Traveling out of state is becoming common for prep football teams in Arizona, as is bringing in out-of-state competition to play games in the desert.
For the first time ever, Desert Vista has done both in its opening two games. After playing host to Palm Springs, Calif., High in the opener, the Thunder visited Carlsbad, Calif., High last Friday, where they rallied from a 14-point deficit to a victory that lifted them to 2-0.
It marked the first time since 2015 that DV had played an out-of-state opponent, and the first time ever playing two in one season.
Desert Vista stayed at Camp Pendleton, a Marine Corps base north of Carlsbad.
“It was pretty cool,” Thunder coach Dan Hinds said. “We pulled up and there were military police at the gate. You have to show your card and all that, but when we got in there, the facilities were great. They took care of us and it all worked out.”
The Thunder did a light walk-through Friday morning in a parking lot outside their sleeping quarters. It was there that Hinds delivered an ultimatum for Saturday morning.
“There was a guy in his fatigues watching us Friday morning,” Hinds said. “I told them, ‘We have Plan A and Plan B for Saturday. Plan A involves having fun and going to the beach. Plan B involves activities with that drill sergeant over there.’ I think it got the message across.”
It did. After the game, Hinds said Thunder players chanted, “No plan B!”
Saturday morning, the Thunder spent a couple of hours at the beach. It was a business trip but it also was a time to build a stronger bond for the grueling season ahead.
“We came, and the kids accomplished the mission,” Hinds said. “They did what they had to do so they definitely deserved that.”
It’s a unique experience for those like Thunder running back Tyson Grubbs.
“It’s something I haven’t done before,” Grubbs said before embarking on the trip. “It’s a time for us to bond and show our strength against another state. It’s a different type of experience.”
This trip was unique in another way. Desert Vista took its junior varsity and freshman teams along, uncommon among in intrastate prep football travel. The lower-level Thunder teams played on Friday afternoon before the varsity game and fell to the lower-level Lancers. Those teams returned to Phoenix shortly after their games.
Following their 33-21 victory Friday night, the Thunder varsity spent time at a pizzeria, eating, laughing and celebrating their comeback over a strong California opponent.
Thunder quarterback Parker Navarro called it “a statement trip.”
“We want to go out there and show what we can do against a good team in California,” Navarro said before they departed.
Desert Vista returned home Saturday evening and took Sunday off before the players headed back to school Monday.
With an open date Friday, the Thunder will fine-tune every aspect of their game before they take the field at Thunder Stadium on Sept. 7 to face Valley Vista.
Grubbs believes in getting right back into things, not wanting to miss a week of action.
Navarro said the off week allows them to fix mistakes and gives them time to recover for the long season ahead.
“I think it’s good if we stay focused,” Navarro said. “We can get a lot done in terms of offense and defense.”
Hinds enjoys the thought of an open date coming off the trip.
“I think it was set up perfectly by our athletic director: Go to California and then come back and not be in a rush from a coaching standpoint to get everyone ready and scramble,” Hinds said. “We are going to take a look at all of the things we need to get better. That’s the plan.”
Opening with back-to-back wins against California schools is unique for any prep football team in Arizona. The 2-0 start no doubt puts the Thunder on the radar of teams in Arizona.
“We aren’t concerned with how other people perceive us,” Hinds said. “Win or lose, our kids have a criteria to success we are following, and if we meet that, we are successful.
“What really matters is how things pan out in the end.”