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New Mountain Ridge coach will try to rouse sleeping giant

Posted 5/26/17

By Richard Smith

West Valley Preps

Like most of the Valley prep football community, Vinny Ciliberti believes the Mountain Ridge program is full of untapped potential.

Unlike most on the …

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New Mountain Ridge coach will try to rouse sleeping giant

By Richard Smith
West Valley Preps

Like most of the Valley prep football community, Vinny Ciliberti believes the Mountain Ridge program is full of untapped potential.

Unlike most on the message boards, Ciliberti will have a chance to find out first hand if that perception is reality. Mountain Ridge hired the longtime Phoenix Pinnacle assistant in December and he just finished leading his first spring practices at the Glendale school.

Coach Ciliberti took over for Bobby Green, who led the Mountain Lions for 11 seasons. It is very early in his tenure, but a few months removed from thinking this as an assistant coach at a rival, Ciliberti still believes it.

“That’s one of the reasons I had pinpointed Mountain Ridge as a destination. Academically it is a very strong fit. They keep reminding me that 75 percent of the teachers have been here since it opened,” Coach Ciliberti said. “That perception, I think, is true. People look at Mountain Ridge and wonder why haven’t they achieved like they used to. That’s not a knock on anyone here before.”

It was exactly how I thought. There are athletes here. There are kids that want to be a part of this. I’ve never seen as much excitement in warm up drills. We tell them one time to hustle off the field and we don’t have to talk about it again,” he said.

New Mountain Ridge football coach Vince Ciliberti smiles after a spring practice ends
The new coach walked into a situation with returning players ready for something different.

Safety Ethan Oelschlager will be a junior next season. He said more people showing up in the offseason workouts and holding each other accountable.

“We had this big assembly at the auditorium when he came in. And he lit up the room. You know when your coach get everybody going. He came to that thing without me even knowing who he was, I was hyped for the football season to start and it was Jan. 4,” Oelschlager said.

Around that time Ciliberti was filling out his staff. Having coached at Pinnacle since 2003 and served as offensive coordinator since 2010, he had one person in particular he wanted to bring along.

And Brad Edwards will reprise his quarterback coaching role from Pinnacle while Ciliberti calls the plays.

Defensive backs coach Bruno Johnson was at Pinnacle for several years before stepping down to focus on his son in youth football.

He also thanked Pinnacle coach Dana Zupke for preparing him for head coach responsibilities.

“Most of the other coaches, I don’t know. I’ve coached against them and I was always impressed,” Coach Ciliberti said. “One of the main ones is the defensive coordinator/assistant head coach Anthony Paterno. He’s been around for a long time and I’ve always respected him and had battles against him when I was calling offense and he was calling defense.”

In 2017 the Mountain Lions will have 11 varsity coaches, as opposed to four in 2016. Former Phoenix Arcadia coach Lenny Abt is the junior varsity coach.

He said he kept freshman coach Bryan Rossi and most of his staff intact. When he was interviewing, Ciliberti said, administration told him the freshman and JV teams were the bright spots.

“I was very very impressed when I got to meet them. They’ve been coaching in our camp and spring ball,” he said. “One of the first things I talked to them about was character. It wasn’t all about football. It was about building kids up and making sure that they’re growing character-wise.”

Jacob Wentzel, who will be a senior at Mountain Ridge next year, goes through drills at a spring football practice May 18
Senior tailback Ben Tye said he’s noticed a difference in practice tempo Ciliberti’s offense, which he said has more plays designed to be big plays.

Ciliberti had been the Pioneers’ offensive coordinator since 2010, so he and Edwards worked with elite quarterbacks Brian Lewerke and Spencer Rattler.

“The main thing I noticed is tempo. The old practices were kind of slow paced. In this new system we’re moving all the time. We get our conditioning through practice and all the drills,” Tye said.

Conversely Oelschlager said the defensive scheme is similar. The new staff and team atmosphere is pushing them to go to the weight room more often.

Back to back 3-7 seasons also provide motivation for the returning players.

“I’m ready to go out there and make a stand, because everybody thinks we’re going to be pushovers,” Oelschlager said.

Before the Aug. 25 opener at Tucson High, the Mountain Lions have a summer full of lifting 7-on-7 leagues and camp July 25 at Cal Lutheran University, near the new Los Angeles Rams facility.

“What I value about 7-on-7 is that competition against other teams. I told them it doesn’t matter if we win 7-on-7. It’s a matter of competition, learning how to play with each other and playing against another team,” Coach Ciliberti said. “I kind of loaded up on 7-on-7 this year for more opportunities. What’s really impressive is how fast these kids have picked everything up. I can’t believe how smart these kids are.”

Not much is known about this group until August, but their hunger and belief in the new way of doing things in undeniable.

“We all know that schools around here think we’re going to end up the same as last year and have a lackluster season. But inside the school we all know things are a lot different,” Tye said.