Mountain Pointe High’s football program has seen a lot change since the end of the 2017 season, most notably with the coaching staff.
Former coach Norris Vaughan stepped down to move back to Georgia, paving the way for Rich Wellbrock to take over ahead of the 2018 season. While Wellbrock remains the head coach and his son, Griffin, an assistant, the support staff around them has changed once again for the 2019 season.
This time, however, Wellbrock believes it will be permanent.
“I think when we started with all this last year I didn’t think it would be a long term situation,” Wellbrock said. “I knew Coach (Conrad) Hamilton wanted to be a head coach and I couldn’t be happier for him or the Desert Mountain kids.”
Conrad Hamilton, Mountain Pointe’s defensive coordinator last season, was hired to be the next head coach of the Desert Mountain program in March. Several members of the Pride’s coaching staff last season went with him.
Hamilton’s departure opened the door for former Saguaro High defensive backs coach Sean Potter, who was brought in by Wellbrock this season as Mountain Pointe’s defensive coordinator.
Wellbrock’s decision to hire Potter was easy.
“Coach Potter emailed me in the beginning of December and said, ‘when Coach Hamilton leaves I want to be considered for your defensive coordinator position,’” Wellbrock said. “Naturally, he was my first call.”
Calling the offense this season will be former Phoenix College head coach Mark Mejia, who was hired after the Maricopa Community College District ended the football programs at its four Valley schools – Phoenix, Mesa, Scottsdale and Glendale.
The start of spring ball in April was the first opportunity for the new coaching staff to begin evaluating its players on the field. New defensive schemes were put in place as well as a new playbook on offense.
While players were still getting accustomed to the changes by the time Mountain Pointe’s annual Maroon and Gold Scrimmage took place on May 17, they all had plenty to look forward to as they inched closer to the Pride’s summer workout program.
“It’s been great,” Mountain Pointe senior wide receiver Dominique Davis said. “The best part is getting acclimated to the coaches and learning the playbook. It’s been real fun to just start installing everything in practice and working with the guys.”
Davis is one of the few returning starters for the Pride’s offense this season.
As a junior, he was Mountain Pointe’s top wideout, hauling in 55 passes for 952 yards and 10 touchdowns. An electrifying play-maker last season, Davis has even higher expectations for himself to lead his team both on and off the field.
But in terms of talent level, he knows he has plenty of help.
“I know I don’t have to carry the weight,” Davis said. “We have a ton of talented guys on this team, but as a leader I’m going to make sure everyone steps up and gets the job done.”
Alongside Davis at wideout will be 6-foot-3, 180-pound junior Diamante Landrum, who will play both ways after starting at safety last season. Thor Canales, a 6-foot-4, 210-pound senior will also be a big target for the Pride as well as 6-foot-4, 205-pound junior tight end Kevin Sawitzke, who is expected to make a major impact in his first season at the varsity level.
Sophomore Landon Powell is being groomed to take over at quarterback for three-year starter Nick Wallerstedt, who graduated and went on to Arizona State University to play baseball.
“We have the ability to spread the field out, that’s what we want to do,” Davis said. “We get into the playbook and learn everything we need to learn, we will be fine.”
On defense, several key players have return for the Pride, including middle linebacker and one of the senior leaders on the team, Rashion “Chunka” Hodge.
Hodge led the Pride in tackles last season as a junior with 109, 19.5 of which were for a loss. The 6-foot-3, 215-pounder began to emerge as a leader for the Pride’s defense last season. He became more vocal throughout spring ball, calling out formations by the offense and getting the rest of the defense lined up.
He knows this is his last chance at a championship while wearing a Mountain Pointe uniform. That has fueled his determination throughout the offseason.
“It’s my senior year, my last year,” Hodge said. “The last time we went to the championship was 2016. We want to get there this year and get that ring.”
The new defensive system installed by Potter allows for players like Hodge to have more flexibility on the field. If they see a need to make an adjustment, they have free reign to do it.
“I love it,” Hodge said. “We are able to get the calls in quick and move where we need to before the offense even gets set.”
With questions about personnel surrounding the program, Mountain Pointe has quietly continued to improve. They’ve been impressive in 7-on-7 passing tournaments, and had strong showings in big man competitions.
The players and coaching staff know what they are capable of this season. But for now, they want to remain under the radar.
“I have confidence in the kids and this staff,” Wellbrock said. “We are going to be where we need to be when we need to be there. We can maybe lay low in the weeds for a little while then come out when the time is right.”