The depth charts are penciled in after spring ball comes to an end, and fully established during fall camp.
It gives coaches a sense of who is going to be counted on during the season.
Then the season starts.
Injuries, ineffective play and suspensions are among the reasons that can change things. It gives someone who was expected to be a scout player, a backup or even a junior varsity player to become a big-time contributor.
It’s happened quite a bit to the Mesa area teams already.
Westwood running back Derrick Horne was expected to be a third-string running back but injuries changed all that as Horne ran for 202 yards to help the Warriors to a win two weeks ago, while Dobson had to turn to junior quarterback Nicolas Saro, who started for Marcos de Niza’s junior varsity team last year, after senior quarterback Mikey Valdez was lost for the season because of a knee injury.
At Red Mountain, sophomore running back Ty McElroy has become the featured back unseating a suspended senior and just might keep the starting sport the rest of the way.
“We told the senior (Monday) to Google Wall Pipp,” said Red Mountain coach Mike Peterson, referencing the New York Yankees player gave up first base to Lou Gehrig, who never gave it back after playing 2,130 straight games.
“Now, we saw flashes of greatness and knew he could be special, which is why as a sophomore, he was on varsity to begin with, but we did not foresee how early he would mature and what an impact he would have on this season.”
McElroy was slowed by a hamstring injury to start the year and only had 10 total carries in the first two games.
It was followed up with 29 carries for 171 yards and a touchdown against Basha and then went for 121 yards on 18 carries and a touchdown against Boulder Creek last week.
“I got a chance to show the coaches what I could do,” he said. “Against Hamilton I had a few good plays, and they liked that, so coming into Basha I was the starter and I wanted to do everything I could.
“I’m trying to focus on getting better, and every running back wants to rush for 1,000 yards.”
McElroy, who describes himself as shifty and physical, was called up to varsity from the freshman team last year. He dressed, but didn’t play during the Mountain Lions run to the 6A Conference semifinals.
“I got a feel for the game speed because of the practices and seeing the games,” he said. “I think it helped me get ready for this season.”
Maybe so, but not even his coaches expected this kind of impact so far. McElroy is just making the best of the opportunity presented to him.
“I have to keep working hard and take the ball every time they give it to me,” said McElroy, who had about 1,200 yards in eight games for the freshmen team. “If I can continue to run hard, and the line keeps blocking the way they have been, we can keep it going.”
McElroy’s rise from the shadows to the spotlight has been seen on other teams as well.
Desert Ridge’s Koa Tuipala, who had a fumble recovery for a touchdown last week, has become a defpendable safety for the Jaguars after changing positions and has started to get most of the reps at strong safety.
“He’s new to the position but is slowly earning most of the reps,” Desert Ridge coach Jeremy Hathcock said. “He is a rangy, fast kid that is developing into a top player for us.”
Mesa senior Nate Montague was a known commodity coming into the season, but has made a position shift to middle linebacker during the season.
“He’s been a force and a great presence on the field,” Mesa coach Kap Sikahema said of his captain who also plays offensive tackle.
No better example, however, just might be McElroy if he can continue to impress the rest of the way.
“We suspended a senior for breaking team, school and community norms,” Peterson said. “We needed to find someone. He stepped up.”
– Jason P. Skoda is a senior writer for MyNewsMesa.com. Send Mesa-based story ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.