The Desert Vista football program is less than two weeks away from putting on helmets for the first time since last November, meaning several key positions will begin to be filled.
One of those up for grabs is quarterback after the departure of Parker Navarro who is now at the University of Central Florida. Navarro left a legacy of hard work, determination and an overall love for the football program.
Finding his replacement won’t be easy as Desert Vista offensive coordinator Sean Morin and head coach Dan Hinds agree there are three quarterbacks capable of running the offense.
“The first thing I told them was they all have an equal shot at leading this team,” Morin said. “It’s a job for them to win but this is football, kids get hurt. They all need to be ready to go if one of them goes down. It’s exciting.”
Junior Landen Powell, who transferred from Mountain Pointe after the 2019 season, junior Kaden Lentz, who was the starter on junior varsity last season, and sophomore Jackson Akins, who was impressive as the freshman starting quarterback in 2019, are all in the running to start under center.
Each player brings their own unique skillset, something Morin said he work around and make adjustments to the offense if needed. As of right now, there is no clear-cut favorite.
“They’re all smart and they’re all hungry,” Morin said. “It’s a healthy competition going on amongst them. I don’t see anyone clear-cut at this point. I want all of them to be able to step up as leaders.”
All three used the time away from teammates during the lockdown to perfect their craft. They worked with private coaches and all believe they have seen improvements in their game.
Due to the pandemic, the typical timeline for Desert Vista has been thrown off, much like it has for other programs across the state.
The Thunder would have suited up for their first game last Friday if it weren’t for the virus. But due to the restrictions set forth by Tempe Union High School District in June, Desert Vista just recently moved into phase three of the district’s return-to-play plan, which allows for game simulation drills. Morin said that may help in terms of separating the quarterbacks, but overall, he finds himself teaching them what normally would have been covered in spring ball.
Despite the competition, all three quarterbacks have grown close as teammates and friends.
Powell and Lentz have known one another since eighth grade. Lents and Akins worked together at the varsity level when both were brought up during the playoffs. Powell and Akins’ relationship continues to grow but has become stronger thanks to workouts both with the Desert Vista program and outside of it.
“Every day I try to build camaraderie with my teammates and keep getting better,” Powell said. “Obviously is it a competition but most importantly I’m helping do whatever I can to help the team.”
Powell said he’s grown more confident in the pocket after a 2019 season with the Pride in which the team went 1-9 and struggled with injuries along the offensive line.
Not only has he worked with private quarterback coaches, he’s also done field work and lifted weights in his garage. Especially during the four-month shutdown, he did everything he could to workout.
“I haven’t missed any workouts,” Powell said. “One of the biggest things for me was to improve in the weight room. Obviously, this entire situation in the spring wasn’t ideal but I tried to stay fresh and continue working.”
Akins impressed last season as a freshman, passing for over 100 yards on three occasions while leading the team to a 7-2 record. He showed poise in the pocket under pressure and also made it known that he has the ability to run.
Especially when he was brought up to varsity for playoffs, he was able to learn from Navarro, who quickly became one of the top quarterbacks in the state. Aside from his ability on the field, Navarro also taught Akins how to be patient off of it in the recruiting process.
“Entering senior year, he didn’t have that many offers,” Akins said. “But he had a big year last year and it shows you just have to keep working every day and trust the process.”
Despite being the youngest of the three quarterbacks, Akins radiates confidence. He has trust in his ability to take over the Desert Vista offense as only a sophomore.
But he knows it won’t be easy with Powell and Lentz vying for the same position. Overall, he embraces the competition.
“It’s really fun competing with both of them,” Akins said. “It’s all love between us, but there can only be one.”
Like Akins, Lentz found success last season at the junior varsity level despite a concussion early on that resulted in him missing games and sharing the starting role.
Lentz also learned from Navarro. He feels he is ready to step up and potentially win the starting job when official practices begin on Sept. 7.
“I love the feeling of competition,” Lentz said. “I have a lot of respect for Landen and Jackson, and it feels good knowing the coaching staff has confidence in all three of us.”
No matter who wins the starting job, they will have help from veterans in key positions. Jai Rodriguez, Kama Huakau and Antonio Delgado will anchor a talented offensive line, while a trio of talented backs in Devon Grubbs, Michael Allison and Quentin Ivey will man the backfield.
Desert Vista figures to be young but talented in 2020. They feel they have the ability to catch teams off guard the departure of a senior-heavy class last year.
“I think we are going to be underdogs this year,” Lentz said. “We lost a lot of seniors and people know that. We have a lot of good juniors and sophomores and I’m excited to see what we can do against some of the tougher teams on our schedule.”