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By JOEL VISS
SCOTTSDALE — Chaparral High School’s drought wasn’t always like this. Six seasons have passed since the Firebirds football team brought home a state championship, and it hasn’t made it past the second round of the playoffs since 2014.
Now the program is turning to Brent Barnes, a former head football coach at Norman North High School in Oklahoma. Barnes coached the school for eight seasons and led the team to two state runner-up finishes.
Barnes knows what lies before him as the team nears summer workouts that begin on June 4.
“There is no magic pill or anything that, all of a sudden, brings championship level success,” Barnes said. “I believe there is a blueprint and a formula that I’ve been fortunate to be a part of, where I’m coming from, and have not only seen that take place, but also take it somewhere else and implement it and win championships in a matter of short time.”
Barnes will try to take Chaparral back to the level of success during the era of coach Charlie Ragle.
Ragle, now a special teams coordinator with the University of California, coached the Firebirds between 2007-2011 and won three straight state championships in his final three years.
“My goal when I got the job was to surround myself with a top-notch staff and raise enough money to build some top-flight facilities and really try and put this thing on the map as far as big-time football was concerned,” Ragle said.
Ragle essentially had his own coaching pipeline, with many of his former assistants coaching either college ball or professionally. Kenny Dillingham is the offensive coordinator at the University of Memphis. Conrad Hamilton was a senior defensive analyst at Arizona State and played five seasons in the NFL. Vince Amey is the defensive line coach at the University of Arizona. Bryan Chesin and Darren Mougey are both scouts with the Denver Broncos. Finally, Dave Ziegler is the director of pro personnel for the New England Patriots.
“I mean these were all guys that were on my freaking high school coaching staff!”
A 2011 graduate and offensive tackle on the football team, Andre Yruretagoyena, reflected on the accomplished coaching staff at Chaparral during his time there.
“I’ll never forget the coaches I had the pleasure of playing for at Chaparral,” Yruretagoyena said. “Ragle had that contagious personality that everyone fed off of. He surrounded himself with incredible coaches and they all bought in our vision.”
The vision was simple: to win championships. But it wasn’t easy.
During the summer of 2009, Ragle hired a strength coach to work the team out at 5:30 a.m. It quickly determined who wanted to be on the team and who didn’t.
“That’s where everything changed because we had guys who thought they liked football, but really you had to be committed to playing football if you were going to show up at 5:30 in the morning,” Ragle said. “That’s when the whole mentality changed and we obviously ran off three straight state championships.”
“The mindset changed among the players changed drastically when Coach Ragle brought on Ethan Banning of Triple Threat Performance my junior year, and then Chad Ikei my senior year,” Yruretagoyena said. “Being provided the highest level of training drastically impacted our overall discipline and made us a lot better all around.”
Having a plethora of Division I athletes around each other, things can get heated when everything is a competition.
“It was great because I knew I’d be going up against the best every day. We all pushed each other and created an extremely competitive environment that forced everyone to always be on their A-game,” Yruretagoyena said.
One instance is when former Chaparral offensive lineman and now starting left tackle for the Tennessee Titans, Taylor Lewan, attended a practice after graduating. Lineman Jake Ehm was getting prepared to start in place of Lewan for his upcoming senior season. The coaches and players were hyping Ehm’s speed. Lewan didn’t take too kindly to that.
“Dude had just got out of bed, I kid you not, it’s like 7:30, 8 in the morning. His hair is all messed up, he comes, he hasn’t stretched and strips down into nothing but a pair of Spandex boxers and says, ‘Let’s go Jacob, you and me 40. Let’s go. On the line.’ They run a 40. Taylor beats his ass. Goes,‘That’s what I thought. I’ll see you guys after the season.’ Puts his stuff on, ‘Later,’” Ragle said. “That’s the environment that we created there.”
Barnes believes he has the blueprint to recreate this environment for the current Chaparral team and bring championships back to the school.
“It starts with getting everybody on board, getting everybody to buy in and start moving in that direction. Then you start trying to have some successes here and there and building the confidence in what you’re doing, and continue to grow that and give yourselves opportunities to compete,” Barnes said. “When you do get a chance to compete for championships just find a way to give it your best shot.”
Chaparral’s talent is poised to help return the Firebirds to title contention. Quarterback Jack Miller, running back Darvon Hubbard and wide receiver Tommy Christakos are all ranked on 247Sport’s “2020 Arizona Football Recruits”. However, Barnes knows talent isn’t enough to win in the postseason.
“You’re not going to win without talent, that’s part of it. But I argue and let our guys know all the time that I don’t believe talent is the highest percentage factor in winning championships,” Barnes said. “There are so many other things that go into place that are equally important, or sometimes more important.”
Barnes realizes there is still a lot to do before Chaparral can start winning championships like Ragle’s teams but isn’t panicking because it isn’t an overnight process.
“We’ll prepare one week at a time and then prepare for the next opponent,” Barnes said. “You’re not going to play them all at once.”
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