Early in practice Tuesday, as groups of players went from station to station, Centennial (Peoria, Arizona) head football coach Richard Taylor had Mater Dei on his mind.
“What makes us special, that is our will to get there!” Taylor shouted as players lined up for a footwork drill. “Get to the doggone ball!
“C’mon! Ready, set, get there, get there!”
The last two years, nationally acclaimed high school programs St. Thomas Aquinas (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) and Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas) came to Centennial, expecting maybe an easy win.
Centennial knocked off both of those teams from their national perches.
Now comes the ultimate litmus test. Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei, which finished ranked No. 1 in the nation the last two years, which is the preseason No. 1 team in the nation by MaxPreps, which has almost as many players with Division I offers as Centennial has on its roster, comes to play the Coyotes on Sept. 6.
Centennial opens at home against Queen Creek Casteel on Aug. 23, gets a bye the following week, giving it two weeks to prepare for maybe the most stacked, talent-laden high school team in the nation.
Maybe Mater Dei thought this was a short trip to Corona, Calif., to play that Centennial team when it first saw the schedule.
No, it’s Peoria Centennial, the noted giant slayer.
“When I told my wife we were going to do that (game), she said, ‘I think you’re getting too big for your britches,”’ Taylor said. “I said, ‘I have no illusion that I think we’re going to go out there and push these guys around. But can you imagine Mater Dei coming to Centennial High School?’ She goes, ‘Oh, that is kind of cool.”’
It’s next man up time for the Coyotes, who return quarterback Jonathan Morris, running back/safety Jaydin Young, receiver/cornerback Eric Haney, wide receiver Dyelan Miller and three junior offensive linemen — Caiden Miles, Oscar Abundis and Filipo Teofilo — who are a combined 930 pounds.
“We still look the same,” said Young, who said he’ll likely visit Purdue during the early bye week before making up his mind on college. “It’s too early to tell with practice just started.
“We just try to play physical and out-physical the team we’re playing.”
Young is used to being picked to lose to national heavyweights, so he’ll approach Mater Dei the same.
“We’re the underdogs in that game so we’ll just fight and prove to everybody that we’re one of the best teams in the nation,” Young said.