As a freshman in the unusual spot of varsity starting quarterback, Chase Cord didn’t ask his 2013 Sunrise Mountain teammates much beyond their knowledge of the playbook.
But the signs of what could have been were all around as he joined the 1-3 Mustangs coming off excruciating last-second losses at Shadow Ridge and Cactus. It was easy for the seniors on that squad to wonder what if?
In 2010, Ironwood defensive coordinator James Carter was hired to engineer a turnaround at Sunrise Mountain. He, in turn, entrusted Steve Decker with the offense.
While the varsity rebuild was going to take a while, the coaches took heart in an undefeated freshmen team as more local youth football stars stayed in north Peoria.
By their senior year in 2013, however, several of the biggest names from that team were gone. Cornerback Daniel Ezeagwu moved to Virginia in 2011 and played a couple years for Maryland before landing at Iowa Western CC this season.
Linebacker Hayden Pate transferred to Scottsdale Chaparral in 2012 and defensive end Dylan Pensinger sat out that same season after transferring to Centennial. Tailback Elijah Castro also went to Chaparral before the 2013 season. Pensinger returned to Sunrise Mountain, but was injured early and never played a game with Cord.
“As you’re building, good things happen and you’re always leery of losing players to bigger and more established programs. You never want to lose good players, but at the end of the day, if they’re not buying into what you’re doing and they don’t want to be there, you kind of really don’t want them either,” Coach Decker said.
As the 2016 season gets under way, Cord is still the Mustangs’ varsity quarterback. Having signed with Boise State in the offseason, he’s become the highest profile player in the James Carter era.
In an ironic twist, the star who stayed put ended up outlasting Carter on the north Peoria campus. In December, Carter left to coach at Goodyear Millennium and Decker became the new head coach.
As with many elite players not at one of Arizona’s dominant programs, Cord heard the rumor mill crank up with possible transfer destinations. But he said he never seriously considered leaving.
“I’ve always been locked in here at Sunrise. I’ve heard random rumors going around — probably just jokes — as I’ve grown up and went through high school,” Cord said. “I feel like I’ve built a legacy here since my freshman year and we’re trying to improve here every single year.”
He said even in the midst of a frustrating 6-4 year, the 2013 seniors took him under their wing and treated him like the starting quarterback, not a kid.
Cord followed with a breakout sophomore year to land on the NCAA Division I recruiting radar. He threw for 2,286 yards and 33 touchdowns and rushed for 933 yards.
The Mustangs won their first section title and finished 9-2. Plus his top target was older brother, Brennon.
“That was the year I had my brother playing receiver and he got a lot more reps that year. That was fun and I had a good group of receivers, good line and good defense,” Cord said.
With Brennon graduating and college recruiting entering a crucial time, Cord’s junior season would have been a natural time to worry about him leaving Sunrise Mountain. His offensive coordinator stayed calm.
“Chase from Day One of his freshman year always bought into what we were doing in our program and worked hard,” Coach Decker said. “You hear rumors — Oh, he’s a DI quarterback — about people wanting him. But I’ve never felt that. He was always buying into what we had here.”
To be fair, Cord is not the only marquee Mustang to stay put. Elroy Masters was better known as a basketball player until 2012, when the wide receiver broke out and earned a scholarship to Colorado State.
Tailback Corey Brown stayed on that 2013 team. Tristin Decker, Steve’s son, wasn’t going anywhere and was a top safety by 2014.
Cord, though, became the face of the program in a way few high school players can. He said he wanted to make his name and his program’s reputation known during his junior year. Mission accomplished.
The numbers went up (3,173 passing yards, 52 touchdowns, 1,059 rushing yards, 13 touchdowns). Sunrise Mountain was 11-0 and a darkhorse Division III title contender.
Then Verrado shocked the Mustangs in the quarterfinal. Weeks later, Coach Carter left for Millennium.
It was tough to see Coach Carter leave, but Cord said he’ll always be close with him. Decker felt the same way, and had something else to worry about right after taking over the program.
Cord tore the ACL in his knee Dec. 26 while playing in a basketball tournament at Tempe McClintock.
“It was difficult to hear that Jimmy was leaving. We’re good friends and talk a lot still. On the same note, it was a good opportunity for me and I’m excited about it,” Coach Decker said. “And then you have a little setback when your No. 1 player and star quarterback (gets hurt). I got a text that night from one of the coaches that Chase just tweaked his knee. I talked to him later that night and heard it wasn’t really good so I knew what we were in for.”
For the first half of this calendar year, Cord was very limited. However, he acquired a different perspective on the game while watching things.
Also, Cord worked with his successor, sophomore Keegan Freid, through a successful passing league month.
“When I hurt my knee it was scary. I’ve never had an injury like that before. I feel like it’s taught me a lot over the past six or seven months, as a person, a player and a leader,” he said.
Coach Decker said the work Cord put in while recovering from his injury speaks volumes about his leadership.
“Chase’s senior group is probably one of our best leadership groups that we’ve had in a long time,” Coach Decker said. “The kids below them see how things are run.”
Cord called his recovery time a blessing in disguise. He said Boise State wasn’t worried as the Broncos’ coaches had seen many recruits bounce back from this injury and surgery in recent years.
Now, secure in his college destination and cleared to play, Cord can focus even more on the team and the Sunrise Mountain program. He can add one more chapter to his legacy.
“This year I really want to focus on getting the team involved and to make sure I’m passing the ball around and putting other people before myself,” Cord said. “My biggest goal this year is to lead the team as best I can.”