Dylan Raiola wore his Chandler High game jersey at Wednesday’s Chandler Unified School District Football Media Day.
He will wear number 1, which is appropriate. The quarterback is the No. 1 high school football prospect in America in the class of 2024. The No. 1 quarterback. No. 1 target for the tough opponents the Wolves will face in their bid to bounce back from last year’s 20-15 championship game loss to Scottsdale Saguaro and regain the Open Division state title.
He handles the situation the same way he carries himself in the pocket: with confidence and poise.
It’s something coach Rick Garretson noticed soon after the Raiolas moved back to the Valley from Burleson, Texas, where Dylan’s recruitment exploded during an impressive sophomore season.
How is he processing all this notoriety since coming to Chandler in late December?
“I have great parents,” Raiola said. “Really, just great teammates around me, great players. My O-line is great. It all starts there. That’s been a big focus in the offseason.
“I think we did it. But the real ball starts on Monday.”
The big schools — 6A, 5A and 4A — go to work in helmets Monday in Arizona.
The media gathered at Valle Luna Mexican Restaurant in Chandler for the first day of preseason football in the district, featuring its six schools — Arizona College Prep, Basha, Casteel, Chandler, Hamilton and Perry.
Coaches and selected players have their thoughts on the upcoming 2022 season.
Chandler enters as the top-ranked Arizona high school football team in the nation, ranked No. 4 and No. 8 in two separate polls.
Saguaro is ranked #8 and #12 in the same two polls. They meet during the season.
The season begins Sept. 2 for the Wolves in the Southern California Honor Bowl against Cathedral Catholic. Chandler ended its five-year state championship streak last season.
“We look at it game by game,” Garretson said. “It’s going to be an exciting time. And we’re looking forward to it.”
Two other schools from his own region – Basha and Hamilton – will make it difficult for Chandler, who knows how hard it is just to get to the Open final, let alone win it. The Wolves won the first two Arizona Interscholastic Association Open state championships before falling last year.
They had to rally in the final quarter to beat Hamilton in the semifinals three years ago, then beat Peoria Liberty twice in overtime in the last two Open semifinals.
“About the national rankings, a friend of mine said, ‘Hey, it’s a representation of where the Chandler program has been over the last 10 years,'” Garretson said. “This is not a random thing. Anytime you have a kid like Raiola and (highly sought-after defensive lineman) A’mauri Washington, the message gets out in the media.
“But at the end of the day, there are no layups. You have to come play every night just to be in the picture.”
Combining new talents at Basha
Basha has the best team ever. No one is going to argue that. Still, the Bears will be pressured to do what they did last year for the first time in school history — lead the regular season standings.
They open in California against Los Alamitos, which features two of the best players in the country – running back Malachi Nelson and wide receiver Makai Lemon.
Senior cornerback Cole Martin, who committed Jan. 1 to Oregon, can’t wait.
“As a team, it makes us want to go in even more,” Martin said. “Going against Malachi and Makai, we know what we’re up against. Great receiver. Big quarterback. Against a team that has a great secondary.”
Basha coach Chris McDonald, who brings back virtually everyone, including junior quarterback Demond Williams Jr., wanted to improve the program to try to avoid another Open experience.
This year, Basha returns to the Premier Region with Chandler and Hamilton.
“The pecking order is obviously Chandler and somebody else from the region and the state,” McDonald said. “Look at what Chandler has done in the last 10 years. I’m number 1.”
There was an influx of good talent transferring to Basha this summer: DL Jordan Howard (Eastmark), TE/WR Javery Mayberry (Eastmark); TE Keire Earl (Maricopa); and DB/RB Kendre Pride (Carl Hayden. They will miss the first five games due to the AIA transfer rule.
Pairing these guys with the veteran group that includes RB/DB Deshaun Buchanan, Athlete Miles Lockhart, LBs Jackson Browning and Wyatt Milkovic and DB Tommy Prassas will be key.
But for the first five weeks, they will give these guys a good look at the scout team in practice.
“I think the kids have to understand that it’s the team first, and their time will come,” McDonald said. “They still have to go out there and work, not only for themselves, but to help the team improve.”
Senior offensive lineman James Durand believes there will be no chemistry issues.
“I think it’s going to be really good,” Durand said. “The camp was really good. It brought us closer. I’m excited about how our team is going to be.”
“Perry’s not a pushover”
New Perry coach Joseph Ortiz had plenty of size and overall strength up front last season at Glendale Cactus, where he led the Cobras to the Open playoffs after going 10-0 in the 4A regular season.
But Perry’s defense has been his Achilles, even when the Pumas were at their best in the Purdy brothers era (balls Brock and Chubba) when they played Chandler for the 6A title in back-to-back years.
The players this summer came up with the motto “Prove them wrong”.
“I think 3-8 (record) is definitely not going to be the case this year,” Ortiz said. “People might not think anything else, which is fine. If you don’t want to think too much of us, that’s fine. Our goal this year is to prove them wrong. The underdog role is great. I think that I had (a) at Cactus my first three years. It went so well. We’re going to let that resonate during the season, let it be known that Perry’s not a pushover.”
Leading the defense are linebacker Aiden Herring and defensive back CJ Snowden, who also plays receiver.
“New coaching staff, new players coming in, I think it’s great.”
Hamilton is Roch solid at QB
For the first time in three years, Hamilton will have a new defender. Roch Cholowsky, who backed up Nicco Marchiol (now at West Virginia) the past two seasons, steps in to lead the offense. Cholowsky is used to being front and center on the baseball field, leading the Huskies to the 6A title in May at shortstop.
How will the offense change?
The Huskies return one of the state’s top wide receivers in 6-foot-4 Tre’ Spivey, whose recruitment took off this summer. They also have a good running game with running backs Logan Krei and Nick Switzer returning.
“We just have to make sure we figure out what Roch is good at and then go on that road right there,” coach Mike Zdebski said. “It won’t be the same as what we did with Nicco. It won’t be the same as what we did with Nick Arvay (in 2019).
“We didn’t get a chance to have Roch in the spring and summer because he’s such a good baseball player. As we also figure out what he’s good at, we’ll start focusing on those things in games. “
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