CHANDLER, Ariz. (BVM) – Chandler High School head football coach Rick Garretson said his team went into the 2019 season as an inexperienced group, but those who watched the Wolves a year ago wouldn’t have been able to tell.
Led by University of Central Florida quarterback commit Mikey Keene and a host of other Division I talent, Chandler capped off a perfect 13-0 season with a 42-35 win over Saguaro for Arizona’s first Open Division Championship. The title marked Chandler’s fourth consecutive state title (fifth in the last six years), and this year’s group now has something that was missing at times a season ago: experience.
“We were a really inexperienced team starting off last year, but obviously developed into a high-quality state champion,” Garretson said. “This year, it’s kind of the opposite. We have a bunch of experience coming back which is definitely an asset and benefit for us in the pandemic era.”
Experience will be especially valuable after a preseason like no other. Following months of waiting, the loss of spring ball, 7-on-7 tournaments and crucial prep for the 2020 season, the Wolves have returned to the practice field aiming to recreate their recent success.
Chandler opens the season as the No. 1-ranked team in Arizona (No. 7 nationally) by MaxPreps due in large part to the team’s returning talent.
Keene tops that list and returns after throwing for 2,835 yards and 23 touchdowns a season ago. Garretson said Keene is a quarterback who takes what the defense gives him, evidenced by his 73% completion percentage as a junior, and has exceptional intangibles.
“He (Keene) throws strikes and he’s a kid that knows how to lead and direct,” Garretson said.
The future UCF Knight also welcomes back his top two targets, both Division I talents, from last year’s state title squad.
Kyion Grayes is the state’s No. 1-ranked wide receiver and committed to the University of Arizona. The three-star junior led the Wolves in both receptions (48) and receiving yards (883) last season while finding paydirt six times. Boise State University commit Jalen Richmond also returns for his senior campaign after racking up 725 yards and nine scores on 41 catches in 2019.
The undeniable talent on the perimeter, and in the backfield with Boise State dual-threat running back commit Eli Sanders, is why Keene and this Chandler offense are primed for a special run.
“He’s (Keene) got a bunch of weapons,” Garretson said. “Last time I checked, quarterbacks don’t throw to themselves. The offense should be ready to go.”
You don’t become a perennial powerhouse and top-ranked team in the state by being one-dimensional. Chandler’s defense will be a problem for opposing offenses this season with elite playmakers at each level.
University of Oregon commit Brandon Buckner returns after a 16-sack, 53-tackle season a year ago which he capped off with a pick-six in the Open Division state championship. Pair him with Zion Magalei (11.5 sacks last season), who holds multiple Power 5 offers from Arizona, Colorado and others, and the Wolves have a dynamic pass-rushing one-two punch. Kyler Orr is Chandler’s leading returning tackler (84 total tackles last season) and will lead the linebacking corps while Eastern Washington University safety commit Kentrell Williams Jr. will patrol the backend.
Chandler began full-padded practices last week and will have a tune-up scrimmage on Wednesday before its opener on Oct. 2 at Liberty.
Garretson said he knows a bulk return of talent doesn’t necessarily guarantee replicated success, but championship-level experience from the coaching staff on down to the players gives the Wolves a great shot to five-peat.
Success is the expectation at Chandler, but it’s hardly the topic of conversation. This reputation of excellence is built in the offseason, in the weight room, on the practice field and in the film room, Garretson said.
The Wolves’ 26-game winning streak entering the 2020 season is the proof.
“We don’t talk about another state championship, no,” Garretson said. “Do you have a bullseye on your back? Of course you do. But you earn that and then, of course, we have bullseyes on people, too.
“We have a saying here, ‘worry about us,’ and that’s exactly what we do. We worry about us, aren’t afraid to practice 1s vs. 1s at a high level to make things slow down on a Friday night and put pressure on our opponents.”