Sports Notebook By Alex Zener
The success of Corona del Sol High’s football program last season – all three levels went undefeated in regular season – spurred a lot of hype in the offseason.
The Aztecs will try to keep the momentum going in 2021 when they open Sept. 3 at home against Mountain Pointe.
Corona graduated 24 seniors, including the team’s leader and outstanding quarterback, Quade Swearingen, but it has 45 returning players on its roster. At least 15 of them played significant snaps in 2020.
As the freshman, junior varsity and varsity kept winning, the community went from shaking their heads thinking it must be a fluke to getting excited about Aztec football after almost 10 years of less-than-mediocre results.
That all three teams were undefeated in the regular season kept the momentum going into spring ball and throughout summer weight training and then into preseason Camp Tontozona near Payson.
A lot of the credit for the resurgence goes to Jon Becktold, entering his fifth year as head coach, and his staff. Becktold was named Class 6A Coach of the Year in 2019 after taking Corona from a 1-9 record in 2018 to 4-7 in 2019. He again was among the candidates for coach of the year deep into the 2020 season.
The Aztecs’ 2020 regular-season record was 8-0 before a 50-0 first-round playoff loss to Hamilton.
Several fathers of Corona football players are involved in helping Becktold build a strong foundation that is the backbone of any winning program, including a feeder system that started with a youth program called the DevilBacks. Chad Ackerley, father of Corona sophomore quarterback Connor Ackerley, directs that program.
Six other fathers coach various levels in Corona’s program. Manny Carbajal has two sons in the program: Jake Carbajal, a junior lineman, and Colby Carbajal, a freshman lineman.
Brandon Anger as sons in football: Gabe Anger, a sophomore lineman, and Sean Anger, a freshman lineman.
Jeremy Gonzales’ son, Christian Gonzales, is a member of the freshman team.
Lewis Kary’s son, Jamee Kary, is a sophomore lineman.
Matt Holly’s son, Luke Holly, is a sophomore wide receiver.
Brian Walker, former 12-year head coach at Tempe High, joined the staff this summer as defensive backs coach and brought along his son, Jalen Walker, a senior linebacker.
In Walker, the Aztecs acquired one of the top 10 linebackers in Arizona. He has a high football IQ. At 6-feet, 215 pounds, he is physical, strong and versatile. He can play several positions, including running back. As a defensive back, Walker is fast getting to the outside to track down the ball carrier, has great balance and feet, and has been said to play with high intensity.
The football staff at Corona is unique in that nine coaches played at at the school, an asset because of their familiarity with the culture of the program.
Gary Venturo, who began coaching at Corona in 1987 and retired after 23 years in 2009, would be proud to know that so many of his former players played roles in rebuilding the culture that he had a huge role in developing.
The Aztecs have been picked as favorite to win the 6A East Valley Section for the second year in a row, followed by Mesa, Dobson, Westwood, Skyline and Tucson.
First, Corona must get by its decades-long Central Region archrival, Mountain Pointe, in the opener on the Aztecs’ new artificial-turf home field. They defeated the Pride, 45-9, last season but the former 6A state champion could well bounce back from two subpar seasons and be a contender again.
Mountain Pointe has an athletic quarterback, Christopher Arviso II, who played in only four games last season as a sophomore but completed 34 of 46 passes for 379 yards and five touchdowns. Corona does not want to let him have a breakout game.
The Pride also have senior all-around athlete Amier Boyd-Matthew, who played quarterback last year but was more successful running with the ball with 58 carries for 405 yards and three touchdowns. He may move to receiver this season.
Key returnees on Corona del Sol’s offense include seniors Austin Tygart, Izaak Kabal, Nomar Sierra and Peter Katsiris.
Returning seniors on defense include Jeff Lambert, Peyton Bauer, Keegan Dunbar, Elijah De La Cerna and Nathan Cormier-Ward. Juniors Keona Peat, Bennett Matsler, Carston Kieffer and Tristan Shafer return after playing on varsity their sophomore year.
Returning offensive and defensive line members include Theren White and Angel Dorame
New to varsity this season but predicted to have an impact on the Aztecs’ success, is sophomore quarterback Connor Ackerly.