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Verrado’s new coach a familiar face

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JONAH ALICEA, left, of Verrado attempts to haul in a pass while being defended by Desert Edge’s Daniel Pullem during last year’s regular season finale at Desert Edge. Alicea, who had 15 receptions for 311 yards and five touchdowns in 2016, will be one of the top returning receivers for the Vipers and new head coach Tom Ward. View photo by Ray Thomas
JONAH ALICEA, left, of Verrado attempts to haul in a pass while being defended by Desert Edge’s Daniel Pullem during last year’s regular season finale at Desert Edge. Alicea, who had 15 receptions for 311 yards and five touchdowns in 2016, will be one of the top returning receivers for the Vipers and new head coach Tom Ward. View photo by Ray Thomas

Tom Ward moves up from D-coordinator position

It wasn’t in the initial plans, but Verrado and Tom Ward were almost left without a choice.

Derek Wahlstrom, who coached Verrado’s football team since 2011, stepped down in the spring, leaving a vacancy right before spring ball. Ward couldn’t pass up the opportunity at that point, he said.

At first, when I went [to Verrado], I didn’t want to be a head coach again because I really liked what I was doing,” said Ward, who was the team’s defensive coordinator the last four years. “But, when coach Wahlstrom took off, I didn’t want the kids to go through another coaching change, and I’ve developed such a rapport with all the kids. They offered me the job and I couldn’t see saying no to them. I enjoy being a head coach. I always have when I was one.”

Athletic Director Adam Brezovsky said Ward brings a lot of energy and experience to the position.

He’s been with the program a few years, and when coach Wahlstrom decided to go in a different direction, it was very important to me to keep the continuity that has been building there — and resulting in a couple playoff runs the last couple years,” Brezovsky said. “Tom was the logical choice. His energy, his relationship with the kids and work ethic, both toward football and teaching, he represents a great role model for the players as both students and athletes. It pretty much seemed like a no brainer for me.”

Ward was previously a head coach at Greenwood High School in Lakewood, Colo. During his time at Verrado, he’s also built the strength and conditioning program as a P.E. teacher. The investment he’s made with that has put him very close with the athletes.

I interviewed, but if they didn’t hire someone from the staff, they were going to have to cancel spring ball, it was that late,” Ward said. “We’ve been working 100 miles an hour every day to get this thing going.”

Ward entered the Vipers into four different 7-on-7 passing tournaments during the summer, including one at the end of June at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff. That’s where the Vipers achieved their most success.

Our kids played absolutely fabulous there,” Ward said. “We got in the final eight, then lost to a big school on the east side. But our kids battled and I saw them get better and better during the course of the summer.”

Ward said he’s not a big fan of 7-on-7 competition because he’s a defensive guy and those games are all about offense. However, he liked the way his athletes competed during those competitions.

We won’t back down from anybody,” Ward said. “We’re not very big, but we’re going to play hard. That’s what we, as coaches, expect. I think what you expect you get out of your kids if you do it the right way.”

Ward is changing the offense slightly, moving from a passing dominant attack to a more balanced attack. He’s made an emphasis to focus on the running game.

Our offense will look different; we had to,” Ward said. “It got to the point where we didn’t have that trigger guy to throw the ball all over the field like Coach [Wahlstrom] wanted to, so I felt like we needed to go back to trying to establish a run game. So, we’ve really been working hard on doing that.”

Jeff Jenkins will be the offensive coordinator, and understands the passing game really well, Ward said.

I want to keep the passing game, but I want to establish more of a power running game,” Ward said. “I’m trying to teach our kids to come off the ball aggressive and try to take advantage of what we have and not necessarily try to fit our kids to a scheme, but take our kids and do what we feel is best for them.”

Having been with the program for four years, Ward knows what personnel he will have to work with. Quarterback Titan Widjaja will be a junior. As the backup last year, he played in six games, going 20 of 27 for 230 yards and two touchdowns.

Titan could be a good quarterback, but after him, we don’t have that guy right now, so you can’t put your whole system on one guy,” Ward said. “We’re trying to ease him into it where he can be a pretty dynamic quarterback, but you say, you’ve got to do everything from the beginning, he’ll lose confidence. So, we’re trying to mesh our pass and run game to be a little more balanced.”

Last season, Verrado had 323 total pass attempts and 253 rushes. So far this summer, Ward likes what he’s seen from the change in offense, and said the athletes are doing really well.

I think our kids are excited about running the ball more,” he said. “As a pass protector, you take a beating sometimes. You don’t get a chance to attack and have some fun. I think our kids are excited about coming off the ball. We’ve been working hard on the run game. We have kids that work hard.”

Defensively, the Vipers won’t change much, Ward said. The defense is built strictly on speed.

We play up and down the line of scrimmage and try to get a lot of guys to the ball carrier,” he said. “My philosophy is don’t give up the big play and make them make a mistake before we do. That’s what we try to do on defense.”

The defense showed its prowess at the end of last season when Verrado beat Desert Edge, which was undefeated at the time, 6-3 in double overtime.

He put an awesome game plan together,” Brezovsky said. “That was purely a defensive masterpiece he put together there. He has the right mindset, thought process, devotion, dedication, and most important, he really truly loves the kids and wants to be there with the kids, and the kids at Verrado. He has the whole community at heart, and the direction he wants to go, the decision making, is all centered around the community.”

Resting up

Ward gave his team the entire week off for the Fourth of July holiday, and returned to work Monday with lifting and skill work. The Vipers head for camp July 20-23 at California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks, Calif., and when they return, it will be time for regular season practices to begin.

It’s a grind as a head coach, it’s a commitment,” Ward said. “I love what I’m doing. It’s a lot of fun. I’m excited to work with the kids and see how we do.”

Ward’s first game as head coach will be Aug. 18 at Phoenix Paradise Valley.

 

Casey Pritchard can be reached at caseypritchard@westvalleyview.com
or on Twitter @CaseyonSports.

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