2017 high school football preview: Notre Dame Prep

The Notre Dame Preparatory football team runs sprints after a July 26 practice. (Independent Newsmedia/Josh Martinez)

It’s been a long offseason for the Notre Dame Preparatory football team.

Between sanctions from the Arizona Interscholastic Association, fixing its stadium lighting, a new head coach and a self-imposed ban on spring football, the Saints have had a lot to overcome.

With all that behind them, the Saints can now focus on football.

“That’s what you’re out here for,” first-year Head Coach George Prelock said in a July 26 interview.

“The fact that we can just focus on football, it alleviates a lot of stress on our kids and we feel relieved. It’s a great feeling to just focus on what we love to do.”

Notre Dame Prep Head Coach George Prelock speaks to his team following a July 26 practice. (Independent Newsmedia/Josh Martinez)

While former Freshman Coach Prelock is new to the varsity ranks, he replaced former Head Coach Mark Nolan after the school fired him, many of his returning players were a part of last year’s team that was denied a playoff berth.

NDP finished first in 5A’s Northeast Valley Region with an 8–2 overall record (4–0 region) but an AIA probation banned them from the postseason, leading to a hunger in the team for the upcoming season.

“I think they are ready,” Coach Prelock said. “I think they understand nothing in life is given and everything is earned. They’re going to go and do everything in their power to compete to the best of their ability.”

Many of NDP’s top players return to the field from a year ago, resulting in a roster where 35 of the 57 are seniors, according to maxpreps.com.

With such a senior-heavy squad, Coach Prelock and his staff are tasked with helping the team constantly improve and not expect the season to be easy because of their experience.

“I think we all understand that there’s things we need to do in our power to always get better,” he said.

“We can’t be complacent and say ‘hey we’ve got a senior-heavy team so we’re set.’ Because of everything we’ve went through, we understand that nothing is given, everything is earned and our boys are going to have to go out there and earn everything.”

The Saints begin their season at Shadow Ridge in Surprise Friday, Aug. 18. Region play begins at Chaparral Thursday, Sept. 28.

Looking at the schedule as a whole, NDP will face three teams that had winning records in 2016 with another finishing at .500.

Three teams on the 2017 docket made it to the 2016 playoffs, including La Salle High School in Pasadena, Calif.

Coach Prelock said the ceiling on this team is directly connected to how hard it works.

“If we continue to work hard and do everything that we’re supposed to, with that comes success,” he said. “We’ve got a tough schedule. We’ve got a lot of good opponents on our schedule and we just have to take it one game at a time.”

Offense

Coach Prelock declined to share what specific style of offense his team will run, saying the offense will be “whatever we think will be successful against our opponents.”

A year ago, NDP ran the ball significantly more, accumulating 2,653 rushing yards as opposed to 1,403 receiving yards, according to maxpreps.com.

Quarterback Jake Farrell throws a pass during a July 26 practice. (Independent Newsmedia/Josh Martinez)

A big loss for the Saints is Drew Jackse, who led the team in rushing yards and had the second-most rushing touchdowns. He was also a threat in the pass game as he had 165 receiving yards and three receiving touchdowns.

Returning, however, is senior Cole Fisher who led the team in rushing touchdowns and accumulated the second-most rushing yards in seven games.

Coach Prelock also expects junior Jake Smith to work in time at running back. Both contributed significantly but suffered injuries a year ago, Coach Prelock said.

Returning senior Kylan Weisser will anchor the offense after he and Cameron Yowell split time last year. Weisser threw for 487 yards and four touchdowns on 39-of-68 passing though Yowell accumulated more yardage and touchdowns.

While Weisser appears to have locked up the position, junior Jake Farrell is getting time in, as a back up.

“Right now, this is Kylan’s team and Jake is doing a great job of getting reps when he gets in,” he said. “Both kids are great and they’re extremely coachable and work with one another.”

At receiver, senior Blake Storey, who led the team in receiving yards and touchdowns last year, and junior Zack Gray look to be a big part of the passing game.

Coach Prelock also said he has an expansive group of receivers to rotate in that position to help keep the receivers as fresh as possible.

Some who had an impact in last year’s team are seniors Jordan Stengel, Justin Maschek and Harrison Copoloff.

On the offensive line, Coach Prelock will look to returning seniors Garett Zimmerman, Landon Zellers, Davis Divall and Braeden Looper as well as newcomer sophomore Cade Bennett.

One big positive Coach Prelock sees about this offense is how much experience it has, which is he said cannot be coached.

“The fact that we have so many starters, we have experience on our side,” he said.

“It is back and it’s something I think will be beneficial. As long as everything stays healthy, which you know is difficult, but as long as we stay healthy and focused, I’m looking forward to the season.”

Linebacker Joseph De La Vara sets in and waits for the snap during a July 26 practice. (Independent Newsmedia/Josh Martinez)

Defense

While Coach Prelock declined to share what his base defense will be, he did express full confidence in his defensive coordinator Nick Smith.

Coach Prelock said Coach Smith is good at developing different packages for the variety of offenses the Saints will see this year.

“We’ve got some players who are returning there (on defense) as well and we’re looking forward to watching them compete,” Coach Prelock said.

Of the nine players who recorded 40 or more tackles last year, two were seniors. Those seniors were linebacker Jarod Aber and defensive end Collin Taylor to graduation.

The team’s leading tackler senior Vincent Elrod will return at linebacker along with fellow seniors Joey Jaquint and Joseph De La Vara will roam the field as linebackers.

All three linebackers tallied more than 40 tackles with Elrod and Jaquint being the only two players at NDP with more than 100 tackles in 2016.

The trio also contributed in the tackles-for-loss category, each with more than two last season.

On the defensive line, seniors Kyle White, Victor Annoreno, Kyle Gordon and Divall as well as junior Cale Gregory have all spent time working in the positions.

“All these kids have had experience playing and they can really contribute,” he said. “They are kids who are physical, do their jobs and do them well.”

In the secondary, Stengel, Maschek, seniors Alex Nyberg, Quinn Stanton and Ricky Manning all return from the previous season and look to make impacts.

Both Stengel and Manning led the team in interceptions in 2016 while Manning was the fourth-leading tackler last year.

When looking at his returning players, including those on offense, Coach Prelock is excited because his players have shown him how hungry they are for the playoff after last year’s probation.

“Just to see the kids out here and just focusing again on football (is exciting),” he said. “It’s a relief to them, I think it’s a relief to our community and we’re just really excited to go out there and represent our school the right way.”

News Services Reporter Josh Martinez can be contacted at jmartinez@newszap.com or at 623-445-2738

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