In November, then-Pima football coach Pat Nugent sat at his desk and scrolled through his contacts, searching for Darius Kelly’s phone number.
Kelly, a former Aztec defensive back, was playing more than 2,000 miles away at Syracuse.
“He had eight tackles last week,” Nugent said, joyfully.
Then, he brought up Maurice Chavis, a UTEP defensive lineman who played at Pima in 2012 along with Kelly.
Nugent sat back in his chair, smiled, and recalled how a couple weeks before, Chavis texted him, bragging about how he got to face Johnny Manziel at Texas A&M that Saturday night.
‘Johnny Football’ had six touchdowns in a 57-7 blowout, and Chavis didn’t record a tackle, but that didn’t matter to Nugent.
That was one of the few things, at least toward the end of his tenure as Pima’s coach, that made him feel good, and satisfied, about his job — sending his players to the next level.
“That is a bright spot,” he said, “and our goal right now.”
He did it well, too, despite the local view of Pima as that “other” school that lost most of its games, and sent no one to the next level.
“When I was in high school, my impression, from stories I’d heard was that it wasn’t the best place to go,” said Kelly, a Sierra Vista Buena product. “That they don’t get people out.”
Well, now they do.
A couple weeks later, Nugent resigned and one of his assistant coaches — Jim Monaco — was tapped as his replacement. Now, Monaco is the one tasked with finding capable recruits in high school, and in turn sending them to a Division I, Division II, or really any four-year program.
“Every one of them, when I talk to kids, I don’t recruit a young man and tell him we don’t think you’re good enough to play,” Monaco said. “When I recruit a guy, it’s because I think he can play here.”
Monaco has added 48 new players, including 21 from Southern Arizona.
“It’s a big deal,” Monaco said of adding local recruits. “It shows they have trust again in the program because nobody wants to just play ball and lose, you want an opportunity to win, and by keeping our better athletes at home that increases our chances to win.”
Now, Monaco is tasked with doing what Nugent did — sending kids on to greener pastures.
And last year’s team did send a few, all who can certainly attest to the merits of playing for Pima.
Here’s the list:
- Emanuel Simpson
- , tight end, to New Mexico (FBS)
- Austin Andrade
- (Amphitheater), offensive lineman, to Adams State (D-II)
- Quincy Davison
- , defensive lineman, to Adams State (D-II)
- Seth Ellis
- , running back/defensive back, to Lamar University (FCS)
- Mikell Everette
- , defensive back, to Lamar (FCS)
- Cassius Pierce
- , wide receiver, to Whittier College (D-II)
- Ironwood Ridge’s
- Tyler D’Amore
- (quarterback) and
- Mitch Fischer
- (defensive back), plus Santa Rita’s
- Denzel Jones
- (receiver), have some Division II and FCS offers but have yet to sign with any school.
- Distance runner
- Nikki Regalado
- has signed a letter of intent to run at UNLV, and jumper
- Eddie Wilcox
- signed with North Texas.
- The men’s basketball team lost its third and fourth straight games last week, falling to Tohono O’odham and Cochise College. The Aztecs are 13-15 overall.
- The women’s basketball team extended its winning streak to six with victories over Tohono O’odham and Cochise by a combined 50 points.
- Raja Moreno-Ross
- (Tucson High) led the team with 16.0 points per game. The Aztecs are 17-11.
- The softball team went 3-1 in four games against Glendale CC and Mesa CC. First baseman
- Taylor Fabing
- led the way with a .615 average in 13 at-bats, with five RBIs, three runs and four doubles.
- The baseball team extended its winning streak to seven with four victories against the UA club team and Arizona Western.
- Pima soccer alum
- Minh Vu
- (Rincon/University) signed with the USL’s Rochester Rhinos on Thursday. His first game will be on April 5. Vu was a NJCAA first-team All-American in 2010.