SAN TAN VALLEY — Any coach wants their seniors to go out on a high note. Unfortunately around the country, and especially at Combs High School, nothing this year has gone quite how people wanted. But at the end of a season where multiple games had to be canceled and a playoff game was just out of reach, there was still time for Joey Jensen’s moment.
His football coach, Travis Miller, wanted to make his start senior running back’s final game in a Coyotes uniform one to remember. Miller told his offensive coordinator to come up with a gameplan where Jensen would run the ball early and often, with the idea of getting him 300 yards rushing in a game.
“We knew we weren’t going to make the playoffs this year, which was unfortunate,” Miller said. “So going into that last game, we knew we wanted to showcase Joey.”
The word spread around the team and became something of a motivational push for everyone — get Jensen his 300 yards.
Well, against Phoenix Arcadia on Friday in the season finale, Jensen did get his 300 yards. Only, he didn’t stop there. It became clear as the game went on that Arcadia wasn’t able to stop him, and that somehow 400 yards was a possible feat.
With longtime rival roach Vance Miller, who left Apache Junction after last season, on the Arcadia sidelines, Combs didn’t want to run up the score, already 41-12. Jensen agreed, but he wanted those 400 yards. So on his final play of the game, he ran the ball up the middle and broke free of the entire defense, with nobody between him and his fifth touchdown of the night. Still, he slid when he got to the 20, his goal reached but his sportsmanship intact.
Jensen finished his final high school football game with 408 yards rushing on 28 carries, breaking the school’s single game record of 327 yards, also by Jensen. Such a stat line caught the attention of the Arizona Cardinals, who named him the state’s high school player of the week during a Zoom ceremony on Wednesday.
Along with Cardinals staffers and cheerleaders, former starting quarterback Drew Stanton was on hand to present Jensen with the award.
“I know when I was playing, especially in high school, how much I loved being under the lights and all that,” Stanton told Jensen. “There were just those certain nights that you kind of felt like was all coming together. I never came close to rushing for 408 yards, but when did you know it was going to be one of those special nights?”
Jensen’s answer to that question was easy, and perhaps surprising to the Cardinals representatives.
“I guess I knew during the school day, because I knew what the gameplan was,” Jensen said. “Coach said to just be ready to run the ball.”
His performance also caught the eyes of the Grand Canyon State Gridiron Club, which included Jensen as one of 14 players to receive an Ed Doherty Award Nomination Medallion during Week 8, which puts him in contention for the most prestigious high school football award in Arizona, to be announced Jan. 9.
“We had some ups and downs. It was a strange year, I’m not gonna lie,” Jensen said. “But overall, I enjoyed the brotherhood and the coaching that helped throughout the past few years.”
Miller commended the hard work and talent Jensen displayed every week during his three years on the varsity squad. Jensen had a total of 2,285 rushing yards in 16 games the past two years, with 27 touchdowns. He also had 823 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns during that time.
For a young program like Combs, which has only been around 11 years, getting somebody with that ability is no guarantee, and Miller said the example Jensen has set is an inspiration for the younger players looking to do great things. He said Jensen should be making a decision on where he wants to play college ball soon, having interest from several Division III schools.
“He’s extremely valuable. The leadership, how hard he’s worked in the locker room,” Miller said. “Being out in San Tan Valley in 4A, we maybe don’t get as much publicity and recognition, but Joey is definitely capable of playing at the next level. When you have somebody at that level, that’s big for a program like ours.”