Saguaro scholar-athlete heads list of 2017 NFF honorees

The Valley of the Sun Chapter of the National Football Foundation will host Arizona’s Top 50 high school and top college football scholar-athletes, along with their coaches, on Saturday, April 8, at the Hilton-Scottsdale Resort and Villas at the chapter’s 36th Annual NFF/Fiesta Bowl Scholar Athlete Awards Banquet.

Representing the best from over 258,000 students in 186 high schools, and players from the three universities and five junior colleges in northern and central Arizona, the honorees will receive scholarship commitments totaling $56,500.

The chapter is a recipient of a 2016-17 Fiesta Bowl Charities grant, which helps underwrite the scholarship program and has helped honor over 1,100 players since 1986.

Corey Stephens, a two-time sports All Arizona and three-time All State offensive tackle for four-time state champion Scottsdale Saguaro has been named First Team and Chapter Scholar Athlete of the Year. Academically, Mr. Stephens posted a 3.92/4.35 GPA and is ranked in the Top 8 percent of his senior class.

Committed to play for the Arizona State Sun Devils, Mr. Stephens plans to enroll in the Barrett Honors College, majoring in business. He will be nominated by the chapter to be one of only five National High School Scholar Athletes feted annually by the NFF.

If selected, he will join other recent Chapter National Scholar Athletes Tevin Hood of Chandler Hamilton in 2010; Josh Weeks, Show Low in 2012; Zach Werlinger, Chandler Basha in 2014; and Matt Mitchell, Glendale Joy Christian School in 2016.

The 2017 Class received a plethora of football honors including four All-Arizona players, 14 All-State, and 35 All-Region players, and all with the First Team Roster posting an average 4.196 GPA.

All Arizona Academic defensive back Michael Pickett joins Mr. Stephens representing Saguaro High, along with All-Arizona and State record-setting wide receiver Kade Warner, and two-time 1st Team Arizona All-Academic linebacker Cody Liebeskind,  representing Desert Mountain as headliners on the First Team.

They are joined by Quarterback Maverick Gamez, Buckeye Verrado; linebacker Tyler Kohner, Glendale Northwest Christian; Scottsdale Arcadia running back Ryan Alexandre; All-State punter Riley Erickson of Tempe Desert Vista; Valley Vista’s Creston Cooledge, an offensive lineman; linebacker William Zupke of Phoenix Pinnacle; and, rounding out the First Team, from Phoenix Brophy Prep are All-Arizona linebacker Rexx Tessler, and All-State fullback Noah Pittenger.

Nominated by their coaches, NFF Scholar Athletes are selected and ranked by a blue-ribbon committee using criteria based on 40 percent academic performance, 40 percent football accomplishments, and 20 percent school and community citizenship, and participation.

This year’s College Scholar Athlete Class features three past chapter high school honorees. Northern Arizona University, Big Sky All Academic tight end Patrick Baldenegro was a scholar athlete representing Chandler High School in 2010; Brennan Bowen, the college recipient from Arizona Christian University and an All Conference (CSFL) offensive lineman, was a 2011 Avondale Westview scholar athlete; and, Robert Acosta representing Glendale Community College, was a high school NFF Scholar Athlete as an offensive lineman for the Tempe Buffaloes in 2015.

Arizona State University is represented this year by PAC-12 All Academic kicker Matthew Haack. Mr. Haack also received the Sun Devils’ Pat Tillman Outstanding Academic Achievement Award.

Mr. Tillman was ASU’s College Scholar Athlete winner for the chapter in 1997, along with Sun Devil Damien Richardson. Mr. Richardson is currently an orthopedic surgery resident at Banner Good Sam Medical Center in Phoenix. ACU’s Head Coach Jeff Bowen also happens to be the father of ACU’s college scholar athlete Brennan Bowen.

College honorable mention scholar athlete accolades go to Devon McPeek and Melvin Lorenzo of NAU; and Fred Gammage and Viliami Moeakiola of the ASU Sun Devils.

Special adult contributors to amateur football awards, presented annually, include this year’s Frank Kush Lifetime Achievement Coaching Award which will be bestowed upon legendary high school and college coach, John Wrenn.

The event is open to the public. For more information, visit

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