Bryce Chen takes pride in Arizona College Prep football.
It was the program he found his calling in when he was a freshman at the school’s old campus, a small building along Alma School Road. It was the program he grew up with, playing alongside some of his best friends and for a coach that truly valued each and every one of his players.
Chen was one of the architects of the ACP football program, which will now move up to the 4A Conference and for the first time, has a field and campus to call its own after it opened in 2021 near Gilbert and Ocotillo roads. So it’s only fitting Chen be honored for his accolades not only on the field as a receiver for the Knights, but in the classroom as well.
“There’s 23 of us here today and it’s really exciting,” Chen said. “I’m just amazed right now. I’m at a loss for words because I’m from a small school. Some of these kids are from big 6A schools. I’m just …. wow, I’m here.”
Chen was one of 23 high school football players from around the state honored by the National Football Foundation Valley of the Sun Chapter at its 41st Scholar Athlete Luncheon at Wild Horse Pass in Chandler.
Currently with a 4.35 GPA at ACP, Chen was honored with the Core Construction Award, awarded to athletes that solidify themselves as difference makers on and off the field, something Chen did during his time at ACP.
As a wide receiver and defensive back, Chen ranks second all-time in career receptions, receiving yards, yards per reception and receiving touchdowns. Despite battling an injury that kept him out the first few games of the season, he again became the top wideout for junior quarterback Jayden Diaz.
He earned a scholarship to play at the next level at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, a Division III engineering school in Indiana.
Chen was joined by other Chandler athletes as part of the NFF luncheon Saturday, April 23.
Nason Coleman’s high school career was nearly derailed by a knee injury before the start of his junior season. But as a senior he reestablished himself as one of the best at his position in the state as he helped lead the Wolves to yet another Open Division State Championship appearance last fall.
He will attend BYU to continue his football and academic career.
“The amount of games and seasons we’ve gone through, just making those relationships with my teammates is what is going to stick with me the most,” Coleman said. “Going out with this honor means a lot. I think this focuses more how you are outside of the football field. That’s something Chandler teaches us a lot, how to represent ourselves off the field. I think it’s an extremely great honor.”
Dawson Hubbard’s time at Hamilton was short as he transferred in before his junior season from Illinois. But in that time, he became a dominating presence for the Huskies on the defensive line.
Hubbard starred at the position for the Huskies, helping lead them to the Open Division State Championship game in his first season and the semifinals as a senior. He also maintained a 3.6 GPA throughout, which helped him earn a scholarship offer to Butler University where he will continue his football career.
Hubbard was one of four players named to the 2022 Elite Fiesta Bowl Academic Team and was honored at the Scholar Luncheon. To him, it was the perfect event to cap off his high school career.
“The situation I was put in, it was a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Hubbard said. “Moving during COVID and playing at one of the best high schools in the nation, I’m just thankful to God, my coaches and my family.
“They accepted me for who I was and gave me the best opportunity to play football.”
Seton Catholic senior Mattias Benally was also honored by the NFF as he received the Native American Award. Other notable Chandler ties included an inaugural scholarship in honor of former Chandler offensive line and in-game run coordinator Chris Chick, who passed away suddenly last year.
Chick’s family established the scholarship in his honor, with Florence’s Ryan King named the inaugural recipient for his leadership and passion for football and academics with a 4.22 GPA.
The Scholar Athlete Luncheon honored three local college football players at the event as well as three distinguished Arizonans, which included AIA Executive Director David Hines, Arizona State award-winning Associate Athletic Director of Media Relations Mark Brand and longtime quarterback coach Dan Manucci.
Other East Valley high school honorees included Red Mountain senior Ryan Grossklaus, Mesa senior Joshua Irish and Notre Dame Prep senior Duke Frye, who received the Coach Tom Wheatley Memorial Award.
Saguaro senior Miles Crutchley was the fifth recipient of the Bob and Janet Casciola Family Scholarship on Saturday. He shared the moment with teammate Thomas DeChesaro, who received the highest honor of the day.
“There’s a lot of really good, smart athletic guys here,” DeChesaro said. “It’s really cool to all come together for one big event like this to honor our achievements.”
DeChesaro was named the NFF Valley of the Sun Chapter Scholar Athlete of the Year. The senior helped lead Saguaro to the Open Division State Championship last fall, beating Chandler.
Ahwatukee resident Adonis Watt, who captured the hearts of the hearts of the high school football community when he made his varsity debut in 2019 for Brophy. A sophomore at the time, he lined up at running back against Alhambra High School and plunged into the end zone from a yard out.
Moments like that motivated him to continue pursuing his dream of playing football. He was honored with the Shaw Courage Award.
“When you find something you love, stick with it as long as you can or until you don’t love it anymore, until the wheels fall off,” Watt said. “That’s what I’m doing and what I’m going to continue to do.
“Everyone has their own battles. Mine just happens to be my vision. That’s how I look at it.”