Rich Wellbrock understands that he is following a football coaching legend at Mountain Pointe High.
“This is on Mount Rushmore, as far as programs go,” Wellbrock said during a break from his first summer of drills as coach of the Pride.
“Everybody looks from the outside and sees Mountain Pointe as one of the top programs in the state and nationally.”
If Mountain Pointe is on the Mount Rushmore of high school football, the man Wellbrock follows could be there, too. Norris Vaughan’s teams built a dynasty during his nine years as Pride coach, going 99-19 before resigning in December and moving to Georgia to be closer to family.
Three weeks ago, Vaughan was named offensive coordinator at Athens Clarke Central High.
“When you get to a program like this, you already know the expectations. It’s exciting and that’s what we’ve all signed up for. We all came to this program to be part of the conversation,” Wellbrock said.
That conversation involves teams contending for a state championship, which has become tradition at Mountain Pointe. Vaughan’s teams appeared in the title game three times and won the state title in 2013. They reached the final four – the big-school state semifinals – in eight of his nine years.
While Wellbrock said his relationship with Vaughan was purely professional, he doesn’t hide his admiration for him.
“He’s built such a tradition here,” Wellbrock said. “They play hard-nosed football and obviously he has moved this program into another stratosphere.”
Not every coach is up for following an act like that, yet former Mountain Pointe principal Bruce Kipper, who recently moved into Temppe Union High School District’s athletic director position, fielded applications from dozens of coaches with winning pedigrees who wanted to give it a try.
Not all of them were right for the circumstances at Mountain Pointe, Kipper said.
Because Wellbrock had a long run of success on a campus similar to Mountain Pointe’s – Desert Edge in Goodyear – Kipper said that Wellbrock was the best fit for the Pride.
It was an opportunity Wellbrock couldn’t pass up. He, too, saw the parallels: kids with character, work ethic and chips on their shoulders to succeed in an elite program.
Kipper said at the time that he regarded last season as an anomaly on Wellbrock’s resume.
In one year as coach at Basha, the Bears were a disappointing 2-8. That flew in the face of Wellbrock’s tenure at Desert Edge, where his teams won 75 games in seven years, including a state title in 2014.
Wellbrock has a talented roster to uphold Mountain Pointe’s legacy. He expects big things from Jatu Gipson, Anthony Dedrick, Rashion Hodge and Jerrick Dickson.
He also is complimentary of quarterback Nick Wallerstedt, the returning starter, although Wellbrock has yet to publicly announce a starter.
“It took him a little bit to get that throwing motion changed,” he said of Wallerstedt, who also starred on the baseball diamond for the Pride. “He’s had a really good summer and he’s excited about the offensive changes we’re making. What a great kid.”
The Pride faithful can expect more hard-nosed football with a few exceptions: Wellbrock hopes to open up the playbook.
“We want to make the tough runs when it’s time. That’s Mountain Pointe football. But we’re spreading it out a bit more.
“Hopefully we’ll have a little bit more diversity within the offense. We’d like to see our receivers get the ball in space,” Wellbrock said.
The Pride offense and defense will be put to the test immediately, as they open at Pinnacle on Aug. 24 against top quarterback prospect Spencer Rattler, who is headed to Oklahoma next year.
“We’re just excited to be done with this 7-on-7 stuff and really get to working on the 11-man grind,” Wellbrock said. “I’m very excited about the opportunity.”