(Tucson, AZ) Kim Doss
On the first day of practice, Tucson High head football coach Justin Argraves was excited and upbeat about the year in front of his team. With the challenge of radical changes brought on by conference realignment and the comfort of having key returners, those feelings are understandable.
Practice proceeded smoothly for a first day. Having 30 seniors and a coach who has been leading the program for seven years will do that. Before the team went their separate ways for the night, Argraves told them, “Tomorrow we get better. The next day, we get better.”
Despite the strong contingent of returners, the Badgers will need to get better and prepare for the unknown. When they travel to Maryvale on August 17, they will be facing a new landscape.
In the AIA’s biennial realignment process, the Badgers found themselves the lone remaining 6A school in the Tucson metro area. As a result, the 6A Southern region will consist only of the large schools in Yuma County. Tucson will no longer face its old Southern Arizona rivals when the season kicks off.
For years, Southern Arizona’s largest school had the luxury of two similarly-sized schools in town. With shifting enrollments over the past two years, both Sunnyside and Rincon/University dropped down to 5A. As a result, Tucson has been put in 6A Metro, which is otherwise composed entirely of schools in Phoenix.
The Badgers will only face three local teams all season. The biggest loss will be the rivalry game against Sunnyside. Argraves said that both coaches wanted to keep the game, but they were unable to make it work with the new schedule. THMS will be able to continue its rivalry game against Salpointe, as well as facing Pueblo and Mountain View.
Tucson will be replacing Central High in 6A Metro after that school also moved down to 5A. The Badgers will immediately become the largest school in the division, outpacing the next-largest school by about 100 students.
More importantly, Tucson High will also be one of the two most successful programs in the region. The 6A Metro section has been ruled by Laveen’s Cesar Chavez High for the last several years. The accurately-named Champions have represented the region in the playoffs the last three years.
Meanwhile, the Badgers have gone to the playoffs from 6A Southern two of the last three years, only missing out last season. Since Argraves took over the Tucson High program in 2011, they have made it to the playoffs four times.
According to MaxPreps, both Tucson and Cesar Chavez have hovered in the top 85 in state rankings over the past four years, with each climbing as high as the top 40. If the two teams continue performing at the level they’ve become known for, the fight for the region should be a close one.
For Argraves, the expectations for this season are higher than last. After missing the playoffs last year, he and his team believe that they can return to the postseason despite the alignment changes. Those expectations are heightened by the strong contingent of returning starters who will face off against the new division this fall.
On offense, senior quarterback Jesus Montano will start under center again this season. The two-sport athlete threw for 532 yards last season. Showing off the skill that also makes him effective in track and field, he rushed for another 352. He was responsible for 7 touchdowns, throwing for two and rushing for five.
Senior tight end and defensive end Wyatt Campos will return for his third year on varsity. Campos hauled in 13 catches for 170 yards last year on offense. On defense, he was responsible for 25 tackles, 15 of which were solo. Adding to his defensive stats were two sacks, four fumble recoveries and a blocked field goal attempt.
The defense as a whole should be a strong suit according to Argraves. In addition to returning David Lopez, last year’s regional defensive player of the year, the Badgers will welcome back almost the entire line.
Prior to Argraves coming on board, the once proud football program at Tucson High had spent nearly 40 years struggling to make the postseason. Since 2011, Argraves and his players have shown that they are capable of turning that around. Despite the challenges they will face in their new division, he believes there’s every reason for optimism. At last Monday night’s first practice, the Badgers looked like a group of players who are ready to meet those high expectations.