Tucson High School’s football team felt good heading into the first round of last year’s playoffs. The Badgers had finished the regular season with an overtime win over Sunnyside and liked their chances as they traveled to Avondale Westview for the first round.
Then the wheels fell off. Star running back Deandre Williams was held to 34 rushing yards in the first half before leaving with an injury and the Badgers were dismantled, losing 49-12.
Now it’s August. New season, new optimism. Tucson will host Sierra Vista Buena on Friday at 7 p.m., and the kickoff can’t come soon enough.
“Ever since our last game last year in the playoffs, we’ve been ready to get after it,” Tucson coach Justin Argraves said. “The kids have done a tremendous job in the offseason. It’s gone quick, it’s gone fast, but I think everyone is really excited to take the field Friday night.”
The Badgers will be without Williams but should be OK anyway. The Badgers return quarterback Jorge Flores and middle linebacker Bryan Lopez. Beyond that, running back Jeff Lockwood is set to take on a larger load after rushing for 563 yards and five touchdowns as a sophomore in relief of Williams.
Last season, Flores showed off his dual-threat abilities, amassing 2,062 passing yards and 27 total touchdowns, while Lopez led the way for the defense with 127 tackles and four sacks.
Having the returning starters is “like having an additional coach on the field,” Argraves said.
“When we’re on offense, or on defense, they know our expectations, they know our offense and defense inside and out,” he said. “So we’re able to do a few more things we normally wouldn’t be able to do. They lead by example and everybody follows suit.”
Sahuaro-Sabino game Thursday is first in Tucson
Jay Campos has been coaching at Sabino for 15 years, but he’s never had this before.
Sabino and Sahuaro will kick off the high school football season Thursday night as part of the Coaches for Charity High School Football Kickoff Classic.
The game, at Sabino, is one of two statewide to be played on the first night of the season, and the only one in Tucson.
“This is a great experience to be the first game in the state of Arizona,” Campos said.
“It’s going to be our game. It’s a great opportunity for our school and our school district to have an opportunity where everyone in the whole state has their eyes on us.”
All eyes will be on Sabino’s do-everything athlete, Drew Dixon, who expected to transition from quarterback to receiver — along with occasional time at running back and quarterback — for his senior season. Dixon is committed to play at Arizona in 2017.
“We want to set the tone for our division and Tucson and let people know that we’re still legit,” Dixon said.
Sahuaro, which Campos called a “very good” team, had a disappointing 2015 campaign with a 5-6 record, the school’s worst mark since it went 4-6 in 2010. Sahuaro lost its three leading rushers, along with quarterback Stephen Miller, but return some talent on defense in linebacker Tyler Wood and defensive back Matthew Paquette.
Pueblo hopes to show
it is ‘here to stay’
When Brandon Sanders was hired as Pueblo’s football coach in in 2014, the Warriors were a combined 15-36 over the previous five years.
Sanders led the team to a 7-3 mark in 2014 and a 7-4 record and state playoff berth a year ago.
The former Arizona Wildcats standout will now try to prove that 2015 was no fluke. Pueblo opens against Rincon/University on Friday at 7 p.m.
Sanders said the Warriors’ strengths lie in rushing the football on offense and wreaking havoc on defense.
The not-so-good: Pueblo lost its quarterback (Justin Martin), leading rusher (Jorge Romero) and receiver (Frankie Gomez), and leading tackler on defense (Elliott Perez-Guillen) from last season. Gomez also led the team with nine interceptions.
“When we get a chance to be displayed in an opening game such as this, one we want to make sure we make a great impression but also to let people know that we’re here to stay,” Sanders said. “It’s not just a phenomenon, it’s not all on me. I can’t go out there and play, everything I’ve done at the U of A is in the past some 20-odd years ago. Our guys want to make a name for themselves and make a name for our school.”