Paradise Valley football coach Greg Davis had 16 players – varsity and junior varsity combined – to take to a Wednesday scrimmage at Gilbert Highland because of the minimum practices needed to play.
Coming off the most successful season in school history, there was uncertainty on whether there would even be a season.
There might not be enough players to field a JV team this year, and the program is dealing with a California team bonding trip that ended badly with a hazing incident in which the El Cajon police responded. Eight players were suspended for the season as a result of the incident.
The “Press Board Report” and “Call for Service Report” from the El Cajon Police Department regarding the incident was received by azcentral sports. Lt. Rob Reinsweiler said it has been sent to the city attorney.
Paradise Valley also is waiting to see what El Cajon will do with the report.
Davis and Principal Ian Deonise discussed the state of the program with azcentral sports this week, including the July 20 incident at El Cajon’s Granite Hills High School. After a weeklong investigation, with help from the Paradise Valley Unified School District, hearing from 57 individuals, coaches and players included, the school handed season-long suspensions to eight players, not all of them are seniors.
“It’s going to be a challenge, no doubt about that,” Davis said of the season that begins Aug. 19 against Buckeye Verrado. “But there are a lot of kids working hard. Kids are going to have to play both ways. Some kids are really excited about that.”
Davis said there were 10 incoming freshmen on the California trip along with all other grades. All of those freshmen, Davis said, are still at the school and will play freshman football.
He said there are 29 varsity and JV players combined. He added that there are about that many for the freshman team. The school has yet to determine whether to have a JV season or keep all 29 players on varsity. Much of that depends on how many more potential players come out for football now that school began Tuesday.
After three practices in El Cajon, the camp was cut short because of the incident. Davis and Deonise declined to provide details on what happened. The incident prompted Davis and his seven assistants to immediately take action. After being alerted by players what happened, he called the administration, which informed him to call the El Cajon police.
“The main thing was we wanted to be proactive in everything we did,” Davis said. “My first phone call was to the administration and make sure we did this the correct way. We were just trying to be proactive and keep the kids safe and do what I think I would want someone do for my own children.”
Deonise said Davis took the proper action and didn’t find fault with the coaches.
“The kids were calculated and took advantage of the very few opportunities they had,” Deonise said. “They knew it was wrong, because they did it when Coach wasn’t looking.
“You can’t have eyes on everyone 24/7. You want to trust your players. You spend all that time building trust and camaraderie. You talk about excellence. You talk about character. You talk about building a family, how you treat each other. You have to remember you’re dealing with teenagers, and teenagers make bad decisions.”
Deonise said the decision to return the entire team home the next day was made because it was close to the end of camp and there was a bus available, and he didn’t want parents to pay the expense to fly their kids home earlier than the rest of the team.
“We felt the best thing to do for everybody involved was to get on the bus and bring everybody home,” Deonise said. “We suspended all activities, football play and coaching activities until after we conducted our investigation. We wanted to make sure it was thorough, that we took every possible angle. It’s a challenging situation to manage. When you’re making a decision about kids’ school or football playing, it would be irresponsible not to take your time and do a thorough investigation.”
Deonise said the suspended players are eligible to play winter and spring sports and could return to the football team next season.
However, some of the suspended players could transfer.
“We interviewed every single kid who was there and every single player and got 57 sides of the story and put it all together,” Deonise said. “We worked closely with our district office and made sure we followed all of the district policies and guidelines.”
Deonise said El Cajon police handled the incident because it happened there.
“They came out and interviewed kids and said, ‘You’re all free to go,’” Deonise said. “That’s still pending. It could be months before we get some sort of closure to that.
“The parents were informed from the beginning.”
Deonise said, at this point, no parents have pressed charges with the El Cajon police.
A year ago, Davis was getting ready for what would be the best season in school history, leading the Trojans to the Division III state final, a game at Tucson’s Arizona Stadium that was decided on the final drive when Goodyear Desert Edge sacked quarterback Daniel Bridge-Gadd, who was named azcentral sports’ Big Schools Player of the Year, that gave the Trojans their only loss. Bridge-Gadd is now a freshman at Washington.
“Our Trojan creed is what we live by,” Davis said. “That’s to have the highest character, discipline, toughness.
“Everything we do, every day, we touch on one of those points. Whenever young men decide to make bad decisions, it’s disappointing as a coach, because we want to try to make young men great.”
Davis and Deonise said that Paradise Valley wants to take a stand against hazing.
“It’s pervasive,” Deonise said. “It’s our responsibility to address it openly and to make sure all of our kids know it’s not OK. You have to speak up. You have to let someone know so we can intervene.
“Our district has taken proactive steps to see what they can do to reduce the chances of this happening.”
After the incident, the football program closed practices to the media and suspended its social media accounts.
Davis said he feels the season can be salvaged. He believes numbers will pick up.
“We only have 29 kids right now,” he said. “Of the 29 kids I have, they’re great kids, working hard. There’s still a positive feeling. There are different reasons why you become a coach. My philosophies have stayed the same. Wins and losses come and go. Building relationships last forever. I’m concentrating on the kids I have and developing the relationships I have and trying to move the program forward in a positive way. I’m really excited about the freshman group coming out.
“It’s going to be a challenging year. But challenging, sometimes, is the most fun time to coach.”