There was a time when Hunter Rodriguez, Jordan Pogue and a handful of other Desert Vista football players were openly welcomed into the Griffin household.

Not anymore.

At least not this week; Stinger ties only go so far.

The Ahwatukee Bowl connections cross many boundaries, but this year's contest is a bit more special for a group of seniors who got their start together in 2003 with the Stingers, a SEV Youth football team.

"We were one big family and had a great time together," said Mountain Pointe senior Nick Griffin. "We were all friends and learned the game together, but now we have separate families."

There isn't a sense of animosity created by the ‘Tukee Bowl by any means, but there is a definite divider between the two factions.

There are no pool parties scheduled at the Griffins like back in the old days.

"They are at Desert Vista and we are Mountain Pointe," Pride linebacker Jordan Leal said. "Those were good times, but we haven't been on the same team in a long time. We are going for the three-peat (third straight win) and it would be a great way to finish the rivalry."

The players will be on separate sidelines and opposite ends of the scoreboard, but could possibly come across each other's paths quite often during the game.

Rodriguez, the Thunder's quarterback, will probably throw the ball in Mountain Pointe cornerback Luis Sharpe's direction; Leal could blitz and sack Rodriguez; Thunder defensive lineman Ryan Hawkinson might line up directly across from Pride offensive linemen Kyle Luis or Bryce Hurd.

The potential combinations are endless with at least 13 players from the Stingers spread out across the two rosters.

"I am so proud of the players they've become," said then-Stinger coach Gene Griffin, Nick's father. "It's going to be a special game because we will never see them like this again. They are all seniors playing on the same field, presumably for the last time.

"It was a pleasure coaching them. Some of them still call me coach and that means a lot to me."

Rodriguez is especially grateful to coach Griffin. The left-hander had played mostly baseball and was on the same team as Nick on the diamond when the elder Griffin suggested that Rodriguez give football a shot.

"I had played flag football before but that was the first real football team I was on," Rodriguez said. "They liked my arm and thought I could be a good quarterback."

The team had two quarterbacks then; now three of the Stingers are playing quarterback at the high school level.

Rodriguez split time with Chase Knox, who started for Brophy as a sophomore before spending the last two years at Madison High in California. Mountain Pointe quarterback Dillan Johnson was the team's running back and created havoc for opponents, something he hopes to do against the Thunder this week.

"We had a lot of talent; that is for sure," said Griffin, who added the team made the semifinals one year. "It is hard to believe they are seniors and ready to move on to college."

Most of the players interviewed remembered the long, tough practices and fondly remember getting their first taste of the game.

"It's hard to believe how fast time has gone," said Pogue, a starting outside linebacker for the Thunder. "It's pretty cool we all stayed with it. We are on different teams and I'm sure they want to beat us as much we want to beat them."

While Griffin has his ties to the Pride because of his son, he will be watching all of his "boys."

"When I was a kid on the south side of Chicago my dad put in the time to coach," he said. "I just wanted to do the same, give back what was given to me. It's hard to believe it will all come down to one more year."

Contact writer: (480) 898-7915 or Follow him on Twitter @JSkodaAFN.

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