Desert Vista’s football season may have come to an end one game short of reaching the championship for the first time since 2011, but there was still plenty to be proud of for this year’s Thunder team.
They set a foundation moving forward, one that Desert Vista coach Dan Hinds admits was one of the biggest differences with this year’s group of seniors and those in the past.
“There were so many guys that brought different things to the table,” Hinds said. “That’s what made this group unique. They were a tight group. Brotherhood wasn’t just a word to them, it meant a lot to them.”
Desert Vista wrapped up the season on Friday, Nov. 22 with a loss to Liberty in the 6A semifinals. The Thunder found themselves in a hole early on in the contest, trailing 33-14 entering the fourth quarter but rallied to trim the Lions’ lead to 33-30.
An onside kick attempt didn’t go the Thunder’s way, which ended the game and their season with a 9-4 overall record.
“Most teams would have folded but ours didn’t,” Hinds said. “I told them how proud of them I was. Our season isn’t defined by one play. It was an up and down season, but our kids never quit.
“They bounced back every week and I’m proud of them for that.”
It was the second consecutive year Desert Vista made a deep run in the playoffs after winning nine or more games. Last year, Desert Vista fell to eventual 6A runner up Perry in the quarterfinals. The Thunder avenged that loss in this year’s quarterfinals.
Desert Vista entered the 2019 season as one of the favorites to contend for a spot in the inaugural Open Division playoffs, which pins the best eight teams in the state from the 4A-6A conferences against one another. But an early loss to Sherman Oaks Notre Dame in San Diego hindered the Thunder’s chances early on.
A loss to Desert Ridge three weeks later eliminated Desert Vista from the Open Division conversation but kept them in line to compete for the 6A Conference championship. While they fell short of their own expectations, this year’s senior class helped take a five-win team in 2017 and make it a contender.
The 2020 class went 19-6 the last two seasons.
“I’m so proud,” Navarro said. “Transferring here as a sophomore and starting my career here, it’s been a blessing. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. My whole path, my whole journey, it’s been amazing.”
Navarro ended his career at Desert Vista with 4,317 passing yards and 46 touchdowns. He threw just 11 interceptions in two seasons. He also rushed for 1,243 yards in his career and 14 more touchdowns, most of which came this season.
Senior wide receiver Elijah Ervin finished with 2,116 receiving yards and 26 touchdowns. Fellow senior wideout Colton Grover and tight end Braeden Belnap, the other top pass-catchers this season, combined for 637 yards and five touchdowns.
Tyson Grubbs, Desert Vista’s senior running back, eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark this season after a broken bone in his foot ended a promising junior campaign. Colby Humphrey, another senior, stepped in for Grubbs at tailback before battling injuries of his own. Humphrey rushed for 354 yards and two touchdowns this season.
Most of Desert Vista’s starters on offense also transitioned to play defense. Seniors Eddie Weigl and Miles LeBlanc anchored both the offensive and defensive lines before missing time with injuries. Senior linebacker Zack McGinnis had a breakout season for the Thunder, with his best performance coming against Basha in the first round of the 6A playoffs.
“This was a special group of players,” Hinds said. “This was an extraordinary group of young men.”
Each senior set the standard for those coming through the program after them. Hinds said not only did they work hard in the classroom, weight room and on the field, but they also respected their peers and always conducted themselves in a manner coaches dream of.
“I never had one off the field issue with this group,” Hinds said. “Not many teams can say that. This was a competitive group that really cared about one another. They made it special for me as a head coach.”
Hinds expects the next group of seniors to continue the same legacy of hard work and perseverance displayed by this year’s team. He also expects it to continue on after that.
He will look to a new batch of seniors to lead the way next season, along with a select number of juniors that already have plenty of varsity experience. One player in particular that fits that mold is Devon Grubbs, Tyson’s younger brother.
A running back himself, Devon will take over as the featured back next season for the Desert Vista offense, much like his brother did as a junior. Though for the first time in years, the two won’t be by each other’s side.
“I’m going to miss it,” Devon said. “He was always next to me. I could always rely on him. I’m going to miss playing with him a lot.”
As the Thunder head into the offseason, preparations for next year will soon be underway. There will be several new faces on both sides of the ball, all of whom eager to make the same impact.
“We have a bright future next year also,” Devon said. “We aren’t going to dropdown. We are going to keep getting better.”
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