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Cougars in the desert: How BYU heroes became high school coaches in Queen Creek

“We had a chance to play some of the bigger teams we’ve never been able to play before,” said Max Hall, an Arizona native. “Making it to the open-division playoffs, I think it propelled our program into being considered one of the top programs in the state now.”

Down in the dry heat of central Arizona lies a town called Queen Creek, home to the Patriots of American Leadership Academy High School, where football thrives. In the past few years, the athletic department has added two former NFL quarterbacks to their coaching staff. This past season, the Patriots had the expertise of former Heisman winner Ty Detmer and NFL and CFL quarterback Max Hall.

ALA’s newest edition of their football team staff comes in the form of Brigham Young University legend Ty Detmer. He currently holds the position of head coach for the Patriots. Football has always been an important part of Detmer’s life. Despite also lettering in golf, basketball, baseball and track during his time in high school, football always reigned supreme for him.

“Maybe my dad being a football coach helped because I was around it all the time,” Detmer said.

Even though he was born and raised in Texas, he took his skills at quarterback to the BYU Cougars in Provo, Utah when he reached the collegiate level. 

“I kinda learned about the quarterback tradition there with all the guys that had come through before,” he said about his decision to play at BYU. “That would be an awesome place to go and be able to throw it around. It kinda fit me as a person.”

He didn’t find success right away, as he redshirted his first season in 1987 and only started in one game the following year. His sophomore year of eligibility he became a full-time starter and led his team to become the Western Athletic Conference champions in 1989.

His junior year, though, he was unstoppable. During the season he set 42 NCAA records and tied five more. BYU had 10 victories and only three losses, and once again finished at the top of the WAC standings. This 1990 season was Detmer’s Heisman Trophy winning season. 

“As the season went on it got talked about more and more,” he said, “it’s hard to block out but you do it the best you can and just focus on the game that week.”

That same year he also earned the Maxwell Award (awarded to best football player in the United States), the Davey O’Brien Award (awarded to best NCAA quarterback), and the United Press International Player of the Year. His senior season he wasn’t quite as great, but still finished third in Heisman voting, and ended his college career with sole possession of 59 NCAA records.

Detmer has since been inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame and had his No. 14 jersey retired at Brigham Young.

“You never expect something like that to happen,” he said about his jersey retirement. “You never expect things to go as well as they did.”

After college, Detmer was drafted in the ninth round of the NFL draft in 1992 by the Green Bay Packers. He stayed in the league for 14 seasons, playing for six different teams. He never officially announced retirement, but spent his last season with the Atlanta Falcons in 2005. He didn’t see a lot of playing time in the league as a result of playing behind a handful of notable names such as Brett Favre, Steve Young and Michael Vick, among others.

Detmer took some time off before beginning his coaching career. He returned to Texas in 2009 to be the head football coach at St. Andrew’s Episcopal School. He was there until 2015 when the BYU head coach Kalani Sitake appointed him as his new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. His time as a coach with the Cougars only lasted two seasons. 

“I really enjoyed being back in the BYU atmosphere,” Detmer said.

The owner and founder of the 16 American Leadership Academy campuses, Glenn Way, has since hired him and he has become the head coach at the Queen Creek campus. 

“I started working with the district as the district athletic director,” he said. “When (the last head coach) left they were kinda like, ‘we’d like to see you be the coach.’ I wasn’t really looking to get back into coaching… but it’s been great to get back into it and be hands on.”

Detmer just finished his first season with the Patriots.

Max Hall, an Arizona native, wasn’t always intrigued by the sport of football. 

Before high school he found himself involved with both basketball and baseball, with football coming a little bit later. He was a pitcher when he played baseball, and had a pretty good arm, but also played as a receiver for his middle school football team. That football team was far from great, and his coach took to holding an informal tryout to find his quarterback. Hall, already having the arm strength and accuracy from being on the mound, decided to give it a shot. 

“I took a drop and threw it, hit the kid right in the chest, and (the coach) goes ‘alright you’re our quarterback,’” Hall recalled. “I’ve been playing quarterback ever since.”

Even after that, Hall hoped there was something else in his future.

“Basketball was my first love,” he said. “But after my sophomore year of high school I started realizing I could throw a football a little better than I could shoot a basketball.”

