Saturday, August 3, 2013
New and old set to shine at Saguaro
By Erik McKinney
Elite 11 finalist and Cal commit Luke Rubenzer is back to lead a loaded Saguaro offense.
In his first year as head coach at Scottsdale (Ariz.) Saguaro, Jason Mohns led his team to an 8-4 record and the second round of the playoffs. The offense was terrific, scoring more than 30 points in all but two games.
Heading into the 2013 season, much of the offensive firepower returns for the Sabercats, though Mohns said some of the differences between this year's team and last year's could benefit the squad.
There are times when sports take a back seat to real life, and Mohns experienced that a year ago, when he was away from his team for extended periods in order to be with his ailing father, who passed in late July of 2012. Mohns said spending a full offseason with his team, which he has done this spring and summer, has helped build the program.
"It's night and day as far as where we feel we're at right now as far as consistency with coaching and where we are with our kids," Mohns said. "Summertime is such an important time to build bonds and instill the values of the program. Cohesively, as a unit, we're a lot better this year than last year."
Part of that also has to do with some of the assistant coaches who have settled in at Saguaro. Former Sabercats and Arizona State standout Kyle Caldwell is an assistant coach with the defense. Former Arizona State and Nebraska quarterback Sam Keller is back for his second season working with the quarterbacks, and former Detroit Lions cornerback Bryant Westbrook is volunteering his time this year to work with the secondary.
"We have a great staff," Mohns said. "These are guys who have played at a high level. For kids to see a guy who has played at the highest level and loves the game so much that he wants to be out here on his own, that means a lot to these kids.
It also helps that Saguaro has a rock at the quarterback position, in Cal commit Luke Rubenzer. The 6-foot, 187-pound Elite 11 finalist threw for 2,834 yards and 36 touchdowns last season, while also rushing for 1,184 yards and 10 scores. Mohns said that for everything Rubenzer does on the field, his most impressive stat is a 70-10 touchdown-to-interception ration through his two seasons.
Not only will Rubenzer be the starting quarterback, he'll play some free safety as well, giving Cal fans an opportunity to see the future in action.
"We've evolved our offense because of Luke and the things he can do," Mohns said. "Every play we call has an option for Luke to make a read. You don't do that unless you have a kid that has a high football IQ. He gets it. He can read defenses and makes good decisions. He's not just a gunslinger out there. He protects the football and makes good decisions for our team."
Joining Rubenzer on the field again will be 2015 standout Christian Kirk -- the No. 3 wide receiver in his recruiting class. Kirk led the team with 1,003 yards and 12 touchdowns through the air as a sophomore. During his junior year, his responsibilities will be extensive.
"He's playing corner, nickel, safety, wide receiver and running back this year," Mohns said of Kirk. "He's doing everything. He's a special kid."
Kirk already is approaching 20 scholarship offers and likely will blow past that number early this fall. He said Michigan, Oregon and USC are three schools that haven't offered but are on him heavily.
In addition to Rubenzer and Kirk, the offense will see a boost from the return of offensive tackle Alex Anderson and the arrival of transfer J.T. Nettleton, who made the move to Arizona from Washington.
A wide receiver in a Wing-T offense, Nettleton didn't see the ball much on offense and wasn't utilized defensively. This year, Nettleton will be unleashed on both sides of the ball, at receiver and safety. Mohns said he could get looks from some programs at receiver but believes his future is at safety. Already, Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado, San Jose State and UTEP have expressed interest.
But the two most intriguing additions for Saguaro -- especially from a recruiting standpoint -- could be brothers Kare' Lyles and Kayden Lyles.
Kare', a 2016 quarterback, likely won't see the field in an extended role this year, as he waits his turn behind Rubenzer. But Kayden, a massive 2017 offensive guard, could push for playing time as a freshman. The brothers were born in the Midwest -- Kare' in Wisconsin and Kayden in Indiana. Their father, Kevin, is a former tight end for the Badgers. They eventually made the move to Arizona for Kare's freshman season, when he attended Desert Vista in Phoenix. He transferred to Saguaro during the third quarter of his freshman year.
The brothers have settled in nicely at Saguaro. Kare' is preparing for only his third full season as a quarterback, though he already has drawn interest from Arizona, Arizona State, Nebraska and UCLA. While growing up, the 6-1, 211-pound quarterback played offensive line, but his heart has always been under center.
"In Wisconsin, we had a weight system where if you were over a certain weight, you couldn't touch the ball," Lyles said. "I finally got under weight for my eighth-grade year, so that was my first year playing quarterback."
But Lyles said he worked with his dad -- a high school quarterback who moved to tight end in college -- on the intricacies of the position. He said much of the time was spent going over the mental preparation and what it took to play there going forward.
"He told me to always have preparation, dedication and determination in playing the game," Lyles said. "I like leading the team and having the pressure of being a quarterback is really special. It's really hard, but at the same time it's really fun."
Lyles prides himself on being a pocket passer but would like to add some speed and running ability to his game over the next year. He said he watches every rep Rubenzer takes during practice and hopes to emulate the senior in his running and passing ability.
The Saguaro coaches raved about Lyles and said he will be a prospect to watch going forward. With his physical ability and mental makeup, it wouldn't be surprising to see offers start coming in before he starts a game at the high school level.
As for Kayden -- referred to as Kare's big-little brother -- he began his career at tight end before moving to the offensive line. Already standing 6-3 and soon to be pushing 300 pounds, Lyles will get every opportunity to make an impact this season. He said the adjustment to the high school level has gone well thus far.
"I feel like I have to go harder and be a lot faster, but I think right now I'm doing pretty well with where I am," Lyles said. "I feel confident about it. There are always wins and losses, but I'm getting there."
As with his brother, it wouldn't be surprising to see college interest in the younger Lyles pick up during the season.