This is a story about football, a guy working a construction site and a mother-in-law.
Max Hall is in here, too. You remember Hall, the former Mesa Mountain View and Brigham Young University star who lasted just six games with the Arizona Cardinals and then was arrested last year on shoplifting and drug possession charges.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Perhaps I should tell you the name of the school first: American Leadership Academy. It’s a small charter school in Queen Creek, and its football program is 9-1 and the No. 4 seed in the Division V playoffs. It will play No. 13 seed Surprise Paradise Honors on Saturday.
Oh, I forgot to mention one thing. The only previous coaching experience its head coach had was one year as an assistant for a Pop Warner team.
So was I.
Rich Edwards was a contractor in 2013, working on the construction site of the ALA campus. He got to know ALA founder Glenn Way on the job, and as they toured the site in hard hats, talking to inspectors, their conversations got around to football.
Edwards grew up around the game. He played for Mountain View coaching legend Jesse Parker in 1980 and 1981 and went on to play small-college ball in Kansas. Way’s knowledge was a bit more rudimentary.
“He’s not a football guy, to be honest with you,” Edwards said. “I don’t think he knew the difference between a center and a quarterback.”
Way did know he needed a football coach for his new school, so he asked Edwards if he wanted the job. Edwards thought about it for a while and told Way he should try to get someone more experienced. Also, Edwards had been an assistant for one year when his son played Pop Warner and it wasn’t a pleasant experience; he wasn’t sure he wanted to be a coach.
A month later, Way asked him again. This time, he put his request in practical terms. ALA would be a charter school just starting a football program. How many experienced coaches would want the job?
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OK, Edwards said, you’ve got yourself a football coach. Then, Way doubled down, asking Edwards if he wanted to be athletic director, as well. There went the contractor business.
“If you would have asked me four or five years ago what I’d be doing, I’d say building and selling homes,” Edwards said. “I wouldn’t have dreamed of this.
“I hesitate to say this because I know a lot of guys are great at this and do a better job than I do, but I think he (Way) felt like I could be a positive influence on young men. Football was secondary to him.”
Edwards has mixed the virtues he learned from playing under Parker – toughness, discipline, a losing-is-not-acceptable attitude – with the positive reinforcement that works better with today’s players. The results speak for themselves.
Last year, in its first year as a full-fledged member of the Arizona Interscholastic Association, ALA finished 9-2 and lost in the first round of the playoffs to Thatcher. This year, ALA’s only loss was 14-12 to Eloy Santa Cruz on Oct. 9 and it ended the regular season with an eye-opening 21-0 victory over traditional Division V power Tempe Prep.
Junior quarterback Dallin Edwards, Rich’s son, has thrown for 21 touchdowns with just five interceptions, and junior running back Jermiah Boyd has rushed for 1,273 yards and 20 TDs.
“We respect the kids but we coach them hard and set standards for them, and we expect them to live up to those standards,” said Hall, the team’s offensive coordinator. “It’s a little bit of old school but he (Edwards) does a great job of relating to the kids.”
So does Hall, who wondered for a long time if he would get a second chance after his life unraveled.
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In August 2014, Hall was arrested at a Best Buy store in Gilbert after a store employee told police he saw Hall taking merchandise out of boxes and stuffing it in his backpack.
Police discovered $286 worth of electronics inside Hall’s backpack and, according to the police report, a “clear, plastic bag that contained (2) hypodermic needles, a metal spoon, a lighter and a white plastic pill bottle.” Also found: a “personal use quantity of cocaine.”
Within a week, Hall lost his job as offensive coordinator at Gilbert High. He then disappeared from public view, surfacing only for a television interview with Fox 10 sportscaster Jude LaCava last May.
In the interview, Hall told LaCava a series of concussions and a shoulder injury suffered while playing football led him to become addicted to the painkiller Oxycodone, which sent him spiraling into drug addiction.
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Edwards saw the interview and was impressed that Hall didn’t try to blame anyone else for his actions. A few weeks later, Edwards thought, “I wonder how Max is doing?” Edwards had gone to school with Hall’s mother-in-law so he called her and she said, “He’s doing really well. He’s looking for something to do.”
Edwards told her he was looking for an offensive coordinator and would love to talk to Max. But he never heard from him. Then, two months later, a friend invited Dallin Edwards to a lesson with a private quarterbacks coach.
The coach happened to be Hall.
Eventually, Edwards and Hall started talking. One of the first things Hall said to Edwards was, “You need to know some things.” Edwards then had Hall tell his story to the ALA school board and its founders.
He was hired on July 1.
“He was very open and forthright,” Edwards said. “There’s no question what Max Hall brings to a program football-wise, that’s just obvious, but we honestly felt like if we could give Max a chance, it would be an opportunity for him and his wife to get the break they needed and for him to get back on his feet.
“He couldn’t be doing better. He’s everywhere he needs to be on time, he puts in the extra effort and the kids love and respond to him.”
Hall said he completed a three-month rehabilitation after his arrest and has nearly completed a drug diversion program. He speaks to youth groups and has been honest about his past with ALA’s players.
“He told us he’s made a few mistakes in the past, mistakes he regrets,” Boyd said. “He told us, ‘If you make a mistake, it’s not what you did to make that mistake, it’s what you do after you make that mistake. That’s what builds your character.’ ”
Hall is thankful he has that opportunity.
“It takes guys like Rich to reach out to people who have slipped and fallen,” Hall said. “That’s what he did. For him to put that faith and trust in me has meant a lot. I’m just trying to take advantage of it. I love football, I love being around the game and being around the kids. It’s just been very good for me.
“Now, it’s just one day at a time, doing the things I need to do every day. I’m not looking back.”
Reach Bordow at firstname.lastname@example.org and 602-448-8716. Follow him at Twitter.com/sBordow.
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