Top football programs keep a certain level of success annually by sprinkling in younger players here and there.
It allows the players to get acclimated to the varsity level at a young age and get invaluable experience.
It’s a nice luxury and adds depth for years to come.
Another way of going about it, and one Mountain Pointe has had to adopt this year after being a senior-laden squad in 2014, is to throw some of those young players in there with prominent roles.
The Pride (8-0) are one of only two undefeated Division I teams heading into Friday’s home game against Highland (4-4) and are doing so with four sophomores and a freshman not only starting but playing at high levels.
“We’ve had a lot of young players in there all year,” Pride coach Norris Vaughan said. “I don’t know if you can call them young anymore this far in the season, but their playing good, doing their job.”
There are plenty of seniors – including stars like offensive tackle Devon Howard, linebacker Daulton Rittenhouse, and Dillon Goulet – making an impact as Mountain Pointe looks to finish with its third undefeated regular season since 2009, but a good portion of the talent lies in the junior and sophomore classes.
“We have work to do this year, but we are building for next year at the same time,” junior wide receiver/safety Isaiah Pola-Mao said. “We are a pretty young team, and we are winning. These young guys are good.”
The sophomores are center Mason Honne, defensive end Khalif Ravenell, safety Kenny Churchwell, defensive lineman Shomari Hayes and the freshman is nose guard Matthew Pola-Mao.
Combine the impact they are making with juniors Eddie Rivas (offensive line), Rashie Hodge (cornerback), Jaydon Brooks (wide receiver) and the older Pola-Mao and it is clear the Pride are going to be a factor again in 2016.
Not that anyone is worried about that just yet, but the sophomore class is taking notes in order to be prepared when it is their time.
“By the time we are seniors we are probably going to be the leaders,” Honne said. “We talk about how we have to pay attention to what the seniors say, and how they go about doing things so when it is our time we know what is expected of us and what to do.”
Honne and Ravenell have started from the start, while Hayes, Pola-Mao and Churchwell have been added to the mix as the season went on out of need and development.
Pola-Mao, who will move to offensive guard next year with major college offers to come, got a shot when senior Rashad Green hurt his knee. Pola-Mao has flourished.
The coaching staff slow played Churchwell’s development knowing he was good enough athletically from the start, but wanted to make sure he was ready mentally before going with him as a starter.
He was moved to strong safety, saw time at wide receiver and has made an immediate impact, including two interceptions in the Ahwatukee Bowl.
“He brings a lot of athleticism back there, and it frees me up to do more things,” Isaiah Pola-Mao said. “(His insertion to the lineup) really made our defense stronger.”
The same can be said for all five of the youngsters as Mountain Pointe pushes for the postseason and beyond.
“We can be even better next year,” Pola-Mao continued. “We are going to bring more experience and have a lot of leaders stepping up. Everything we do the rest of the season is only going to make us better so we’re going to push it as far as we can.”
• Contact writer at 480-898-7915 or follow him on Twitter @JasonPSkoda.