Zone Read: The Fisher King

Arizona Sports News online

Things are certainly busy, aren’t they?

Teams around the state are putting in the work as the temperatures rise and we push closer to the summer. The good news is, the 2021 AZHS football season is coming faster than you think and this fall is looking to be better than ever with so much local talent on display.

Heck, there’s even a big-time coaching vacancy in the southeast Valley after Joe Germaine decided to return to his alma mater, Mesa Mountain View.

Here are a few other things which caught my attention in this week’s “Zone Read.”

From Fighter Pilot to…Pro Fisherman?

For Clay Randall, the obsession started shortly after birth.

“My dad said when I was two-years-old I’d cast my pole across the living room, just [messing] around,” the former Saguaro High standout football and baseball player (Class of 2019) noted to the “Zone Read.” “It’s always been a pretty big deal in my life.”

Randall, who’s in his second academic year at the U.S. Air Force Academy, is aiming to one day become a professional fisherman, after hopefully becoming a fighter pilot, following his time as a cadet in Colorado Springs.

“When I was a little kid…fishing was my favorite thing in the world,” he continued. “My mom would drop me off at the lake (at dawn) and I’d stay there ’til dark. She’d come get me…and I would never want to go home.”

The sport runs in the family.

Randall’s dad, Reese, was a professional fisherman for a number of years in FLW (Fishing League Worldwide).

Yep, the apple didn’t fall far from the tree.

Every opportunity Clay had to sneak away after his Saguaro football or baseball commitments, you’d likely find him fishing at a local golf course by the high school or somewhere in the greater Scottsdale area for his favorite fresh water fish, largemouth bass.

The itch returned in 2020…with a purchase and a little help from dad.

“During COVID, I was home from the Academy for about six months,” Randall explained. “I started fishing a lot. I was like, ‘Hey dad, I want to buy a boat.’ We went out and started looking around and I ended up finding a Skeeter ZX 250 [boat] for a little bit more expensive than I wanted but he helped me with it. I probably used that boat 30 times last summer.”

Randall would frequently compete in fishing tournaments with his family at Roosevelt Lake, Bartlett Lake or any other nearby location where events were held.

The person Randall looks up to, maybe more than anyone in the fishing community, is Payson’s Clifford Pirch, who is currently on the Bassmaster Elite Series, and has been Reese’s fishing partner for close to two decades.

“He still fishes professionally around the country, Randall said of Pirch (pictured together on the left). “Some of those tournaments are really big money. The Bassmaster Classic is a big one and he’s qualified for that like, six times. He’s been a really big part of my life. He’s been a role model for me.”

Fishing, in many ways, has been a nice a distraction for Randall – a four-time State Champion linebacker and baseball star for the Sabercats – who has battled injuries and the high academic demands at AFA after arriving as a two-sport student-athlete.

Randall, a business management major, gave up playing football for the Falcons after suffering an Ulnar Collateral Ligament injury in his elbow last season and then recently tore his labrum and rotator cuff in his throwing shoulder playing baseball.

“[Air Force] basically said, ‘Get it taken care of [surgery] and figure out if you can ever throw again. Come back next year.'”

Randall saw action as a true freshman on the diamond playing both corner outfield positions, as well as designated hitting for the Falcons in their abbreviated 2020 campaign.

“It’s been about nine weeks since surgery and I still can’t cast a fishing pole with my right arm,” he said.

Get that arm ready to reel in the big one, Clay.

Bright Lights, Big Stage

Much like calling plays on a potential game-winning drive, Mike Zdebski had to think fast…and two steps ahead.

The Hamilton High head coach needed an out-of-state game to complete the Huskies’ 2021 schedule.

So he reached out to a friend.

“I talked to Coach Brent [Browner],” Zdebski explained to the “Zone Read.” “I thought playing [Bishop] Gorman (NV) would be a really good game for our program and a really good game for the state of Arizona. There’s a lot of national prominence to it. They’re going to play a national schedule. When that game opened up, they were able to open it up [the date]. So we set up a home and home.”

— Michael Zdebski (@michaelzdebski) April 9, 2021



The titanic matchup almost didn’t happen because Hamilton had another game in place for September 17th…until they didn’t.

“The Thursday before the schedule was going to be finalized, all of a sudden, that game disappeared off our schedule,” Zdebski explained. “Unfortunately, it just didn’t work out.”

Well, the “consolation prize” isn’t too shabby. Gorman features nine four-star recruits and a myriad of high-level college prospects on their roster, including 6-foot-6, 230-pound defensive end Cyrus Moss, 6-foot-3 safety Zion Branch, USC cornerback commit Fabian Ross, and others.

The Huskies are loaded as well, and Zdebski believes they’ll be ready when the Gaels make their way to the southeast Valley this summer. 

“It seems like this will be the fastest team we’ve had since I got here in 2018,” he said. “Our 4 X 100 team has the best 400-meter relay time in the state. [Wednesday] at our track meet, we had 25 kids [set personal records] in jumping events and running events, so we’re getting faster. We have depth in the skill positions there. Our linemen are working extremely hard. When you see us walk out [of the tunnel], we look the part physically.”

The game, which could get picked up by the ESPN family of networks according to Zdebski, is the ultimate measuring stick for Hamilton – who came up just short of claiming an Open Division Championship last December.

“You gotta put your feet in the fire to get better,” he explained without hesitation of playing a national brand. “Gorman is a big splash game.”

Yes it is.

Get Noticed

This is an important time of year for players looking to play at the next level.

“Zone Read” tips our cap to Pinnacle High School and Valley recruiting mainstay Lake Forest College (IL), who are hosting this incredible event next month in to help put some AZ ballers on the recruiting map.

“The idea behind hosting the Lake Forest camp was a result of my staff, Matt Hanshaw and Paul Gerimaro in particular, looking for ways to help kids get exposure,” Pinnacle head coach Dana Zupke said to the “Zone Read.” “We’ve had a relationship with Coach [Catanzaro] and we have a couple of Pinnacle guys playing there. Coach Cat is a great guy and recruits Arizona well.”

Zupke noted the pandemic has “turned recruiting on its side” and this event, along with the state’s popular spring showcases will present an opportunity for players to get on college radars, at all levels of competition.




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