One by one, as if he was checking off the names as he went, Jay Campos chopped down the biggest names in Tucson prep football history.
Vern Friedli? Check.
Jeff Scurran? Got it done.
Richard Sanchez? Another big one.
Ten men have won 100 football games as a Tucson high school coach, and Campos beat most of them before he turned 30.
Todd Mayfield. Check.
Nemer Hassey. Done.
Campos didn’t have to worry about coaching against Hall of Famer Howard Breinig, 118 victories, because he was smart enough to put Breinig on Sabino’s coaching staff.
Now, as if overnight, Campos is 38 and he has coached the Sabercats to 99 victories and three berths in the state championship game.
“It seems like a blur,” he says.
The young man who took over Sabino’s tradition-blessed powerhouse 11 years ago is now a husband, a father and one of the big names in Arizona prep football. How big?
If Sabino beats the Flagstaff High School Eagles tonight, Campos will be the youngest man ever to coach 100 victories in this town. He’s ahead of the pace set by Dennis Bene, Ollie Mayfield, Wayne Jones and Pat Nugent.
But the biggest name on that list of coaches will be on the opposing sideline tonight. Flagstaff is coached by Eddie Campos, Jay’s father.
In a game with such potential significance, it is the scheduling quirk of a lifetime. Father vs. son.
“I want to win this game more than any other because I have so much respect for my dad,” the Sabino coach says. “It’s not about winning the 100th game or anything like that. It’s that if you can beat my dad’s team, you’ve done it against the best.”
Eddie Campos is anything but a willing victim, another on his son’s growing list of football victories. As the head coach at Flagstaff and the old Flagstaff Sinagua High School, he has won, he estimates, 65 games.
The Eagles were 0-10 in 2010, the first year he took over the team. They were 8-2 last year.
“The phone has been off this week,” Eddie Campos says. “We haven’t talked. We’re both pretty intense about it.
“At first, I told him, ‘No, we shouldn’t schedule this game.’ We were initially scheduled to play (Glendale) Cactus, but that fell through and Jay had an opening so, well, here we are.”
Eddie and Jay Campos are so close that no 48-minute football game will come between them. After Eddie, a teacher and custom home builder, resigned his coaching job at Flagstaff Sinagua, he commuted to Tucson for seven football seasons. He walked the Sabino sidelines each weekend, a coach-on-call for his 20-something son.
Their partnership went so well that the Sabercats’ worst record under Campos is 10-4, if you can call that “worst.”
“He was the ultimate armchair quarterback,” Jay says, laughing. “I knew he’d get back into coaching someday. I’m so happy he did. We’ll be together again, coaching together, at some point.”
Tonight’s game is actually Chapter II in the Campos family football book. On Sept. 19, 2003, in Jay’s third game as Sabino’s head coach, he played against his father’s Sinagua team in Flagstaff.
Sabino won 28-13. It was Jay’s second victory ever. It happened so early in his career, that he didn’t pause to appreciate the moment.
“I was so nervous I could barely call a play; my goal that first year was not to get fired,” Jay Campos says. “It was a little awkward playing against my dad’s team, and it’s not much different now.”
In the middle of this family showdown is Darlene Campos, Eddie’s wife and Jay’s mother. When they played 10 years ago, she alternated between the Sabino and Sinagua cheering sections.
Tonight at the Walkup Skydome, she will be sitting on Sabino’s turf.
“There’s no flipping the coin,” Eddie says. “There’s no one-half here, one-half there. She’s always been loyal to Jay, and I understand that. In a way, she can’t lose.”
Jay Campos is no longer the “so nervous I could barely call a play” coach he was 10 years ago. And Eddie Campos, who grew up in Clifton, watching Friedli coach at nearby Morenci, on his way to 331 career victories, doesn’t have to beat his son’s team to establish a winning identity.
The son says: “We haven’t talked much lately. We’ll get his best shot, and he’ll get ours, and after the game it’ll all be good.”
The father says: “At any age, winning 100 games is a significant marker. But at Jay’s age it’s a benchmark. Hey, the worst thing that could happen is that maybe he’ll have to wait a week.”