This is part two of a two-part series previewing the upcoming football season for Scottsdale high school teams.
On Thanksgiving morning last November, Jason Mohns called his team into a Zoom meeting.
Saguaro was set to face off against Salpointe Catholic in the Open Division Quarterfinals the next day, yet the game plan was not the discussion’s purpose.
For the third time in two weeks, the Sabercats registered a positive COVID-19 test among players and staff. The rules of the Arizona Interscholastic Association and the Sports Medicine Advisory Committee called for an eight-day shutdown.
Mohns soon shared the news with his team: Saguaro’s 2020 season was over.
“It was tough,” senior quarterback Ridge Docekal said. “We got that call and we were just heartbroken. Tears were shed and it definitely was a tough couple weeks, but that just gave us more motivation this year.”
To build a championship roster, it takes more than high-level talent, according to Mohns. It takes molding that talent into a team that goes to battle for one another. The Sabercats did not have spring practice and summer camp in 2020, removing the opportunities to develop these skills. Yet they did in 2021, training hard in the hopes winning a state championship for the first time since 2018.
With early September fast approaching, the workouts are paying dividends. The team is not only familiar with its playbook, but bonded by an instilled culture and a motto: “Burning the Boat.”
“We have lofty goals and we’re not going to make any excuses for ourself to settle for anything less,” Mohns said. “We have to be willing to commit to achieving those goals and so, that’s hard work. It’s attitude. It’s effort. It’s consistency.”
For junior cornerback Cole Shivers, this year seems different. He can sense Mohns, the coaches and his teammates want the Open Division Championship badly.
This feeling is amplified by the Sabercats’ practice environment. Mornings at the team’s field in Scottsdale are marked by high energy on the sideline and players “embracing the grind,” Mohns said.
“We definitely have the guys to get it done,” senior Javen Jacobs said. “I just want the state to know that we’re coming for that Open (Division Championship). We’re gonna run it up for sure.”
In previous years, Saguaro has found its way to success behind a fierce defense, according to Docekal. This year is similar, in that he feels the defense is still the backbone of the Sabercats, yet the offense could be a difference-maker for the Sabercats’ success in Division 5A.
The unit has been moving at a quick pace during practice this summer with a fast-paced tempo and returns veterans such as Docekal and versatile senior playmaker Javen Jacobs, who registered 886 all-purpose yards, 392 receiving yards and 290 rushing yards during the Sabercats’ 5-1 season in 2020.
“Either we’re winning or we’re not coming back,” Docekal said. “Blood, sweat and tears, we’re pouring it all in for this. We’re really all bought in to this team, so I’m really excited.”
For the first time since 2011, Chaparral is a defending state champion. The Firebirds won the 6A title over Highland in 2020 and are seeking continued success after a 6-2 campaign. Chaparral returns quarterback Brayten Silbor, who threw for 2,348 yards and 18 touchdowns last season. To fill the gap left by leading rusher Jared Williams, Jamarei Ashby-Phan will see more carries.
On defense, Chaparral is led by defensive end Anthony Lucas, who made 46 tackles, 15.5 tackles-for-loss and seven sacks in 2020. Lucas, a four-star deciding between programs such as Texas A&M, USC and Miami, will be joined by strong safety Jacob Franze (36 tackles) and cornerback Davondre Bucannon (22 tackles).
Senior quarterback Drew Boxwell is back under center after throwing for 325 yards and six touchdowns. Boxwell, one of the team’s leading rushers in 2020 with 352 yards, will work in the backfield with Skyler Partridge, who rushed for 111 yards last season. The team’s leading receiver, Matthew Klopfenstein, returns after reeling in 25 catches for 174 yards.
On the other side of the ball, leading tackler defensive lineman Daniel “Boobie” Santiago returns after 28 takedowns and six tackles-for-loss. In the secondary, cornerback Ethan Tinsley is the only returning member with an interception — he caught two in 2020.
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Following the graduation of quarterback Tyler Schweigert, the job will likely be Braden Wells’ after he threw 43 passes in 2020. Leading receiver Gavin Smith returns after reeling in 45 catches for 591 yards and seven touchdowns.
Defensively, defensive back John Ruvo (17 tackles) and defensive end Ben Roberts (13 tackles) are among players returning.