Running back Donnel Pumphrey will give Canyon Springs big-play potential on every offensive play.
But the key to the Pioneers’ football season probably will come on the other side of the ball, and Canyon Springs’ defense will get a season-opening test when the sixth-ranked Pioneers host No. 7 Foothill at 7 p.m. Friday.
“Our defense is our glue right now,” Canyon Springs coach Hunkie Cooper said. “They keep us in games until the offense gets going. The defense flies around and makes plays. The offense has to jell and believe and trust in the guy that’s leading them and then they have to seize the opportunities.”
The Pioneers return nine starters on defense, so experience should be an asset for a team that leaned heavily on sophomores a year ago.
“Last year it was a learning experience for all of us,” junior linebacker Isiah Carter said. “The game was all fast paced. Now the game is slowing down because we see everything now. The last thing to develop is our eyes.”
Foothill should be a good barometer of how far the defense has come. The Falcons averaged 32.6 points last season, and return one of the area’s top quarterbacks in junior Drew Doxtator, who will guide the team’s spread offense.
Junior defensive tackle Rayshawn Henderson said the focus has to be on getting pressure against Doxtator, who passed for 2,687 yards and 37 touchdowns last season.
“It’s got to be (the focus),” Henderson said. “If not, we should be in trouble. But this D line and this defense, period, I think we’ll be doing something special this year.”
With Pumphrey, who has committed to San Diego State, the offense could be special as well. Pumphrey ran for 1,647 yards and 22 scores as a junior.
“He’s one of the best on the West Coast,” Cooper said. “I had an opportunity to work with Adrian Peterson and DeMarco Murray, and this kid brings something unique just like they did. He’s special.”
Cooper thinks the team can be more balanced this season with a trio of new quarterbacks. Keveon Glenn was thrust into a starting role last season, but Cooper will rely on three new signal-callers.
Junior Stevie Farmer, a Bishop Gorman transfer who led Canyon Springs’ junior varsity to an 8-1 record last season, will be one of the quarterbacks. Junior Joe Jackson, who played at Western as a freshman and sat out last season, will see time, as will sophomore Bradley Alexander.
“We’ve got some quarterbacks now that can throw the football,” Cooper said. “Keveon Glenn did well for us last year, but the quarterbacks we have now are able to make some quick reads and get rid of the football and take some pressure off (Pumphrey). They won’t be able to stack the box.”
With so many experienced juniors, Cooper thinks it’s time for his program to shine. The Pioneers won the Northeast League last season, but were bounced in the first round of the playoffs.
“Our window of opportunity is this year and next year to really be successful,” Cooper said. “We’ve groomed these kids, we’ve built them. Now it’s just making sure that we are physical up front, that we control the line of scrimmage. Not maintain it, but control it.”