Walking off the field victorious last Friday, the Desert Vista High football team had reached a place where it hadn’t been since 2011.
The Thunder are 3-0 to open the season. The last time they started 3-0, they finished 13-1 and won the big-school state championship.
On Friday, Desert Vista visits North (1-3), where the Thunder will be favored to improve to 4-0.
Though the faces under the masks are different, coach Dan Hinds said he sees some similarities between his current team and that of seven years ago.
“Every once in a while, with this group, we do mention that they remind us of 2011, but they’re their own group, and we want that,” Hinds said. “As far as brotherhood goes, and the team aspect, this is a really fun group of kids to coach.
“One thing we’ve been talking about is our ability to move the ball on the ground. That year, we were really able to run the ball, and when you can win up front, you’re going to be pretty good.”
The Thunder boast a large and talented offensive line that has opened excellent holes for their plethora of solid running backs. Desert Vista has 14 rushing touchdowns.
Junior Tyson Grubbs has scored 10 of them, including four in the Thunder’s 48-20 rout of Valley Vista last Friday. He said Hinds does not have to compare the group to past teams because there is a sense that the Thunder have something special cooking.
“I know he’s been saying this is a different team than he’s seen for a long time, so I can’t say he compares us to the last state-championship team, but he definitely says we’re different,” Grubbs said.
Desert Vista also has several former players as assistant coaches, who carry memories of past success, and give current players a sense of what it takes to win.
Junior quarterback Parker Navarro said the assistants bring “championship spirit” to the group. More importantly, they preach team chemistry and playing for each other.
“They talk about the brotherhood, and how important those relationships are between all of us, because that was a big reason they were successful in the past,” Navarro said.
Besides living up to past successes, the Desert Vista players have a chip on their shoulder. They believe they are not getting the attention they deserve in rankings, which players like senior Carlo Jimenez use as motivation.
“There were a lot of other people that were saying we wouldn’t be that good this year. So it has felt really good to go out and beat two California teams and come back here and beat a good Arizona team because we want to prove them wrong,” Jimenez said.
Navarro knows that Desert Vista will face tougher challenges in the coming weeks when 6A Central section play begins. The Thunder face four 2017 playoff teams in their final six games.
The Thunder have had games where they’ve stumbled in the opening half due to missed blocks by offensive linemen and poor tackling by the defense. Moving into more-difficult competition, Navarro is confident the group will resolve those issues and gain consistency at a high level.
“There have been some little mistakes here and there from all of us, but I know we’ll get them fixed up if we keep working harder at practice,” he said.
Jimenez said he has seen his teammates improve significantly since the beginning of the season. Regardless of their record at season’s end, he said the year will no doubt be a success for a team that has grown incredibly close.
“It’s just going to be a memorable season no matter what happens, and it’s something that’s going to stay in your mind until you grow old,” Jimenez said. “I know we’ll all miss it when we think about football years down the road, so we want to do whatever we can now to win games and make as many memories as we can.”