Injuries at quarterback offer glimpse of future at Saguaro
October 24, 2023 by Logan Brown, Arizona State University
Logan Brown is an ASU Cronkite School of Journalism student assigned to cover Saguaro High School for AZPreps365.com
When Saguaro starting quarterback Mason Bray went down during a game against California’s Sierra Canyon in late September, many assumed the worst.
“I tried to get up and I just started crawling and screaming,” Bray said. “I thought it was my knee and I thought I was done for the season.”
“I was just lying on the floor and kind of just got in a dark place,” Bray said. “When I went down on the ground and I did not think I was going to get back up, nor was I going to play the rest of the season.”
Bray finished the game, but later discovered he had partially torn a ligament in his foot. The injury would keep Bray sidelined for multiple weeks.
The following week, freshman Will Mencl got the start against Centennial, but broke his arm on the second drive of the game, head coach Zak Hill said. That meant another change at quarterback, this time in favor of third-stringer junior Elijah Sherbin-Fox, a transfer from New Jersey who played in the junior varsity game earlier in the week.
“I wasn’t really nervous,” Sherbin-Fox said about entering the Centennial game. “Coach Hill and coach Wood prepared me well to be ready for those moments, to be ready for those games where eventually you’re going to be needed. Obviously being third string on the depth chart, you want to go out there and win the game and [are] eager to do some stuff, eager to do some things that they didn’t really expect.”
“EJ hadn’t got any reps all week other than scout team reps,” Hill said. “So, our whole game plan that we had going into Centennial, we basically had to throw out and finish the game with what we could draw up on the sideline.”
Saguaro was unable to overcome the adversity in the 31-17 loss to Centennial, but Sherbin-Fox was the last line of defense at the quarterback position for the Sabercats. He would get the start in the next game against Chapparal. Hill noted the offense had to change with so little experience under center.
“Having EJ at quarterback, [he] just hasn’t have the experience, doesn’t throw it as well as Mason, but he can run,” Hill said. “So, we did some QB-run game with him and just had to lean heavy on the run, especially going into the Chaparral week because we knew we were a little more physical than they were.”
That game plan worked against their Scottsdale rivals, as Sherbin-Fox helped lead the Sabercats to a 38-28 win over the Firebirds. Saguaro ran for five touchdowns as a team, while Sherbin-Fox posted 183 yards of total offense.
Bray and Sherbin-Fox have built a special friendship this season, being each other’s biggest supporters and critics on the field.
“Going into these games, he’s in my ear,” Sherbin-Fox said, referring to Bray. “He’s letting me know my reads. He’s in the backfield at practice letting me know where to go with the ball. Mason is probably one of the best things to happen to me in my football career so far. Back home in New Jersey, I didn’t have a really good support system, so having someone who’s older than me, way more wise and, shoot, better than me and more talented, he makes my job ten times easier to go win those games.”
“I just started turning into a coach,” Bray said. “I try to tell EJ or Will, whoever’s playing quarterback, whatever I see and something they could pick up on. ... I just try to help them as much as I can when I’m not on the field because I know they would do the same for me.”
After missing two games with his foot injury, Bray returned to the offensive huddle on Friday against Liberty, but the Sabercats couldn’t get anything going on offense, losing 31-3 and falling to 4-4 on the season.
Bray’s graduation in the spring means Saguaro will need to fill the quarterback position with someone else next season. Sherbin-Fox hopes his play this season will give him an early edge over the competition.
“I’m hungry for that job,” Sherbin-Fox said. “I have plans to continue playing this game after high school, so I’m not taking any days off. Against Chaparral, I showed what I can do. I hope I get another shot to show that. I feel like I could’ve done a little more for my team."
Sherbin-Fox will compete with Mencl and Chaparral transfer Marcel Jones this offseason, along with any additions to the team. Hill refused to give any player an edge in the quarterback battle, but believes competition will bring out the best in them.
“Anybody that’s going to be here at Saguaro at [quarterback] or any other position, there’s going to be competition, and that's a great thing,” Hill said. “Those guys are all hungry to prove what they’ve got. During the offseason, especially in high school, there’s so much development, there’s so much growth, physical growth and obviously the mental growth over the offseason with what we are doing with our quarterback training. They’re going to compete. They’ll all have a shot, they will all get reps, get some experience, and we’ll play the best player.”
Bray is set to lead Saguaro in the final two regular-season games against Salpointe Catholic and Pinnacle as the Sabercats make a push for the playoffs in Hill’s first season.