes players, in no particular order, that may or may not make other’s rankings or lists. Simply, they are players I want to see in person before the end of the upcoming season.
I’ve identified players for this year’s list, but I’m going to release the names a little different than past years. The changes include increasing the number of players named to 15. Additionally, I’m going to release the players, three at a time, in The County Line, before the complete list appears on CountyLinePreps.com on Aug. 17.
I suggest you be on the lookout for these players under the Friday Night Lights:
Dakota Banning (Sr), Center – Queen Creek High School
I’m not going to lie.
Part of the reason this guy is on the list has as much to do with what he represents off the field as on it. His nickname should be EF Hutton because when he talks, the Bulldogs’ listen. I’ve not seen many better leaders during my time covering high school sports.
As far as on the field, I consider Banning, a three-year varsity starter, one of the best centers in the state. His wrestling background – he finished third in the state last year in the HWT division (285 and above) – has benefitted him on the football field.
Head coach Travis Schureman likes his O-linemen to have a nasty streak and Banning’s got that too.
— Dakota Banning (@BanningDakota) June 16, 2018
Queen Creek head coach Travis Schureman: “Dakota is arguably the most respected player in our program. He’s a great player and one of our hardest workers, which for a head coach is a great combination to have in a player.”
Armando Orona (Sr), Athlete – Queen Creek High School
On a team with more its share of talented players, Orona may be at the top.
For me, he is at the top.
This guy has the ability to make game-changing plays on both sides of the ball, at different positions.
Queen Creek breaks up Campo Verde’s late attempt at a game-winning drive. QC leads 21-16 with 33 seconds left pic.twitter.com/mqhXYlUK4k
— Richard Morin (@ramorin_azc) October 7, 2017
On defense, he’s lined up with his hand on the ground, standing up as an outside linebacker, and he could play in the defensive backfield, which he might. He finished his junior year with 56 tackles, including three TFL’s and three sacks. He also recovered a fumble and returned it 89 yards.
Offensively, he played sparingly but still made an impact as a running back and receiver. He’ll have more opportunities this year.
Did I mention his skills as a kick returner? He returned 6 kicks for 177 yards, one of them went for 90 yards and a touchdown.
I’ll make it easier for you to find Orona when you go watch him play: He’ll be on the field. All the time.
Queen Creek head coach Travis Schureman: “Armando is a player that we rely on a lot and he’s proven he can handle the load. He seems to be guy that gets himself in position to make plays – big plays – when we need them most. He’s a very valuable player on our team.”
Dalton Holley (Sr), Quarterback – Poston Butte High School
There’s just something about wanting to see a guy that’s paid his dues, waited his turn, and is now getting his first starting opportunity as a senior.
I expect Holley will make the most of it, so I want to see how he performs for myself.
I haven’t seen him action, as he attempted only one pass as a junior and rushed one time for three yards.
Playing the most important position on the field, Holley’s teammates will count on him for leadership and the ability to make plays.
Every indication I’ve heard and seen during training camp makes me believe Holley will succeed at both.
Poston Butte head coach Dain Thompson: “This will be Dalton’s first real opportunity to play at the varsity level. Dalton is a great teammate and has grown into a solid leader. His understanding of the game is great, so we are anxious to see if he can put that into action on Friday nights.”