Across a 19-day period, Salpointe Catholic played four football games, traveling by bus to Las Vegas, by air to Los Angeles, and playing host to two of Tucson’s most traditional football powers, Sabino and Sunnyside.
The Lancers won ‘em all, 4-0, outscoring four “name’’ schools 190-21 in what is likely the most impressive start to a football season in Tucson history. As far as I can research, only two Tucson coaches, Amphi’s Vern Friedli and Sabino’s Jeff Scurran, ever attempted such a bold opening gauntlet.
Rather than take a day off, kick back and absorb the Lancers’ work, coach Dennis Bene drove to Tempe on Friday to scout his team’s next opponent, Marcos de Niza. Bene was back in his office early Saturday morning.
Few would’ve suspected that Game 5 on Salpointe’s remarkable schedule might be the most difficult yet. But Marcos de Niza, 3-0, averages 63 points a game and has, like Salpointe, the look of a potential state champion.
“Our schedule has been brutal,’’ said Bene, who is in his 13th season at Salpointe. “I don’t think anybody expected us to be 4-0. But I had been telling people that we’re better than we were last year; they didn’t seem to believe me.’’
Salpointe was 12-2 a year ago, part of a 54-9 run in Bene’s last five-plus seasons.
“This bye couldn’t have come at a better time; I could sense we didn’t have our legs against Sunnyside. It has been exhausting,’’ said Bene. “Now our kids have time to concentrate on academics while we tweak a few things as coaches.’’
Numerically, Salpointe is in rhythm. It has scored 46, 47, 48 and 49 points in its victories. It has a reputation as a feared offensive team.
But more impressive has been the Lancers defense. Brandt Davison, Austin Weaver, Taylor Powell, Jake Casteel, Kaelin Deboskie, Jay Williams and Justin Holt, among others, have limited four opponents to an average of 5.2 points a game.
Bene has assembled a capable and veteran defensive staff; it is intriguing how diverse and effective it has been.
Defensive coordinator Joe Bernier graduated from Salpointe in 1989 and has been part of the coaching staff ever since. He is a teacher/administrator in the TUSD. Defensive ends coach Dan Higgins, also a Salpointe grad, once coached at Marcos de Niza; he is in the fire safety business. The Lancers’ coaching tree also includes Rocco Bene, Dennis’ younger brother, who coaches special teams and linebackers. He operates an asphalt/paving business.
Defensive line coach Mark Neal, a UA grad and football letterman from 1971-73, works at IBM. Defensive assistant Dr. Robert Mutterperl, who is from Chicago, runs a medical practice in Tucson.
“All of my assistants started at a lower level, on the freshman team or junior varsity, and worked their way up,’’ said Bene. “It’s a family. I trust all of them. We all work some place else, and then drive to campus for practice every afternoon. It doesn’t work for everybody, but it works for us.’’
Stay tuned. Even after a spotless start, the best at Salpointe may be yet to come.
Mater Dei coach gushes over UA recruit Johnson
Mater Dei High School basketball coach Gary McKnight last week told the Star’s Bruce Pascoe that 6-8 senior wing Stanley Johnson is the best player he’s coached in 31 seasons at the Orange County, Calif., school. Wow. That is a recommendation like few others in college basketball. Johnson, who is on an unofficial visit to Arizona this weekend, and generally ranked as one of the top three high school players in the Class of 2014, is from a school that produced Top-25-type recruits Tom Lewis, LeRon Ellis, Miles Simon, Reggie Geary, Jamal Sampson, Cedric Bozeman and Travis Wear, to name a few. I would submit that McKnight’s most coveted player until now, on paper, was Schea Cotton, ranked No. 1 nationally while at Mater Dei. How’d he do? He failed to qualify at UCLA, played at Long Beach City College and was an average player at Alabama. He did not play in the NBA. Remember Josiah Turner and Fendi Onobun? You never know. … UA basketball coach Sean Miller will spend the final weekend before training camp opens Sept. 27 to participate in a charity coaches’ clinic this week at Farleigh Dickenson University in New Jersey. The clinic supports an effort to fund research into children’s seizures. Miller will join Marquette’s Buzz Williams, Pitt’s Jamie Dixon, among others. … Point guard Lester Medford was a dazzling player at Amphitheater High School, leading the Panthers to the 2010 state championship, 29-2. He became an all-ACCAC player at Arizona Western College in Yuma, then transferred to Pima College last year. But he didn’t qualify and left PCC for Indian Hills Community College in Iowa. Medford is taking a recruiting visit to Iowa State this week. … Oro Valley’s Robert Seby, who is the leading boys tennis prospect in Southern Arizona since former Wimbledon doubles champion Jim Grabb 30 years ago, qualified for the U.S. Open national playoffs late last month. Seby, who had just gone 8-0 to win the USTA Boys 18 singles regionals, was matched against a pro, Damon Gooch, in the play-in event, and lost 6-2, 6-2. Seby is only 16, playing against those two years older, or more. He was the youngest player in the men’s U.S. Open draw. He will not play high school tennis.
