Chandler, Basha football prepare for California foes - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Chandler, Basha football prepare for California foes

September 1st, 2022 SanTan Sun News
Chandler, Basha football prepare for California foes
Sports and Recreation

By Zach Alvira
Arizonan Sports Editor

It’s been two years since East Valley high school football teams have had the opportunity to travel outside of the state for competition. 

Chandler brought in Cherry Creek from Colorado last year. Hamilton had one of the most memorable games in its come-from-behind win over Nevada power Bishop Gorman. 

But the pandemic put a wrench in the plans of programs to step outside of state lines and prove Arizona football is just as strong on the road as it is at home. That is, until this season. 

Chandler and Basha are preparing for trips to California to play two of the best the state has to offer. The Wolves will play Cathedral Catholic from San Diego in The Honor Bowl. The Bears will face Los Alamitos from the Los Angeles area. 

“There’s nothing like traveling with a high school football team, the bonding and team comradery,” Chandler coach Rick Garretson said. “Playing a great program like Cathedral Catholic puts our necks on the line, so to speak. They’re looking forward to it, this team has been working hard going against each other for six weeks. It’s going to be a great trip.”

Chandler’s game against Cathedral Catholic is part of a weekend showcase that includes two other Arizona high school programs. Red Mountain plays Mater Dei Catholic at 4 p.m. Friday. Desert Vista will face Madison on Saturday at 4 p.m. 

The Wolves are one of the featured teams of the showcase, as they enter the contest as the No. 8 ranked team in the country led by junior quarterback Dylan Raiola, the top-ranked player in the 2024 class. 

Raiola doesn’t feel pressure with his first outing as a member of the Chandler football team coming on a national stage. He’s embracing the opportunity and is excited for the moment he is able to put on Chandler’s colors. 

“I’ve been waiting. We’ve done photo shoots in these uniforms but it’s not the same,” Raiola said. “Just being able to put that on and represent Arizona, represent this awesome school, I’m blessed.”

Along with Raiola, Chandler’s roster also features senior running back Ca’lil Valentine, as well as wideouts Justice Spann and Junior Nsubuga, who both made considerable contributions last season. On defense, defensive tackle A’mauri Washington leads the way along with linebacker Dominic Hanger and safety Kennedy Urlacher. 

The Wolves are poised for yet another run toward the championship. But it starts with Raiola leading the way against a Cathedral Catholic team that is coming off a 12-2 campaign that was capped off by a Division 1-AA state championship win. 

Chad Carpenter, Chandler’s QB coach and passing game coordinator, believes Raiola is ready for the test. 

“The first game is always a question mark for a coach,” Carpenter said. “We’re changing things, we’ve got some new guys on offense, we want to put everyone in a good spot. The good thing about Dylan is he puts in the work. He’s young and talented but has plenty to learn. He wants to learn which is huge.”

Basha High School football practice, Monday, August 8, 2022, in Chandler, Arizona. (David Minton/Staff Photographer)

Twenty-four hours after Chandler kicks off against Cathedral Catholic, Basha will face a Los Alamitos team littered with top-end talent. 

Much like the Wolves, Basha had to set aside plans to travel the last two seasons due to the pandemic. The Bears’ Sept. 3 matchup against Los Al will be the first time since 2013 they kick off the season against an out-of-state team. 

“It’s exciting,” McDonald said. “It feels good to be in the position we’re in right now and, I guess, to be one of the ones other people are picking to be one of the better teams in the state. And to have the opportunity to reach out to a school like Los Alamitos which is one of the top public schools in California, it’s fun.”

Los Al is led by five-star quarterback and USC commit Malachi Nelson and athlete Makai Lemon, a four-star recruit also committed to USC. Los Al also features several other top recruits, but Basha is no stranger to talent itself. 

Junior quarterback Demond Williams Jr. is entering his third season as the starter for Basha, and he has several athletes at his disposal, including running back Deshaun Buchanan and receivers Bryson Dedmond, Darron Dodd-Stringfellow and Dorae Scott. Basha’s defense is led by defensive backs Cole Martin, Miles Lockhart and Tommy Prassas. Wyatt Milkovich and Jackson Browning lead the linebackers while Tyson Simmons and Jack Bleier anchor the defensive line. 

But Williams is the leader. He’s the guy people are keying on for this matchup with Nelson. And he’s ready for the challenge. 

“I’m pretty excited but at the end of the day I don’t feel like no moment is too big for me,” Williams said. “I feel like if I go out there and do what I do nothing else matters.”

Williams’ calm, cool and collected demeanor is something he constantly shows whether it be in practice or games. Basha quarterbacks coach Dave Calderon said he always tries to keep Williams humble. 

But Calderon knows Williams’ talent level and he feels no moment is too big for him.

“He has to be the leader by being calm, by being humble,” Calderon said. “He’s hopped every hurdle we’ve given him, starting him as a freshman. Now, we’re going to a national level. Let’s hop that hurdle.” 

Queen Creek, Williams Field and Campo Verde will also travel to California for the first week of the season, as they will all take part in the Moorepark Classic in Moorepark, Calif. Mountain View is hitting the road to face Helix in California. Fellow CUSD program Perry is traveling to Las Vegas to face Spring Valley. Saguaro in Scottsdale is hosting New Jersey power Bergen Catholic to open the season. 

Both Garretson and McDonald agree facing out-of-state opponents is good for the high school football landscape in the state. Arizona is already underrated as a whole, but that is quickly changing year by year. 

“We’ve had a lot of programs lead the state and take on the best in other states,” McDonald said. “Chandler and Hamilton have sort of laid the foundation for that. Saguaro, too. I think it definitely helps our program.