Miller, Christakos lay groundwork for Firebirds’ 2019 season

Chaparral quarterback Jack Miller (1) keeps the ball on a run while Desert Mountain’s Henry Powers (31) and Aidan Storm (44) pursue during Chaparral’s 35-16 win over Desert Mountain. (Independent Newsmedia/Josh Martinez)

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this story misidentified several players who are no longer on the team. We apologize for any confusion this may have caused.

Over the past two seasons, Chaparral High School duo Jack Miller and Tommy Christakos have terrorized opposing defenses and matured in their quarterback-receiver dynamic.

On the cusp of the 2019 season — their last as Chaparral Firebirds — the two seniors will serve as a foundation for a team that hasn’t advanced past the second round since 2014.

Chaparral sported a legacy of dominance, winning three consecutive state championships at the turn of this decade.

Last year, the Firebirds seemed on pace for a playoff run but an injury to Miller, an Ohio State commit and top passer in 6A, derailed those expectations. Chaparral lost its last three regular season games and first-round playoff contest after starting 5-2.

Miller — who tossed 27 touchdowns on 141-of-256 passing and six interceptions last year — returns this year feeling “100%” and “ready to roll,” hoping to shake off the disappointment of last season.

Chaparral Head Coach Brent Barnes speaks to his team after practice. Coach Barnes is in his second year as head coach of the Firebirds. (Independent Newsmedia/Josh Martinez)

Second-year Chaparral Head Coach Brent Barnes said Miller is a unique talent that gives his team a chance to win any game they play.

“From a talent and skill level, he’s about as good as I’ve seen with my own eyes,” he said. “That’s a pretty special talent.”

Miller will look to Christakos, his favorite target since transferring to Chaparral as a sophomore, to further the offense. Last year, Christakos reeled in 1,221 yards on 54 catches and 12 touchdowns.

The two have connected on copious occasions in 2017 and 2018. That long history has led Christakos to say he could probably run routes blindfolded and know where Miller will throw the ball because the two’s timing is “impeccable.”

From Miller’s point of view, Christakos is a “freak” athlete who can jump over a defender and make a play, giving Miller some peace of mind.

“It’s awesome, for sure, having that blanket of comfort, knowing if I’m getting pressure, I can just flip it or throw it to him and I know he’ll make the best out of it and make a play for me,” Miller said.

Coach Barnes said the two’s natural elite talent has led to palpable chemistry.

“It’s pretty special,” he said. “We’re excited to have them both but I also feel like there have been so many guys around them that have grown into their roles, really stepped up and made a lot of plays.”

Over the offseason, the Firebirds saw the departure of running back Darvon Hubbard to Willow Canyon High School and receiver Deavon Crawford to Cesar Chavez High School.

In their place, Coach Barnes says he’s seeing Capri Hamilton, Max Minor and Jackson Holmes emerging. Returner Jack Helsten will also look to reel in Miller’s passes.

Chaparral High School begins its season Friday, Aug. 23 against Hamilton High School. (Independent Newsmedia/Josh Martinez)

Having a high-caliber quarterback like Miller, Coach Barnes said, makes these transitions easier.

“When you’ve got a trigger guy like that, he can make you look good,” he said. “I think our guys understand that. If I run a great route, get in the right position, in the right place, the ball’s going to be there.”

Though the Firebirds were a pass-heavy team, they still ran the ball effectively with Hubbard. Coach Barnes expects Jared Williams, who rushed for over 500 yards as a sophomore, to continue his upward trend.

Defensively, Chaparral allowed over 30 points per game but Coach Barnes said he isn’t worried about that number as his offense has the potential to unload each game.

Chaparral returns several defenders including Ben Eddleblute, Kamdan Hightower — who recently committed to UC Davis — and Jaxon Richards.

“This year, I feel like our defense is going to be really, really good, it could be one of the strengths,” Coach Barnes said. “It might not show in stats — again, I don’t look at stats as much.”

Overall, what’s impressed Coach Barnes the most about this team is how close the seniors are as a group. He said that natural bond has spilled over to the underclassmen as the seniors have helped them find their place on the team.

Miller, Christakos, Hightower and Brian Groeger will lead the Firebirds as captains this season. Christakos said their goal is to add another banner to their stadium.

While Coach Barnes says he doesn’t like to predict where his team might finish, he’s definitely won’t shy away from lofty goals, including making the new open division playoffs — the top eight 4A, 5A and 6A schools in the state.

“If we don’t make that, then go try and win the state tournament that you’re in,” he said.

“That will be our focus.”

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

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