McClintock football has a rich history. The Tempe school opened in 1965 with legendary Karl Kiefer at the helm and in his 26 years with the Chargers, the Red & Blue took home titles in 1977, 1980, and 1989.
But that is in the past. All of the players on the current MHS roster were about a decade from being born. Progress has become stagnant. The last playoff game for the Chargers took place back in 2009 (during a 4-7 season). Since then, the once proud program is 20-50 with no winning seasons in those seven years (3-7 in 2016). And it's happened under three different head coaches.
So, some new blood was brought in to try and inject a little more excitement to boost Charger Pride. The new coach, Corbin Smith, was hired in January and had most his staff in place by the time spring ball began in early May. Smith is the son of Larry Smith, who served 24 seasons as a collegiate head coach at Tulane, Arizona, USC, and Missouri.
This is the first head coaching job for the younger Smith, who has been an assistant coach for 17 years. Most recently, he was the offensive coordinator at Mesquite on the Jim Jones staff in 2015. Last year, he worked with Mesa Community College while enjoying his son Preston's senior year at Mesquite. Preston signed a football scholarship with Weber State in February.
As for this year's Charger staff, Smith will call the plays and his offensive coordinator has deep McClintock ties. Chris Colter, who was retained from the previous coaching staff, was an All-State defensive back on the 1989 5A (big-school) state champions. The defensive coordinator is Zach Griffin, who has been in that same position for the last four years at Mountain Pointe, a fellow Tempe Union District school.
The excitement in the school has begun as the McClintock Zoo Krew has come out with the themes for the Charger students to wear each Friday night to support the team. For example, the home opener on Sept. 8 is a ''USA-out" with fans wearing patriotic colors for the game taking place close to 9/11.
Taking a look at that team on the field, junior Cordell Colter (Chris' son) will start at quarterback. The 5-11, 185-pound signal caller ended last season as the starter. Colter has a big-play receiver to look for downfield with Jerone Davison. Smith called Davison (6-1, 165) his "most athletic player".
One of the things Smith has implemented is changing formations on the fly as the coaches spot mismatches. With the call of a single word, players can swap positions from the slot to outside and still be ready to run the play. This comes from practicing with players in different positions.
As for the running game, Tyrese Green returns for his senior year after compiling 2,000 all-purpose yards last year. The dynamic player plays longer than his listed 5-8 height. The speed at the running back and wide receiver positions is the strength of the Charger offense. But, there's speed in other areas, too.
"Our offensive line has a long way to go," Smith said. "But, they're quick and fast. We don't have kids that are 6-3 and 280 pounds, but they can play with leverage."
Defensively, the team will be an experienced unit. Smith said the Chargers have both safeties back, one of two corners, and pretty much all of the linebackers. With the strength in numbers at linebacker, junior Keyon Lindsey has been moved to defensive end. The defensive line will be anchored by junior DE Quincy Singleton.
The team has been getting up to speed with a new defensive system and is able to start plays from a variety of formations.
"We have the ability to run a 3-4, 3-3, 4-2, or 4-3," Smith said. "The gap assignments don't change much."
Smith has seen what he called "night-and-day" progress since the first day of official practices at the end of July. His team will be tested this Wednesday with a scrimmage at 4A-contender Higley in a three-way scrimmage with 6A-school Gilbert (and Purdue-bound Jack Plummer). Getting meaningful reps against those two teams will help when McClintock faces the teams on its 5A Metro Region schedule.
"The big part to turning this program around is changing the culture," Smith said. "The biggest thing is learning how to work and how to practice."
In the practices at MHS, the players go non-stop. They sprint everywhere. Kids aren't standing around, they get designated team water breaks, but they are constantly in motion.
The Chargers plan to play no-huddle and go fast. And it's not just offense. On the D, the players are chasing the ball carrier down the field and sprinting to the ball.
The team has taken on the mantra of PPT - Pride, Poise, Team. All that's left is the players to buy in totally to what this veteran coaching staff is trying to do. And everyone will see how that is working out on Friday nights under the lights.
"(The most important thing) is to be sound fundamentally," Smith said. "Be where you're supposed to be and we will put ourselves in position to be in every ball game."
The team is athletic and the numbers are up. The question that will be answered this fall is "Can they execute?". Fortunately for the Chargers, the team plays in the Metro Region, which doesn't have a 5A super-team like Centennial, Williams Field, Queen Creek, or Desert Edge. Kellis, Apollo, and Sunnyslope seem to be the contenders for the league title. Kellis went 9-2 last season, lost most of its offense, but returns Josiah Bailey. Apollo has an experienced QB in Frank Sanchez and also brings back O-linemen with plenty of game reps. Sunnyslope (7-3 last year) returns six starters, including disruptive DL Bub Dixon.
McClintock will play its first two games on the road, opening on Aug. 25 in Casa Grande against Vista Grande HS. The following week will bring a trip further south to Marana to take on the Tigers, last year's Sonoran Region champs.