Desert Vista head football coach Dan Hinds knew there would be growing pains for his program entering the 2020 season.
The team, like other programs, was far behind those in years past due to the pandemic causing strict restrictions within Tempe Union High School District. But Hinds chooses not to use that as an excuse. Where he admits his team struggles is the overall lack of varsity experience due to its youth, a characteristic that was made clear in Desert Vista’s 42-10 loss to Highland Friday night.
“This is the youngest team I’ve ever coached,” Hinds said. “We don’t have a lot of varsity experience and it’s hard to make the jump from freshman to varsity. But this group doesn’t quit.
“They want to get better and they want to win.”
Desert Vista struggled to do much of anything on offense against a veteran Highland defense.
The quarterback duo of sophomore Jackson Akins and junior Kaden Lentz was unable to capitalize against Highland’s front-seven. Both quarterbacks were pressured, leading to mistimed passes that often fell incomplete.
Sophomore running back Quinton Ivey had lead-back responsibilities for the Thunder as junior Devon Grubbs was sidelined with an injury. Ivey, a downhill runner, was bottled up on most of his runs. Open running lanes from his young offensive line quickly collapsed, as he was held to just 23 yards on the night.
One of Desert Vista’s bright spots was sophomore athlete Michael Allison, who capitalized on two fake punts that each went for 20 yards or more. Late in the fourth quarter, Allison was on the receiving end of a 31-yard pass from Akins that resulted in the Thunder’s only touchdown of the night. Allison finished with 138 yards of total offense.
“When you look past their youth and the lack of varsity experience, this is a great group of football players,” Hinds said. “I look forward to every week because there is gigantic upside with this team and we are going to get better every week.”
Like the offense, Desert Vista’s defense struggled.
Highland’s offense capitalized on all but two possessions in the first half, quickly building to a 28-point lead in the first quarter.
“We didn’t quit tonight, which is a good thing,” Hinds said, “and we saw a little success at the end. We needed that. There’s no quit in this group.”
Hinds believes that success at the end of the fourth quarter will go a long way for his young team. At the very least, it gives them some confidence knowing the system works.
Confidence is one aspect to this group Hinds believes never faulters no matter the circumstance. He said that will play a big role as Desert Vista navigates through a brutal schedule that includes the likes of Hamilton and Chandler, two of top teams in the state that will contend for an Open Division title.
“We are going to have a bunch of young kids who have varsity experience against some of the best teams in the state,” Hinds said. “Highland is a great team. These kids are going to get the baptism by fire, I guess, which is OK. It’s a good way to learn.”
Desert Vista, now 0-2, has set its sights on a Week 3 matchup against Basha (0-2) to potentially capture its first win of the season. Much like the Thunder, the Bears are also a young team with a freshman quarterback in Demond Williams Jr.
Hinds also expects to have Grubbs back in the mix with lead-back duties.
“We are going to take a good look at Basha and we have to establish a run game,” Hinds said. “I think once we do that it’ll take the pressure off our quarterbacks a little bit. We’ve got to work on our pass pro a little bit and we have to tackle better.
“There’s a lot of things we’ve got to work on.”