The wall inside Marana’s locker room used to be blank.
It’s started to add some color recently. Blue and gold, specifically.
This is part of a brand new tradition, which is part of Marana’s new tradition — winning.
The Tigers paint a brick on the wall every time they win a big game. The brick includes the final score and the date.
“We call it our wall of victory,” coach Andy Litten said.
The first brick was painted last year after a win over Tempe.
The second brick was painted one week later, after an upset against the Rhett Rodriguez-led Catalina Foothills.
The team has already added four bricks this season in a 4-2 start. None was bigger than two from last month.
“Beat Sahuaro 34-10. Sept. 9, 2016”
“Beat Canyon del Oro 44-20. Sept. 23, 2016”
“I mean, after those type of wins, everyone on our team, our staff, our program, we just feel like we’re on Cloud Nine,” senior quarterback Connor Leavens said. “It gives us more motivation and drive to keep going.”
Added senior linebacker Manuel Miranda: “It was really special because coming into the (CDO) game, no Marana team had ever beaten CDO, and to be the first is just … I describe it as a dream.”
On Friday, Marana looks to continue its run this season in a 7 p.m. home game with Cholla.
Here are three reasons why the Tigers are on the right track.
1. They’re buying in. When Litten was hired in 2012, the Tigers were coming off a winless 2011 season with a 14-game losing streak overall dating to 2010. That first year, Marana lost five more in a row.
The Tigers struggled again in 2014, going 3-7. Marana went 6-4 last year and narrowly missed the state playoffs.
This year, with wins against traditional powers like CDO and Sahuaro, they are in the mix again.
“Our kids have really embraced what we do. Kids are buying into the program,” Litten said. “It’s pretty special to see. You do a lot of reflecting when you start somewhere and then you start to see progress. We’re not exactly where we want to go yet, we obviously want to be region champions and make the playoffs. But it’s pretty exciting to see progress.”
2. These Tigers have attitude. Not much has been expected of Marana in a long time. That’s a fact not lost on Litten’s players, particularly Leavens. The senior is splitting time with sophomore Trenton Bourguet.
“Even some people that follow us and support us, they don’t expect us to do the kind of things that we’ve been doing,” Leavens said. “It’s made it even more special to us that we get to be a part of something even bigger than just playing football on Friday nights.”
Teams like Tempe, Catalina Foothills, Canyon del Oro and Sahuaro may have a better reputation. But Marana has beaten all of them; the wins over Tempe, CDO and Sahuaro came by more than 20 points.
“We are the underdogs of Tucson,” running back Diego Miranda said. “Our team, what motivates us, is we want to become champions. We want to change the culture, and we want to prove something to Tucson .”
3. They have the players. Litten had high praise for Leavens, crediting him with helping develop the team’s no-huddle offense.
Marana will still be in good shape even after he leaves. Same for Miranda, who leads the team with seven rushing touchdowns and 65 tackles.
Marana’s best talent is dispersed primarily between its senior and sophomore classes, the latter led by Bourguet, who has passed for 1,016 yards this season.
Wide receiver Tariq Jordan (475 receiving yards), linebacker T.J. Cephers (54 tackles) and Diego Miranda (452 receiving yards) are all sophomores.
Marana’s future is bright. So, now, is the Tigers locker room.
“It’ll be a recurring thing the next few years, I think,” Leavens said. “That’s what’s going to happen for Marana.”