Matt Johnson stood at the 50-yard line at Sun Devil Stadium, holding the Division II state championship trophy like he would a newborn child - cradled in between his left arm and stomach.
The Ironwood Ridge coach, who lifted the Nighthawks to their first state championship Saturday with a 27-3 win over Peoria Centennial, couldn't stop thinking about his seniors.
He would have liked to pick all of them up as well.
The 17-man senior class will go down as the best in history at Ironwood Ridge. More than five of them have been on the team since they were sophomores, winning 32 games in three seasons.
The players who were only on the varsity team for two years, won 23 games, including Saturday's state championship, and also advanced to the 2011 semifinals.
Most of them have known each other since elementary school and have played football together for longer than just high school.
In June, the 17 seniors set one goal and it was a state championship. Nothing else would be a success.
"I knew in camp we had a team that would really be able to play for a championship," senior quarterback Tyler Williams said. "I've been with these guys for so long. I know what they can do.
"I knew what we can accomplish together, and I knew we could be great."
If this senior class has a headliner, it's Williams.
He leaves the Nighthawks going 23-4 as the starting quarterback the past two seasons. In his career at Ironwood Ridge, he produced 57 total touchdowns (29 rushing, 27 passing and one receiving) and leaves with 2,293 rushing yards and 2,188 passing yards.
Johnson's favorite qualities of Williams aren't related to his on-field performances.
"I love Tyler Williams like a child and it has nothing to do with football," Johnson said. "Thirty years from now, he's going to be changing people's lives and I'm not talking about anything related to football.
"He's on such a different level as far as who he is as a person, as a human being, as a leader."
The team relied on several other seniors this season and they all came through Saturday.
• Running back Anthony Braunreiter rushed for 80 yards and two touchdowns.
• Receiver and defensive back John Klass had 42 receiving yards, a touchdown and 10 tackles on defense.
• Wide receiver and linebacker Jake Matthews had six tackles (two for losses) and tipped a pass that resulted in an interception return for a touchdown.
• Linebacker Scott Simmons was the man who returned that pick for a score and also had six tackles, one sack, one fumble recovery and 23 receiving yards.
• Robert Coleman, a two-way starter on the line, had six tackles, a sack and 2 1/2 tackles-for-loss.
• Eddie Gonzalez, Cris Thorson, Gordon Longville, Devon Olivarez, Julian Figueroa and Cole Kuglitsch all had multiple tackles in the win.
"We've been playing football together since we were playing for the Dolphins in third grade," Simmons said. "Then, it was middle school ball, freshman ball and a lot of us have been on varsity for three years.
"With the type of bond we had, we knew we could make adjustments and trust each other."