It’s time to get back in the saddle, fight for championships and be part of that elite group with Chandler and Hamilton.
Gilbert Perry wants back in.
And behind new football coach Joseph Ortiz and his full-throttle approach on offense and defense, it might take a fresh start for the Pumas to feel like they belong again.
It’s been a tough road getting back there since the Purdy quarterback brothers — Brock and Chubba — graduated.
After Brock Purdy led Perry to the 6A State Final in 2017 (a 49-42 loss to Chandler) and Chubba Purdy led the Cougars to the title game the following year (a 65-28 loss to Chandler), the Cougars have fallen into mediocrity and worse, 7-5, 0-6 (COVID-19 year) and 3-8.
Coach Preston Jones, the school’s only head football coach since it opened in 2007, resigned from that position in December. He led the program to 90 wins and 11 playoff appearances in 13 years.
But things were getting old-fashioned. And nobody just wants to point out that the Purdy family is running out of sons to bring into the program to be their quarterback.
Defense was almost an afterthought even in Perry’s final years, as the Purdy brothers could place points on the board.
Coach Joseph Ortiz comes into play after showing he was more than capable of following a legend, Larry Fetkenhier, and leading the Cactus Cobras to 4A prominence. They went 10-0 in the regular season and beat some good 5A teams en route to the Open Division last year.
No one doubts that had Cactus not been promoted to the Open, Cactus would likely have won the 4A title.
But the Cobras were knocked out in the first round by Scottsdale Saguaro, the eventual Open State champion, who showed plenty of guts and determination in the second half to give the Sabercats a hard time.
Obviously for Ortiz, who brought in assistant Robert Allen to train defensively, there are strong plays to work with.
“I think we’re going to be a surprise,” Ortiz said. “By bringing in Coach Allen, who’s been at Cactus for more than eight years, the corner coach who knows the defensive system inside and out, to be able to bring him on as defensive coordinator/assistant head coach, we’re going to bring that same style and.” same game as Cactus.
“Up front we’re really big. We’re really big and physical up front. We’re working on the ability position right now. We’ve got a lot of good positions in Kolton Coleman and CJ and Brock (Ford). Obviously , (Kyle) Bartnik on the tight end and Don ( Tinsley) at Jaxsen Young’s running back. But we’re developing them further so hopefully we can be more balanced when the season starts.”
Related: Former Perry QB Brock Purdy becomes Mr. Irrelevant for the 2022 NFL Draft
There were 80 college coaches closely watching Perry’s practice at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday. It was part of the Chandler Unified School District Spring Football Jamboree, where college coaches were able to meet every school in the district and received sheets of top prospects from each class.
Many eyes were on powerful defensive end Aiden Herring, a 6ft 3, 260lb beast who recently landed an offer from Columbia University.
“Everything is going great,” said Herring. “He (Ortiz) is doing great. We had a great spring ball month. Everything is going perfectly.”
It will take more than Herring’s explosive moves from the edge to get to the quarterbacks.
Large 150: Top College Football Prospects in the Class of 2023 in Arizona High Schools
There’s a lot of grandeur in the trenches.
Korey Woods, 6-3, 270, will be a junior next season and has made huge strides on the defensive line. Marc O’Bannon, 6-3, 275, could play either way on the lines. Kyle Bartnik, a 2023 defensive end at 6-4, 240, has developed into a hitter on defense along with Landon Sabetta, 6-4, 250.
The back end of the defense is led by Kolton Coleman and CJ Snowden.
“We have some playmakers coming back,” Herring said. “We have CJ, Coleman. We’re going to make a great defense out of it.”
Ortiz envisions an explosive offense that sees Herring play his role as a full-back/H-back type who can run and block the ball.
“We’re going to do the exact same offense (as we did with Cactus),” Ortiz said. “That’s all I know. That’s what we’re doing. We’re going to try to run first and rely on RPOs and roll out.”
Top 100: Arizona Republic’s top high school football recruits in the Class of 2024
Left-handed quarterback Jack Amer, 6-2, 200, rushed for 260 yards and two TDs in his freshman year as starting quarterback last season. It matches Ortiz’ offense, lots of RPO’s, able to play with his legs and arms.
“It’s very different,” Amer said of Ortiz’s offense. “I like that we can distribute the ball and involve several people.”
Amer has guns around in receivers Jaxen Young (212 yards received last year) and Jaden Barth, along with Snowden and Coleman and soccer newcomer Andrew Guild, a soccer player.
The Arizona Republic’s Fab 50: Top 2025 high school football prospects
Brock Ford (5-10, 180) and Don Tinsley (6-2, 220), a transfer from Tempe Corona del Sol, should add clout to the running game.
“Our goal is to go stateside,” Amer said.
Every quarterback who’s followed the Purdy brothers into Perry has carried the added weight of their fame.
“There’s always a lot expected of us,” Amer said. “Brock and Chubba have kept the always hard working mentality high. It’s a winning culture here.”
Support local journalism: subscribe to azcentral.com today