“Our coach always has a lesson for us,” senior linebacker James Offerman said of Sabino head coach Jay Campos, and isn’t that just about the best thing you can say about a coach?
If this is indeed Campos’ last go-round — a move up to assistant principal might pull his attention from football — he’s made the most of his last year.
The 10-1 Sabino Sabercats enter Saturday’s matchup with visiting Winslow on an eight-game winning streak and after outscoring opponents 192-27 over the last month. They’d be wise to remember a hard lesson Campos learned four years ago.
Like they could forget.
Offerman puts it bluntly: “We have meetings and we always say to each other, ‘Don’t be 2012.’”
The lesson looms large.
The Sabercats were 10-0 that year, one of the top two programs in the state at their level. They outscored their opponents by nearly a 10-1 margin. And then they played No. 14 seed Nogales in the first round of the Division III state playoffs and lost 36-34, the biggest upset in Southern Arizona in 20 years.
“He always says, ‘Remember 2012’” said Offerman, a senior linebacker. “And most of us do because we’ve been watching Sabino since middle school — and they were the No. 3 team, Div. I guys all over the place, went out to play Nogales and they didn’t take it seriously and they dropped it. Season over. We took that as a lesson.
“When we have team meetings, we say, ‘Don’t be a lesson for future teams.’”
That doesn’t sound like a player taking things lightly.
Not after a couple early wake-up calls.
See, Campos doesn’t always have to dip four years into the past to remind his Sabercats of their disappointment.
He points to Week 1, a 41-35 win over Sahuaro in which, Campos says, “We played terrible, to be honest with you. I was shocked, surprised, upset and concerned.” A defense that was supposed to be loaded, packed with veterans from last year’s 8-2 team, had laid an egg. Luckily for Campos and the Sabercats, the offense made up for it, but there were some … uh, call them discussions … in the next day’s film session.
“We closed the doors and really didn’t hold anything back,” Campos said. “If a kid isn’t getting the job done, we talk to them, and sometimes it gets a little heated. We called out the defense. We looked slow, took poor angles. That Saturday, 8 a.m., there were some hurt feelings coming out of that room.”
Two weeks later in a 10-7 loss at Mission Hills of San Marcos, California, the defense did its job, but the offense faltered.
Campos made it clear: Sabino has to show up, and it has to show up every day.
“We held those guys to 10 and really should’ve won the game, and that was kind of the turning point,” Campos said. “We went up against a team that was out of our league and went toe-to-toe with them.”
Since then, they haven’t gone toe-to-toe, they’ve gone anvil-to-toe, as in they are dropping them all over their opponents.
Since then, a scoring margin of 408-54.
Yeah, point turned.
“We fought tooth-and-nail, and in the end, when it comes out as an L, it doesn’t make you feel very good,” Offerman said. “It makes you want to hit that maximum level, on the field, in the weight room. It motivates you.”
With – they hope – three games to go, the Sabercats are tapping into a different motivation.
“It’s a little different, because there is the finality of it all,” Campos said. “To say we approach every game the same would not be truthful. Now there are no guarantees that we have a practice left, that we have a chance to play as a team again. Those are the messages we preach. I told the boys last week in our walk-through before we played Safford, at the end of the night, there are going to be a bunch of seniors crying. They remember when we lost to Cesar Chavez last year and it wasn’t a big group of seniors, and for most of them, it was the last time they ever played football.
“That was only 12 months ago.”
Now that’s a lesson that sinks in.
“When I hear that in my head, the thought of ending the sport I play, it’s like a looming shadow,” Offerman said. “Not only do I play for my teammates, for my family, to win a championship, but honestly I’m playing hard so I can delay the inevitable.”