By this time two years ago, David Watson said, Amphi’s senior class had already given up. Players stopped trying, and it got ugly. The Panthers finished 0-11 in 2015, losing by nearly four touchdowns per game.
Things flipped in 2016, and Amphi went 8-3 record and made the playoffs.
This season has been a mix of the two. The Panthers lost their first six games, five coming by a wide margin. But they won their first game of the season a week ago, and players say the best may be yet to come.
That’s because, remarkably, Amphi can still make the playoffs. The team must finish the regular season 3-0, starting with a win over Palo Verde on Friday night.
“It seemed like a JV team to start the season,” Amphi coach Jorge Mendivil said. “Now they’re emerging and holding their own.”
Watson, a three-star recruit who has verbally committed to the UA, never expected things to start so poorly. The hulking lineman was born to compete, the son of a former Arizona softball star and a onetime Wildcats offensive lineman. He said the first month of the season was “really tough” to endure.
“Looking up and — being an offensive-minded person — seeing that zero up on the board, it was pretty devastating,” he said. “I felt devastated about it, but I think the hardest part was trying not to show that to my teammates.”
So Watson has soldiered on, even if he’s had to explain the plays to some of his former linemen during the game. He moved to center two weeks ago, even though he’s never played the position before.
Watson’s work ethic has stayed the same during the bad times, Mendivil said. He’s been Amphi’s best player on offense and defense, and even contributed on some of the Panthers two-point conversion plays, completing two passes.
“He’s been frustrated at times because he was used to last year and we thought we had the ball rolling the right way,” Mendivil said. “But to his credit, he shows up every day and busts his butt. He maintains that leadership role. He’s a coach on the field.”
Amphi has shown signs of life the last two weeks, thanks in part to some much-needed health and consistency on the offensive line and a pair of 100-yard rushing performances from Malik Hughes.
The Panthers had their best practices of the season. They fell to Sahuarita 15-8, then beat Douglas 24-13. The win was Amphi’s first since last Oct. 28.
“It’s starting to click with them a little bit more,” Mendivil said.
The struggles may, in a way, help Watson’s chances of playing at the UA. Arizona offensive line coach Jim Michalczik told Watson that the positional versatility — Watson has now played all five offensive line spots — bodes well for his college future.
“It’s made me more diverse and being diverse on the offensive line is always a good thing,” Watson said. “I’ve now played every position and I’ve done pretty well at every position. Going into college not knowing exactly where I’m going to play, I think it gives me a huge advantage because I’m kind of familiar with every spot now.”
First, Watson wants to make the playoffs one last time.
“If we win these next three games, we’re playing for a playoff spot still,” Watson said. “However that seems, it’s real.”