Picture day equates to all kinds of craziness with football because of its sheer size and number of teenagers involved, and Zane Zamenski is being pulled in a dozen different directions before Thursday’s practice at Corona del Sol.
He’s calm, taking on one task, question, and request at a time. He cracks a few smiles in the process of organizing multiple levels of players into the school’s chaotic weight room to have mug shots snapped.
At Corona, this no longer qualifies as chaotic or stressful — not after a month of suspensions, investigations, interviews and meetings involving Zamenski and lewd comments he repeatedly made around the team and school.
Tempe Union High School District’s investigation ultimately found wrongdoing on the part of Zamenski, but in controversial fashion, he remains the school’s football coach some four months after he was hired to replace the retired Gary Venturo.
There’s no middle ground. It’s one side or the other. And though the district’s decision to retain Zamenski raised a stink and still has left lines in the sand, what’s done is done.
It’s good news to the kids, teenagers trying to plug their ears in the middle of a circus of finger-pointing and rage involving either high-level administration or parents. Basically, everyone but them.
“It was surprising how large-scale it became; it’s not exactly a common thing,” senior lineman C.J. Anderson said. “I’m glad it’s over and not dragging out anymore.”
They all are. Ask this year’s roster, and the Aztecs sounded far more interested in playing football than sideshows or headlines. They want to resurrect the Corona success stories of old, not last year’s 4-6 record marred by injuries.
Most loathe daily practices against the same people in 110 degrees; the Aztecs are fine with it because it means concentrating on football for the first time in months.
The Aztecs are quite young, but they want to go back to the playoffs.
They know Mountain View, Basha and Mesquite are getting the August treatment as teams to watch, and they probably are. A barbecue at Grandma Peat’s house while Zamenski was suspended helped clear the air and set priorities for the players.
“He’s our leader and that’s who we’ll follow into battle,” senior lineman and captain Todd Peat said. “If we don’t buy in and disaccord, we’re going to fail as a team.”
A season which seemed on the verge of utter collapse before the first practice, doesn’t feel that way to the players. With the Peat brothers (Todd and Andrus) and Anderson, a promising running back in Dominic Mercurio and a couple quarterbacks with contrasting styles, the Aztecs are happy to “hide” without others playing “seek” against them like the Bears and Toros might face.
“Nothing bad can come out of winning,” Andrus Peat said.
So the players have had enough of all the extra-curriculars, but Zamenski knows he and his coaching staff are just beginning, and getting this young team to play well and win some games isn’t the half of it.
By his count, three kids who were in the program last year have left, and one of those is Kyle Jorgensen, whom Zamenski had high hopes for, but is focusing on a promising baseball future instead.
Players revealed little to no residual issues with their embattled coach going forward, but many parents and some staff at the school don’t feel as warm and fuzzy.
Some never will, and Zamenski sounded the part of a coach who knows this, convinced his players need to see results from their efforts and his staff, on and off the field, before they truly accept and believe this long process.
“Whatever you want to call it, we’ll try and mend fences,” he said. “Some people will and some won’t, and some were looking for a reason not to from the start. I think these kids want a chance to succeed in football. That’s what we have to mend and we’ll do that. They want to play ball and have a chance to be successful, and we’ll have that chance and opportunities to affect something for the good.”