Notre Dame Prep returns to state game after nine-year hiatus

NDP running back Cole Fisher gets his food at the AIA’s annual championship media day at Famous Day’s BBQ in Mesa. (Independent Newsmedia/Josh Martinez)

For the first time in almost a decade, Notre Dame Preparatory is in the state championship game for football, meaning many of the Saints have ventured into a new realm.

The Saints will play in their first state championship game since 2008 when they won their second consecutive state title. This year they will compete against Centennial High School Saturday, Dec. 2 at Arizona Stadium in Tucson.

While none of the current players were on that 2008 team, NDP Head Coach George Prelock was there under former Head Coach Scot Bemis.

One takeaway Coach Prelock said he learned from Coach Bemis that he would like to carry into this year’s championship game is making the experience a good one.

He said what he means by that is making good relationships with his players and helping them learn something from him by season’s end.

Notre Dame Prep Head Coach George Prelock speaks at the AIA’s annual championship media day at Famous Dave’s BBQ in Mesa. (Independent Newsmedia/Josh Martinez)

“That’s something I’ve tried to instill here and something I hope they can say ‘hey, I had a great experience when I played football at Notre Dame Prep,’” he said in a Nov. 21 interview.

So far this season, the Saints are 13–0 and are coming off a tight 37–34 win over Cienega High School in the semifinals.

This season comes on the heels of an 8–2 2016 campaign that ended with a NDP region championship.

It also ended with a ban of the program from that year’s playoffs, the resignation of the head coach and school president and a spring football season ban, all for Arizona Interscholastic Association rule violations.

Given all that’s happened, defensive end Kyle White said it means “the world” to the team to be in this position to win a state championship.

“We definitely had some motivation coming into this year,” he said in a Nov. 21 interview. “This is our last year together, we have (35) seniors together. We really wanted to end our year with a bang while playing together.”

Getting back to a state championship was a goal White said he and other seniors who played on the 2013 Scottsdale Youth Football Team the Firebirds made as eighth graders when they won the state championship at that level.

Now, they can realize that goal, which makes this game mean that much more to them, White said. He said it means so much because these seniors feel like family to him.

The Saints, however, aren’t only playing for themselves, they’re also playing for their community. White said the NDP community is one of the strongest he’s ever seen.

Between alumni and local parents, he said each group has offered support whether on social media or in person.

NDP receiver Blake Storey (10) reels in a pass during the Saints’ 28–23 win over Chaparral Thursday, Sept. 28 (Independent Newsmedia/Josh Martinez)

White said many of last year’s players still reach out to the team to be supportive and Coach Prelock has gotten them sideline passes so they can attend games.

Also, White said many parents of the last year’s players still support the team even though their child in no longer playing.

“It just means a lot to be supported by the community that’s gone through a lot,” he said.

With the state championship game looming, White said there is a bit of pressure on the team because it’s a game that has the highest stakes of the year. However, he said it’s not debilitating.

NDP will face that pressure with a group that has never been to the state championships but running back Cole Fisher said that fact produces the opposite of pressure.

“I think it’s more of a motivational thing especially with all the unfortunate things that happened last year,” he said in a Nov. 21 interview. “I think we’ve just been motivated all year and we’re just driven and happy to be here.”

To get to this point, the Saints have had several blowout wins but they’ve also had to squeak out several victories as well including two overtime wins over Desert Edge and Queen Creek high schools.

Coach Prelock said these challenges coupled with last year’s suspensions has helped his team to this point against a tough Centennial group.

But that hasn’t deterred Coach Prelock.

“We’re happy to have this opportunity and we’re ready for the challenge,” he said.

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

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