COACH: Lamar Early (third year)
2018 RECORD: 9-3
REGION: 5A Desert West
KEY RETURNEES: Jalan Early, Sr. QB/LB; Kyle St. Pierre, Sr. SB; Lee Sampson, Sr. OT; Mika Fuamatu, Jr. OG; Jamarlo Campbell, Sr. LB; Brandon Fondong, Sr. LB; Kaysan Barnett, Sr. CB/WR; Treydan Stukes, Sr. CB.
TOP NEWCOMER: Dontae McKibben, Sr. DL/OL; Cade Marszalek Sr., OL/DL (missed last season with injury).
Home games in caps
Aug. 30 at Maricopa
Sept. 6 IRONWOOD RIDGE
Sept. 13 at Desert Edge
Sept. 20 HIGLEY
Sept. 27 CENTENNIAL
Oct. 4 at Goldwater
Oct. 11 VERRADO
Oct. 18 at Agua Fria
Oct. 25 at Willow Canyon
Nov. 1 INDEPENDENCE
West Valley Preps
Having “embraced the suck,” the Millennium football Class of 2020 appears ready to step into the spotlight.
In Lamar Early’s second year as the Tigers’ coach that message began to sink in and their record reversed, from 4-6 to 9-3 and the second round of the 5A playoffs. Now a large group of seniors has put in the work during the offseason in an effort to lift the program again.
“As I’ve told them, there’s going to be days that are going to suck. But you’ve got to embrace the suck. Right now, we’re in that. Everybody hates practicing for three weeks. This is the sucky part of it, but then your fun time is on Friday nights,” Early said.
The end of last season serves an ideal motivator. Notre Dame Prep held off Millennium 14-0 in the quarterfinals.
Twelve starters are back from that team, which got a taste of the big time but felt like it could go further.
“Last year, we were hurt about the loss to Notre Dame Prep. We knew we had a solid group coming back so we’re even more excited to get back and show everyone we’re coming for them,” senior quarterback Jalan Early said.
Defense will lead the push to go deeper in the playoffs this fall, as evidenced by the primary role of the coach’s son. Jalan Early backed up Zareq Brown last year and started at linebacker most of the season, finishing with 28 tackles, two sacks and an interception return for a touchdown.
But there are no qualms with making him the primary quarterback and a defensive player only in special situations.
Every starter is back in the Millennium secondary, while standout seniors Jamarlo Campbell and Brandon Fondong will be joined by experiences reserve Brady Murphy at linebacker. Plus Tolleson transfer Damian Ruelas should figure into the mix.
“Last year was really good for all of our defense because we did have a lot of juniors playing. I feel much smarter and stronger and I know all of our DBs have gotten stronger because we’ve been doing the same thing all summer,” senior cornerback Treydan Stukes said. “The linebackers still look good. We did lose Coop at d-line but we’ve got other people working for that position too.”
Coop is 275-pound defensive tackle Anthonie Cooper, now at Arizona State after 69 tackles, 25 tackles for loss and 8½ sacks. He is clearly the most difficult 2019 graduate to replace.
However — in the event of a middling quarterback pressure from the front four — these cornerbacks can hold up in coverage longer than most. Stukes received an offer from Division II school Dixie State from Utah this summer.
“It’s vary rare. Actually, they’re very similar. They’re both great man cover guys with great speed. I guess the only difference is Treydan’s taller and longer — he’s probably grown three inches since last football season,” Lamar Early said.
While Stukes’ height makes him the more sought-after prospect, few corners in Arizona had a better 2018 season than Kaysan Barnett. He picked off seven passes and returned three of those interceptions for touchdowns.
The 5-9 dynamo added two fumble recoveries and 48 tackles in his breakout junior season.
“He’s definitely a playmaker. I love having him on the other side of the field. I don’t have to worry about that side getting beat and I feel confident in my abilities to stop my side of the ball,” Stukes said.
Picking on the safeties is not the best backup plan. Seniors Daylon Story and Jacob Rosales combined for 145 tackles and defended six passes apiece.
The defensive line is not completely barren. Senior end Sam Myers is back and likely to be surrounded by players returning from injury.
Seniors Dontae McKibben and Cade Marszalek were out last year, but now could factor in on either side of the line.
Senior Shamar Donaldson saw little time but the 295-pound defensive tackle will get a chance to plug of the middle.
At times Millennium’s two best offensive linemen, senior Lee Sampson and junior Mikaele Fuamatu, will rotate in at defensive tackle for a few plays.
“Our DC, Mike Loprich, and our OC, Eric Perez, have been talking on how we are going to manage it. We’ll probably script it before the games, how many reps on defense we’re going to give him,” Coach Early said. “Mika Fuamatu and Lee Sampson will go both ways, a little bit, not a lot.”
Fuamatu and Sampson started on the varsity line since their freshman year. Senior center Tommy Runion is back, though Marszalek went into 2018 as the starting center.
“Lee has playing on varsity since he was a freshman, so has Mika. Those two have been playing a while and have seen everything,” Early said.
Seniors Kyle St. Pierre and Larry Craft lead a small but shift and speedy receiving corps. Barnett and Rosales also will play both ways.
“He’s one of a few guys we have like that. I think our strength on offense is going to be our speed. Kyle is the most experienced on the offense, but Larry Craft also played for us. Joey Rosales and Kaysan Barnett are going to play some offense. We’ve got a couple transfers so we’ll see what they look like,” Early said.
Alex Peru may end up being the key to the Millennium attack. The senior picked up 30 carries in a backup role last year and is charged with filling the shoes of 933-yard tailback Isaac Oliver.
Jalan Early said Peru is stronger and faster and motivated to play a bigger role. His father has seen that drive from most of his 30-plus seniors.
“They were doing workouts by themselves this summer, doing ladder drills and sand workouts — 20-plus of them. They like being around each other, which makes it unique,” Lamar Early said.
Indeed, this group of kids has been together long enough that Jalan Early qualifies as one of the new guys. He transferred in when his father was named coach, after playing for Estrella Foothills as a freshman.
“We have the outside connection too. All the seniors hang out. That helps in football too, because we’re all comfortable around each other,” St. Pierre said.
Exiting Millennium with a dream season is in their grasp. The Tigers are heavy favorites to repeat as Desert West and early on will have challenging non-league rematches with Oro Valley Ironwood Ridge and Desert Edge - teams the Tigers beat by a combined seven points last season.
If this team repeats the 3-0 start in 2018, the next two games should define their season. Gilbert Higley was the one team to blow out Millennium last year, 57-22.
Jalan Early in particular wants a final shot at the Knights. As a freshman he watched Higley destroy Estrella Foothills 58-0. An upset of Higley would set up a monumental home game against Centennial, which in some ways was the Tigers’ most impressive performance last season. The Coyotes won 35-9, but Casteel was the only Arizona team to play Centennial closer last season.
That night, Lamar Early and his players they knew they belonged.
“This group loves those moments. They love to compete. My biggest thing sometimes is trying to calm them down,” he said.