That was in 2002, just before he was a junior for the Mountain View High School Toros. He guided them all the way to the state title in a 14-0 season. Hall was named MVP and Offensive Player of the Year. 

After another impressive high school season in 2004, he went to Arizona State University and redshirted for the Sun Devils, where he always hoped he’d be. His time at ASU didn’t work out too well and he ended up transferring to BYU after returning home from his mission for his church. 

“There was lots of trouble I could get in at ASU so I wanted to go to BYU to be in a better environment,” Hall said. “It really had nothing to do with the football part of it.”

During his freshman year as a Cougar, Hall sat out the entire season. He kept his head up and won the starting role the next year. He posted a win-loss record of 11-2 in that 2007 season. He remained the starter for both the 2008 and 2009 seasons and ended his college career with 11,365 passing yards and 94 passing touchdowns.

Hall entered the 2010 NFL Draft, only to not be selected. Despite being undrafted, the Arizona Cardinals decided to take a chance on him and signed him as a free agent. 

“I felt like I had something to prove,” he said. “I was confident enough that I felt like I should have been drafted. It was brutal on draft day.”

He first saw the field in the second week of the 2010 season and had his first start in week four. He only played six games in the NFL before being injured in August of 2011, when he was released by the Cardinals.

Hall wasn’t ready to give up his professional career, though. In 2013, he signed with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the Canadian Football League. He only lasted one season in the CFL where he posted a W-L of 1-8.

“Gary Crowton was the coach at BYU in the early 2000s. (Later), Gary was coaching up in Canada,” Hall shared. “He said, ‘why don’t you come play for me up in Canada?’ At that point I just wanted to play football again.”

Hall also discussed the differences between the NFL and the CFL.

“There’s 12 guys on the field instead of 11. The field is wider and longer… The goalposts are in front of the endzones. You only get three downs to get a first down,” he said. “It’s a lot different.”

When his career was over, his love for the game of football stayed with him, and he took to finding a coaching position. He once again returned to his home state of Arizona and was hired as offensive coordinator at Gilbert High School in 2014. He wasn’t there for long when he was arrested for shoplifting and was subsequently fired. The season hadn’t even started.

The school board at American Leadership Academy decided to give him a second chance. Hall was running his own quarterback training camp, where he was coaching Dallin Edwards, the son of Rich Edwards, the head football coach and athletic director of ALA at the time. 

“I went to one of (Dallin’s) practices and Coach Edwards came up to me and said, ‘Hey, would you want to coach here with us?’ I said, ‘Really, you want me to come help coach?'” Hall recalled about being hired. “So I jumped on it and started coaching and a few years later became the assistant athletic director (as well).”

Edwards was impressed with Hall’s knowledge of the game and honesty about his past and fought for him to be the offensive coordinator for the Patriots. He has stayed with the school ever since.

Under guidance from Detmer and Hall, among others, the Patriots just finished one of the best seasons in American Leadership Academy history. They posted a regular season win-loss of 9-1 and went undefeated in conference play. Their only loss came to Saguaro High School who went on to win the open-division state championship.

“We had a chance to play some of the bigger teams we’ve never been able to play before,” Hall said. “Making it to the open-division playoffs, I think it propelled our program into being considered one of the top programs in the state now.”

As the offensive coordinator, Hall led the offense to averaging 40 points per game, almost double the national average of 21.3.

“Pretty good season for a school that two years ago was a little 3A charter school. It was one of the best years we’ve ever had,” Hall added.

Two years ago, the Patriots won the 3A Division state championship game against their cross-town rivals Benjamin Franklin High School. The next year, both schools were moved up to the 4A Division, when ALA made it to the semifinals of the playoffs, only to lose by three points.

They stayed in 4A for this past season. For the first time ever, they made their way into the open-division playoffs. They unfortunately lost in the first round to the first seed Hamilton High School.

“We had a great group of kids. It was a perfect environment for the boys. As a team they played well together and they got along,” Detmer said. “Aside from the record and all those things, I thought it was a great year.”

The American Leadership Academy Patriots have some work to do as they prepare for the 2022 season. They will be moved up to 5A with even tougher competition. Both Ty Detmer and Max Hall currently plan on staying with the football coaching staff.