MP Varsity Football

Mountain Pointe junior Wesley Payne will be one of the main running backs fpr the Prde this season.

[David Jolkovski/AFN]

Mountain Pointe had a “Breaking Bad” problem last year as the chemistry was all wrong and almost had the family fall apart, much like the popular AMC television show.

With many of the players who caused the riff gone, the commitment to change the atmosphere was addressed early on and by the end of spring ball there was new life within the program.

It felt like 2009 all over again when Norris Vaughan’s will and approach shook the program’s foundation and led to two straight state semifinal berths.

In talking to those within the program there is belief that a return trip is in the offing.

“At a lot of our camps and practices, we all stuck together,” junior wide receiver Jalen Brown said. “We are working for each other and making sure we aren’t putting our heads down or talking to each other in a negative tone.”

The schedule is brutal to start with Hamilton, Desert Vista, Chandler and Brophy mixed in through the first six weeks.

“We just have to be focused and play hard,” senior cornerback Travonn White said. “We do that and our record will take care of itself.”

The talent was there last year, but something was off.

On the field, the Pride played hard but had some players out of position — then-senior running back Dillan Johnson was the quarterback early on — some injured — defensive leader Jordan Leal got hurt in the Desert Vista game — and it showed against those top teams.

The Pride, who opens the season on Aug. 24 by hosting Hamilton, pulled it together and won four straight against a lesser schedule to make the postseason.

With the talent — four players (senior offensive lineman Kenny Lacy and senior running back Thomas Warren and junior offensive lineman Natrel Curtis and wide receiver/defensive back Brown) have scholarship offers with more expected to come — in place and the new attitude, the team feels everything is falling in place to recapture the sentiment that was felt on the sidelines when the Pride went 22-4 in Vaughan’s first season before dropping to 6-5, including a Division I first-round playoff to Brophy, last year.

“This team is just better,” Lacy said. “As a team we all get along much better. We play for each other.”

The offense only returns a handful of starters, with Curtis and Lacy anchoring the line, but players like Garette Craig and Wesley Payne, both ball carriers, showed glimpses of what they are capable with the ball in their hands last year, while someone like split end Jimmy Holtrop has been waiting to show what he can do.

The most exciting thing about the Pride offense might be the fact that Vaughan might have a chance to develop a quarterback with junior Antonio Hinojosa taking the reins of the offense after an impressive offseason.

He’s never played a varsity game (he was the junior varsity quarterback for Marcos de Niza as a sophomore), he isn’t real big but word is Hinojosa has a strong arm and can move well inside the pocket and scramble a little bit.

“We’ve worked hard together and he has been throwing the ball really well lately,” said Brown, who had 37 catches and 10 touchdowns last season. “I think we are going to have a great season.”

The Pride defense has a few more familiar names and could be one of the better units in the state.

It starts with Lacy and Curtis playing both ways, the Payne brothers at linebacker along with Brown, Travonn White, who is switching to his natural position of cornerback after playing safety last year, and Holtrop at safety.

“I played five games (last year on defense) and I am excited to do it again,” Lacy said. “I will do anything to help my team win.”

It is an attitude that seems to be filtering down to everyone on the depth chart and it can only bode well for the 2012 season.

“We are approaching it way different and have a positive attitude,” White said. “We are not even going to focus on who we are playing. We are just going to do what we have to do and when you do the little things it leads to big things.”

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

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