On Tucson’s west side, in view of Tumamoc Hill and “A” Mountain, a high school football team is flying under the radar. The team boasts the best dual-threat quarterback this side of Jamarye Joiner and the state’s most prolific receiving corps.
Cholla High School — yes, Cholla — is a force to be reckoned with. The Chargers enter Thursday’s game against Desert View with a 3-3 record, two more than it finished with in 2016. They fell to Sahuaro in a nail-biter last week.
Cholla is hardly a traditional power. The team has just two winning seasons in the last 10 years. During that same span, they won either zero, one or two games six times.
“I think a lot of people come in here, and there hasn’t been success,” coach Ryan Scherling said. “So I’m just trying to create that within the program.”
Jordan Porter, Cholla’s star quarterback, said he receives text messages from opposing players before games that aren’t exactly complimentary.
“They say that they’re gonna beat us by 40,” Porter said. “Then we come out that night and show them what we’re made of, the talent we have and how much we’ve improved, and then they have nothing but good things to say to us.”
So what’s changed for Cholla?
Here are three reasons why teams can’t look past the Chargers anymore:
1. They deploy the most productive quarterback in the state.
Porter tallied 1,388 combined passing and rushing yards in eight games as a junior, scoring 16 touchdowns.
In six games this year, Porter is No. 1 in the state and No. 9 nationally with 1,841 passing yards. Porter has also rushed for 1,033 yards and owns 34 touchdowns — one of them coming on a 95-yard kickoff return in last week’s loss to Sahuaro.
“Obviously, with a guy coming in as athletic as he is,” Scherling said, “a play is never dead.”
Added receiver Devin Stubblefield: “With (Porter), you never know what you’re gonna get. You have to be ready for everything. It makes you better as a player.”
The 5-foot-10-inch, 178-pound Porter has received interest from Northern Arizona. Pima College has offered him a roster spot for next season.
2. They might have the best receiving corps in Southern Arizona.
It’s not all Porter.
Seniors A.J. Blair and Stubblefield have made a habit out of turning short plays into long touchdowns.
“It’s being here two years, having more experience and knowing the offense,” Blair said.
Blair leads the state in receiving yards (907) and touchdowns (11) while Stubblefield is third in yards (664) with five touchdowns of his own.
“They catch the ball well, they know how to get open, they know how to find a zone, they know when to sit, they can take a short route and turn it into a 40-yard reception, and that’s a nice thing,” Scherling said. “They have that elusiveness to make a guy miss. Very rarely will they catch a ball and the first guy brings them down which, as a receiver, that’s hard to find.”
3. Scherling has a proven track record.
Although Scherling’s tenure at Sierra Vista Buena ended back in 2013 with his resignation — he was initially put on administrative leave for alleged inappropriate language before leaving the school — he was able to put the program on the map. Under Scherling, who was hired at 26 years old, the Colts went 14-8 in two seasons and made the playoffs in consecutive years for the first time since the 1970s.
Cholla might’ve been a taller task.
“I’m not gonna lie, at first we had our differences and it’s a new coach,” Porter said. “You’re coming in with all this stuff and we just weren’t used to the expectations and the work we needed to put in to become a team. This year, we’re starting to get the bigger picture of what we need to do in order to be a playoff team.”
That buy-in has been key, and the biggest reason why Scherling has turned the Chargers from a 1-9 afterthought to a force to be reckoned with. Scherling said the experience has “been great.”
“This has been a huge challenge, but these guys have really bought in,” he said. “Culturally they’re (Buena and Cholla) two different places. I really appreciate these guys because they really bought into what we’re doing and I knew it would take time just based on a lot of different factors that Cholla presents. These guys stick with … and just trying to remain positive has been the key.”