Bruschi will be honored in Tucson next month
To celebrate his selection to the College Football Hall of Fame, Tedy Bruschi will return to Tucson Oct. 18-19. A reception and luncheon will be held at the Doubletree hotel on Oct. 18 from 11 a.m., to 1:30 p.m. Bruschi, who is now employed as an ESPN football analyst, will be honored a day later before and during the UA-Utah football game at Arizona Stadium. The Southern Arizona Chapter of the College Football Hall of Fame is coordinating the Friday luncheon. Information: firstname.lastname@example.org. Bruschi will formally be inducted into the Hall of Fame next July. …Arizona’s All-Pac-12 shortstop Kevin Newman, who led the Cape Cod League with a .375 batting average this summer, is ranked as the No. 21 overall prospect from that summer league. But Baseball America’s analysis says that Newman “lacks standout tools …has an average arm and range and doesn’t stick out.’’ That’s odd; all Newman does is hit (he batted .336 as an Arizona freshman) and make plays. … Santa Rita grad Anthony Sanders completed his first season as a minor-league manager by taking the Grand Junction Rockies to the Pioneer League playoffs. Sanders, an all-city quarterback who became an outfielder for the Toronto Blue Jays and member of the USA’s 2000 Sydney Olympics gold medal baseball team, led the Pioneer League team to the first-half division title. They were eliminated in the playoffs Wednesday by Idaho Falls. … Sunnyside High grad Jovan Stevenson, an all-city running back who gained 229 yards at Oregon State in 2011, plays mostly on special teams at Oregon State this season. The fifth-year senior was suspended for the first half of OSU’s game at Utah on Saturday for a late-hit on a punt return last week against Hawaii. … Rincon/University grad Mark Morris scored his first college soccer goal last week, in a UMass loss to Vermont. A sophomore, Morris has started 12 games at UMass and is majoring in mechanical engineering. … Grand Canyon basketball coach Dan Majerle made a recruiting visit to Tucson on Friday, evaluating Cienega High junior Terrence Johnson, who has received strong recruiting interest from, among others, San Francisco, Weber State, Portland and Northern Colorado. …
Marana's Cervi pushing to earn fourth world title
Bidding for her fourth world championship, Marana’s Sherry Cervi won another rodeo last week, earning $7,400 at the Justin Boots Playoffs in Puyallup, Wash., and then, a day later, earned $1,614 for at third place barrel racing performance at the Lewiston Roundup in Lewiston, Idaho. Cervi now has $146,096 in the WPRA, about $17,000 more than the No. 2 barrel racer. … Salpointe and UA grad Jonathan Khan advanced to the PGA Tour Qualifying School on Friday at the PGA West facility in La Quinta, Calif. Khan shot rounds of 74-71-71 in pre-qualifying, 17th of 75 golfers, and will be eligible for the PGA Tour’s first-stage playoffs next month. … Paradise Valley Community College softball coach Nick Candrea is the brother of Arizona coach Mike Candrea. They have begun a recruiting pipeline. Last spring, PVCC first-team All-American pitcher/infielder Erika Tapia, a Douglas High School grad, led the ACCAC with a .542 batting average. She left PVCC with one year of eligibility remaining and is now part of Arizona’s roster, which begins a nine-game fall schedule in early October. Candrea has 11 new players, and 24 overall, which is about 10 more than he usually carries during the regular season. The highlight of the UA’s fall schedule: an Oct. 13 game against powerful Pima College, 5:30 p.m., at Hillenbrand Stadium. … Salpointe and UA grad Dennis Palmer, a club pro who helped to transform the Tubac Golf Resort into one of Southern Arizona’s golfing jewels, has played golf for 43 years. He has had two holes-in-one, including one playing right-handed and another left-handed. But he hit the shot of his life last week at Randolph North. He registered a rare double-eagle at the par-5, No. 9 hole, as his shot with a utility-club from 204 yards rolled into the cup. Anybody else ever see a double-eagle in Tucson? Pretty rare. …
My two cents
More than 150 golfers filled the tee sheet Saturday to celebrate the life and career of Tucson golfer Bobby Gaona, a former PGA Champions tour player, City Amateur and Tucson High state champion.
Included in the day’s activities at El Rio Golf Course, Gaona’s home turf, was Ed Updegraff, 90 years young, the ranking amateur golfer in Tucson and possibly Arizona history. Dozens of club pros, teaching pros and people from Tucson’s golf community also participated to help their old friend.
Gaona, 75, is afflicted by lung cancer and struggling financially.
The Tucson Conquistadores and the First Tee program, per their contract with Tucson City Golf, are awarded four days a year to have unrestricted use of El Rio with no charge. They used one of those days Saturday, helping a friend; it says a lot about their mission in Southern Arizona.