If nothing else, the first few weeks of summer vacation have proved that Desert Vista is pretty good at tug-of-war and Mountain Pointe is a heck of a touch football team.

What it means come fall, when the real football tests are presented, is unknown, but success during this time of the year can’t hurt.

“It’s good for the chemistry and confidence, but all it really shows is that we are a pretty good touch football team,” Mountain Pointe coach Norris Vaughan said. “We can throw and catch the ball pretty good.”

The Pride won the High Mountain Challenge at Northern Arizona on June 16 by going 9-0 overall and came home with the title after beating Basha on a last-minute score and then sealed with a Jalen Brown interception.

In the same event, the Desert Vista linemen won its third Big Man Challenge of the 7-on-7 season after also getting the nod at Arizona and Arizona State camps previously.

“They really wanted that trifecta and were a little nervous about it,” Desert Vista coach Dan Hinds. “You take it for what it is, but as a coach you see these guys go out and perform in a competitive arena and you are proud of what they accomplished.”

Since linemen are not used to the 7-on-7 setting, they get their own competition that usually includes one-on-one battles, obstacle courses, or a shuttle run of some kind, a weight room session, and end it with the always fun tug-of-war.

“If you are a lineman and you are moving backwards you are probably getting beat so we don’t have many practice (techniques) where we are going backwards,” Hinds joked. “We had (the NAU title) wrapped up before it got to that point but (the tug-of-war) was fun for them.”

More important, in Hinds’ mind, was the fact the Thunder has come together as a unit, especially when it came to developing leadership.

The Thunder lost top lineman JJ Dielman to graduation and team leaders like Mike Arredondo and Hunter Rodriguez are also gone.

If Desert Vista is going to fully build off last year’s state championship there needs to be a new set of leaders.

“Those guys have a strong bond and there are some definite leaders,” Hinds said. “They really did everything they needed to win each week and a lot of that has to do with Zack Tamburo and Dylan Fischer.

“Dylan has had a great summer and really shined. Zack has been one of our starters for a long time and he just continues to get better.”

The group included Fischer, Tamburo, Sam Hartman, Adam Ortega, Brandon Fox and Jalen Jelks along with some others, but they have been without Mitch Wherli because of a minor injury.

It surely hasn’t slowed the Thunder.

“We knew the line was going to be a strength next year and these guys are showing they are ready to compete no matter what it is they are doing,” Hinds said.

The Pride showed a little something too as the transitions of yet another quarterback as junior-to-be Antonio Hinojosa takes over for the departed Caleb Buck.

“He has been sensational this summer and he was great (at the NAU tournament),” Vaughan said. “It looks like we will be able to throw the ball a little bit this year. We will run it, of course, because that is what we like to do, but these guys have really meshed well and come together.”

Mountain Pointe has a star in junior-to-be Jalen Brown, who was named MVP of the event in Flagstaff, but the key will be developing additional threats and the Pride might have found one in senior-to-be Thair Blakes, who saw some time at tight end last year but really spent his junior year as a punter.

At 6-foot-5, he is a physical presence and if he can play with an edge he will be a great compliment to Brown, along with other options like Garette Craig, Travonn White and Jimmy Holtrop, who had a bit of a breakout in Flagstaff as well.

“(Blakes) was really sensational,” Vaughan said. “He has matured and he can be a tough matchup. Everyone looked good, but we have a lot of work to do before it really matters.”

Contact writer: (480) 898-7915 or jskoda@ahwatukee.com. Follow him on Twitter @JSkodaAFN.

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