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Athletic programs at new Queen Creek high school are a work in progress

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QUEEN CREEK – Every day on his way to work at Mesa Westwood High School, head football coach Spencer Stowers would drive past a brand new school under construction near the Seville neighborhood of Queen Creek.

Casteel High School, set to serve grades seven through 12 and open in July, was in need of a football coach willing and able to build a program from scratch.

Stowers recognized the unique opportunity just down the road from his house and applied after seeing the job posting online.

“I was excited that there was interest,” said Tom Dunn, Casteel athletic director. “I wasn’t surprised. I think people see the value in the school that we are building and the community that we are in.

“I think for a lot of coaches building a program in that environment is exciting,” Dunn added.

“Coach Stowers lives in our boundary, so for him this was a no-brainer.”

Stowers was offered and accepted the job in early February, after successfully turning around a dormant Westwood program.

“To me, that is very interesting in terms of athletics because of the opportunity I will have as a coach to work with our kids from seventh grade all the way up through 12th,” Stowers said. “This is the only program, at least a public program, where a coach can take a step back and say, ‘Hey, I can go open up a school.’ It doesn’t come along very often nowadays because of all the schools that have been built.

“That part is exciting to me,” Stowers said. “Being able to build it from the ground up and create our culture instead of change it.”

His 16-15 record as the head coach of Westwood doesn’t really tell the complete story of why Stowers’ name became so intriguing to Dunn.

“Obviously you have to start with coaches,” Dunn said. “You want a great school? You have to have great teachers, same with athletics. You want a successful athletic program? You have to have great coaches.”

In his first year as the head coach at Westwood, Stowers went a disappointing 1-9, but the groundwork had been set. The following season, the Warriors improved to 6-4 and then followed that up in 2014 with a 9-2 run that included a playoff berth.

Leaving a turned-around program for a startup is a challenge Stowers knows he can’t overcome immediately.

“The first thing we have to have is numbers,” Stowers said, referring to filling out rosters. “It happens by getting out in the community and running camps and associating ourselves with youth programs that are around the area.

“From there with numbers, we have to develop quality,” Dunn said. “We have a lot of great coaches coming over, we have eight coaches from Westwood who will be coming over here. So, getting in front of the kids, building numbers, excitement about the school, and then building quality, building those fundamentals from the ground up.”

The 2015 season for Casteel football will consist of only a freshman-level squad because the school will begin with students in seventh, eighth and ninth grades. As those students advance through the school, the football team will continue to advance as well.  The 2016 season will see the program expand to also feature a junior varsity team. The first year of varsity football for Casteel will be 2017, with the school playing independent games outside of a division or conference. That means that the 2018 season will be the inaugural year for Casteel’s full-fledged varsity football program. It will also be the senior season for Stowers’ first freshman team as head coach for the Colts.

“When it comes to coaching football, you almost become that parent away from home,” Stowers said. “At times, the coaches are with the kids more than their parents are. Being with those athletes for four years, who come in as freshmen, I don’t think there will be another experience like that that a high school athlete will get in the next four years.”

As year one approaches for Stowers and the new athletics program, early success becomes intertwined with awareness.

“It is going to be creating an identity,” Stowers said. “Who we are and what we are about, and that is about our actions and the message that we get across to the community. Going to camps, and our practices and being with the kids is going to be very important in terms of how we run our practices, how we go to school every day.

“We are in a smaller community here, a smaller-type atmosphere,” Stowers said. “When I think of Casteel, we have to be a disciplined football team. We have to be a football team that is blue collar and comes to work every day.

“That is something I did at Westwood, and that is something that I will bring over to Casteel as well.”