Ahwatukee native Chandler Hovik’s journey to becoming the head football coach at Central High School was quicker than most.
The 25-year-old was hired before the 2018 season as the offensive coordinator under former coach Jon Clanton.
On Sept. 14, the Bobcats’ fifth game of the season, Clanton was involved in an altercation with Maricopa High coach Brandon Harris during the postgame handshake.
He was placed on leave as the Phoenix Union High School District investigated the incident. Hovik was named the interim coach.
In December, the Central High administration named Hovik as permanent head football coach – making him the youngest in that position in the state.
“I am extremely fortunate and I felt blessed to be in a position where they had enough trust in me to watch over these young men,” Hovik said, adding:
“As a player, I always knew when I was done playing I would get into coaching. So this is a dream come true for me to lead these young men. It doesn’t get much better than that for me.”
Hovik grew up in Ahwatukee, but attended Cesar Chavez High in Laveen with some of his youth football teammates. He played quarterback under legendary coach Jim Rattay, who won a championship at Desert Vista in 1998.
As a senior, Hovik threw for 2,159 yards and 25 touchdowns. He threw just five interceptions as he led the Champions to a 7-4 record and appearance in the playoffs.
He went on to play at Phoenix College for a season before he joined Rattay’s staff at Chavez in 2013. He spent four seasons as the quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator.
“Being able to play for Coach Rattay and then coaching with him, he’s the greatest guy in the world,” Hovik said.
“Going up to football camp with him for years, I’ve learned so many life lessons,” he continued. “A lot of the ways we practice and the way I teach stuff is a lot of what he did. I owe him the world, he’s a huge blessing in my life.”
Central finished 2-8 last season. Both wins came after Hovik took over as interim coach. A large majority of the Bobcats’ starters last season graduated, paving the way for underclassmen to lead the program.
Hovik recognizes the challenges that lie ahead at Central, but he’s ready to face them head on.
The Bobcats haven’t made the playoffs since 2009. They finished 6-4 in three consecutive seasons from 2015-17, but have since seen a decline in participation.
On, May 16, Central’s last day of practice before its spring game, nearly 30 players showed up for practice. However, there are some days where only 12 make it to the field.
“We are going through a rebuild,” Hovik said. “We want to do it the right way so when we get the right guys in here, there will be excitement around the program and we will be ready to roll.
“We are going to start doing the small things right and that starts off the field. We are going to act right in the classroom and community. Doing the right things off the field will transfer directly to the field.”
Despite low numbers, Hovik is excited for next season. Most of the Bobcats’ defense will be sophomores or juniors, which gives them the opportunity to create chemistry.
Humberto Peralta, Central’s quarterback, returns for his senior season after breaking his arm last year. Eric Lira, a running back and defensive back, returns as a junior after recording 998 all-purpose yards and three touchdowns. He also had 33 tackles, two interceptions and was named 1st Team All-Region.
Carter Allen, who had 170 receiving yards, 183 rushing yards and a touchdown, returns as a sophomore for the Bobcats. Last season at cornerback, he had the second-most tackles on the team with 41 and was named 2nd Team All-region.
“I’ve been putting in a lot of work since I was in the eighth grade and the coaches help a lot, too,” Allen said. “It makes me feel special to help the team like that.”
The transition to a new coaching staff has been smooth for the Central players, as their familiarity with Hovik has been key. The close proximity in age between Hovik and the players has also helped. He relates to players on a level that goes beyond football.
“I think he understand the stuff we go through with school and everything,” Peralta said. “That really helps.”
Peralta has benefitted from Hovik’s history as a quarterback. From throwing motion to footwork, the senior has seen improvement in his game since Hovik arrived last season.
“He’s taught me almost everything I know as a quarterback,” Peralta said. “Sometimes when I make a mistake he already knows what I was thinking.”
Hovik, an Arizona State graduate, recently completed his master’s degree in physical education at Grand Canyon University. He will begin teaching full time at Central in the fall.
Despite his age, Hovik isn’t letting that get in the way of his goals for the Central program. He’s always had goals he wanted to reach in a certain amount of time and he’s accomplished each so far.
Now, his main focus is to have his players ready to compete at a level that hasn’t been seen at Central in quite some time.
“I wanted to get married at a certain time, I wanted to finish school at a certain time,” Hovik said. “I love setting goals. I’ve always told myself that when I got the opportunity to coach I wanted to be ready for it.
“I’m young but I feel like I’ve prepared my whole life by doing things the right way. Hopefully, that’s a direct reflection for how this program turns out.”