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Preview: Bradshaw Mountain football ready to bounce back in 2018

Prep Football

Bradshaw Mountain head coach Chuck Moller talks to Connor Scott as the Bears take on Combs in a scrimmage Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2018, in Prescott Valley.  (Les Stukenberg/Courier)

Bradshaw Mountain head coach Chuck Moller talks to Connor Scott as the Bears take on Combs in a scrimmage Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2018, in Prescott Valley. (Les Stukenberg/Courier)

PRESCOTT VALLEY — Was the 2017 season a mere aberration for Bradshaw Mountain football?

From 2013 through 2016, the Bears qualified for the state playoffs, winning section/region titles in three of those four seasons.

Last fall, Bradshaw Mountain stumbled through the first half of the season under first-year coach Chuck Moller, going winless at 0-5. However, once the players bought into Moller’s system, the Bears won four of their last five games to finish 4-6.

“Last season, with all the new coaching, it started off kinda rough, getting everyone into the flow with everything,” Bears free safety Luke Huenemeyer said from preseason practice the week of July 29. “Towards the end of the season, self-esteem started rising again. And all this summer we’ve been practicing really hard, getting everybody’s heads up, spirits up. It’s going to be a really good season.”

Despite missing the state playoffs for the first time in five years in 2017, there is reason to believe that Bradshaw Mountain should be taken seriously this fall.

2018 Bradshaw Mountain Football

Conference: 4A

Region: Grand Canyon

2017 Record: 4-6

2017 State Playoffs: DNQ

Coach: Chuck Moller, second year

2018 Players to Watch: QB/FS Austin Gonzales, Sr.; RB/OLB Victor Arenas, Sr.; FS/WR Luke Huenemeyer, Sr.; FB/OLB David Mata, Sr.; ILB/TE Noah Shaver, Jr.; OG/DT Coby Meldrum, Sr.; SB/CB Ruben Gonzalez, Sr.; OLB/MLB Connor Scott, Sr.

2018 Schedule:

Date Opponent Time

8/17 at Estrella Foothills 7 p.m.

8/24 at Shadow Mountain 7 p.m.

8/31 Youngker 7 p.m.

9/7 Greenway 7 p.m.

9/14 at Lee Williams* 7 p.m.

9/21 at Coconino* 7 p.m.

9/28 Flagstaff* 7 p.m.

10/5 Prescott* 7 p.m.

10/12 at Mingus* 7 p.m.

10/19 Mohave* 7 p.m.

10/26 Bye Week N/A

11/2 State Playoffs# 7 p.m.

11/9 State Playoffs# 7 p.m.

11/17 State Semifinals 7 p.m.

12/1 State Finals TBA

  • 4A Grand Canyon Region Game

High Seed

A brand-new, gorgeous artificial turf field installed at Bob Pavlich Field in the off-season greets the Bears, who are anxious to prove they still belong among the elite programs in the 4A ranks. Loaded with more than 20 experienced seniors, several of whom are manning key positions, Bradshaw Mountain’s no joke in the Grand Canyon region.

The Bears kick off the 2018 campaign at 7 p.m. Aug. 17, at Estrella Foothills in Goodyear, southwest of Phoenix. They travel to Shadow Mountain in Week 2 before their home opener at 7 p.m. Aug. 31, versus Youngker of Buckeye. Region play begins Sept. 14 at Lee Williams in Kingman. Mingus won the region in 2017.

“We gotta come off and we gotta hit it runnin’,” said Moller, whose players constantly worked out in the weight room in the off-season, particularly the linemen. “And, God willing and we’re lucky enough, we’ll come out of there with a few wins [to start the season].

“Our region’s going to come down to probably three or four teams. Prescott and Mingus are always going to be tough because of our proximity to each other. They’re always rivals. … It’s not going to be much different than it has in the past.”

Moller said his team turned it around last fall because the coaching staff changed the defense to a 4-4 alignment and his players started to eliminate the “stupid mistakes that can be controlled,” such as penalties and turnovers.

“We quit beating ourselves and we started winning,” he added. “Right now we’re eons ahead of where we were last year. Last year we had a staff we were getting to know, going through the first season together. Nobody had been together. Players hadn’t been with coaches. It’s a fresh start.”

On offense, it all starts with senior quarterback Austin Gonzales (6-foot-1, 165 pounds), a team leader who threw for 1,411 yards (71 for 158), 15 touchdowns and seven interceptions last fall. He also led the Bears in rushing, running for 433 yards on 87 carries and seven TDs.

“As long as we start off well, I fully believe that we can make it to the playoffs and go from there,” Gonzales said.

In the backfield, Gonzales has three primary backs in seniors Logan Brannan, David Mata and Victor Arenas, who combined for 450 yards rushing last fall. Mata scored three TDs. Expect them to earn a bulk of the carries for Bradshaw’s offense.

On the o-line, there are five seniors, including center Parker Hines; guards Coby Meldrum and Jared Wasielewski; and senior tackles Hunter Rowe and Sebastian Martinez. Senior Jacob Harding’s at tight end.

“We’re not strangers to how much we lost last year – we know that we failed last year, which we’re going to overcome now,” Meldrum said. “We’ve got the whole starting line back, [including] three starters that have been on the o-line for three years now. … We’re really experienced up front, and that’s going to be our biggest key part of the team.”

The Bears graduated their two best receivers in Devon Olson and Bryan Price, who registered 500-plus yards apiece and combined for 11 TDs in 2017. Seniors Austin Yarbrough, Ruben Gonzalez, Cody Tucker and Bobby Jones should be the receivers to watch.

“We have a couple new receivers that are coming in that didn’t play a lot last year, like [seniors] Cody Tucker and Liam Craig,” Gonzales said. “We actually have a lot more this year than we did last year, so that should help us add more depth.”

Defensively, junior linebacker Noah Shaver (team-best 72 tackles, six tackles for loss, four sacks in 2017), Huenemeyer (43 tackles, 21 solos, two for losses), strong safety Elijah Knisely, and senior linemen Connor Scott (41 tackles, four for losses), Meldrum and Cameron Harris spearhead the unit.

“We’ve had really good communication,” Huenemeyer said of the defense in summer practices. “All of our guys are flying to the ball, hitting hard. Everyone’s aware of what’s going on; there’s no arguing going on. Everyone’s working as a team.”

Doug Cook is a sports reporter for The Daily Courier. Follow him on Twitter at @dougout_dc. Email him at dcook@prescottaz.com or call 928-445-3333, ext. 2039.