2018 Prep Football Preview: Notre Dame Prep retools for another state championship run

Senior quarterback Jake Farrell hopes to lead Notre Dame Prep back to the 5A State Championship in his first year as the varsity starter. (Photo Courtesy of Max Kelley/Cronkite News)

As the sun starts to rise over the Notre Dame Preparatory campus, players file into Scot Bemis Field, hoping to wash the sour taste of a 5A Championship loss out of their mouths.

Although last season was touted as a success — first-year coach George Prelock led the Saints to a 13-1 record, falling only to Centennial High School in the final game of the season — this year’s squad feels as if it needs to attend to unfinished business.

Notre Dame Prep lost all 13 of their leading tacklers on the defensive side of the ball, along with quarterback Kylan Weisser and running back Cole Fisher to graduation. Weisser signed with Weber State University in Ogden, Utah and Fisher signed with Scottsdale Community college.

Weisser finished the season with more than 2,000 yards passing, throwing 28 touchdowns and only four interceptions. Fisher rushed for 1,431 yards with 23 touchdowns.

Just one year after the program was rocked by a recruiting scandal — resulting in the firing of their then-head coach Mark Nolan and ineligibility from the playoffs — Notre Dame Prep was back in the spotlight.

NDP Head Coach George Prelock speaks to his team after the 5A state championship at Arizona Stadium in Tucson. (Independent Newsmedia/Josh Martinez)

Coach Prelock admits he still has a hard time reliving the championship game, but believes this year’s team has something to prove, just as he did last year. The school promoted Coach Prelock from freshmen head coach in 2017, having no previous varsity coaching experience.

“It was a great experience and I was proud of the effort and everything the kids went through last year but it’s something that sticks with you and it hurts,” He said. “It was tough watching the game film. I think I watched it once or twice and then I couldn’t touch it for a little while.”

But even with a plethora of holes to fill, Notre Dame Prep isn’t completely starting from scratch. The Saints bring back a couple of key players from last year’s group, namely 247sports.com’s No. 2 overall recruit in the class of 2019 Jake Smith.

Smith, who committed to play football for Texas in June, is a freakish athlete who can line up at running back or wide receiver, causing defenses headaches wherever he is on the field. Smith racked up more than 1,000 yards rushing and receiving last season, earning his position as an “athlete” on multiple recruiting websites.

“My goal and expectation is to be back in that state championship game and win it this time,” Smith said. “I know that’s going to take some work and we don’t have the same team as last year, but I really believe in this group and I think if we put our heads together and once we get a little game experience. … I think we can do anything.”

But football is a team sport, and Smith can’t carry the load all by himself. Last year Notre Dame Prep relied on performances from Weisser and Fisher to help it roll through the playoffs and into that championship game.

Luckily for the Saints, senior quarterback Jake Farrell and junior running back Dominick Mastro are ready to fill those roles left by the departing seniors.

Quarterback Jake Farrell throws a pass during a July 26, 2017 practice. (Independent Newsmedia/Josh Martinez)

Farrell, standing at 6-feet-5, 205 pounds, has the measurables of a pro-style quarterback that can see over defenses and make quick reads while threading the ball to his receivers. He also believes the chemistry he has built with his teammates over the years will show this upcoming season.

“I know my guys, I went to middle school with them.” Farrell said. “I’ve known them forever so our rhythm is really good.”

Farrell will have options, too. Mastro watched Fisher and Smith use their respective running styles to Notre Dame Prep’s advantage last year and he hopes to emulate Fisher’s between-the-tackles, power running role in this year’s offense.

“I would say I’m probably the power runner,” Mastro said. “And (Smith) is the speedy guy that runs around the corners.”

Prelock said he sees the comparison to last year and embraces the similarities.

“It was the same thing last year, what they said with Cole Fisher and Jake Smith. Jake is extremely fast and Dominick’s a downhill runner,” Prelock said. “The great thing about both Jake and Dominick is that they’re willing to play with each other, whether they’re both in the backfield or Jake’s out at wide receiver. I’m just happy to kind of have that similar situation.”

For Farrell and the rest of Notre Dame Prep’s team, they believe that even though it’s a similar situation as last year, this season will not bring the same result.

“I really want to finish the job this year,” Farrell said. “I honestly think we’re going to go back to the state championship and win it this time. Everyone was on the sideline last year and they know we have unfinished business.”

NDP opens its season Friday, Aug. 17 at Fairfax High School in Laveen.

Editor’s Note: Max Kelley recently completed his master’s degree at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

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