Saguaro High School’s football program has never been the one to shy away from competition. If anything, the Sabercats embrace it.
That has been the case for the last decade when Saguaro began its rise as a state power. That’s been the case since head coach Jason Mohns took over and started to schedule out-of-state teams to compete against on a near yearly basis. The Sabercats have faced some of the best teams from California, Colorado, Nevada and Utah during their reign as one of the best programs Arizona has to offer.
They see each matchup with a team from outside the state as a way to put their program and Arizona high school football on the map. But this year, to start the season, they’re going well-beyond surrounding states for perhaps their biggest test to open the season the program has ever had.
On Friday, Sept. 2, 12th ranked Saguaro will host New Jersey’s Bergen Catholic, the third-ranked team in the nation in 2021 and No. 21 entering this season.
“These guys are at Saguaro for a reason,” Mohns said of his players during Saguaro’s media day. “It was important for them to wear the black and gold and to compete at the highest level. They’re not afraid of that. They’re not afraid to compete at practice, they’re not afraid to compete against the rest of the state or the country, which is why we’re taking on Bergen Catholic.
“The reason why Bergen is willing to travel across the country to play us is because nobody else would play them.”
Bergen Catholic’s rise to one of the top programs in the nation doesn’t come as much of surprise given the sheer level of talent on the roster.
The Crusaders’ defense is led by 6-foot-5, 335-pound defensive tackle Sydir Mitchell, a Texas commit. Alongside him at defensive end is DJ Samuels, a Maryland commit.
Kaj Sanders is one of the top athletes in New Jersey in the 2024 class and running back Saeed St. fleur returns to lead the backfield after rushing for more than 700 yards as the backup last season.
While Bergen Catholic’s talent pool runs deep, so does Saguaro’s.
The Sabercats are led by quarterback Devon Dampier, who came on strong in the playoffs last year leading his team to an Open Division state championship win over Chandler.
Dampier was without one of his top wideouts in Deric English, who is now healthy after a knee injury in Week 6 that sidelined him for the season. Dampier will also have running back Zaccheus Cooper in the backfield, who was also lost to a knee injury in Week 6. Cooper will be joined by standout junior Jaedon Matthews.
Wide receiver Chris Nimcheski will also provide support for Dampier, among others who are all explosive athletes on the outside. The offensive talent as a whole makes Dampier’s job easier.
They also have helped keep him calm and level-headed heading into perhaps one of the biggest tests of his career outside of Chandler last season.
“I might be a little too excited,” Dampier said. “It’s going to be a big game and the receiving core I have this year is ridiculous. Just to be able to pass to them and knowing I have them to throw to, it feels easy on my part.”
On defense Saguaro is led by senior cornerback Cole Shivers, a Northwestern commit. Opposite of him is sophomore Jaci Dickerson, who is already one of the top players in the nation for his class. Levi Robbins at defensive back also presents a challenge for opposing offenses.
JoJo Clark leads a linebacking core that includes John Butler and Trey Morrison, the younger brother of current Arizona State linebackers Kyle and Connor Soelle.
Shivers believes the defense is ready for the challenge Bergen Catholic presents. It’s a physical team up front, but so is Saguaro. Shivers believes his team is in good position to win on Friday. He’s banking on the team’s chemistry to get it done.
“I really feel like we’re in a good position to win that game,” Shivers said. “We have a strong winning culture here. We’re a strong knit group and every day we try to get better. If we ever have a bad period, we fix it. That’s championship football.”
Saguaro enters the season with 20 players of all ages having received a Division I scholarship offer to continue their football careers at the next level. Even more have received Division II and III offers.
The Sabercats have the right pieces in place to contend for and win another Open Division state title. But it will require getting through a gauntlet of a schedule that is easily on of the toughest in the state. It features three Open Division teams from last season and Highland and Chaparral, which have played for the 6A title the last two years.
Saguaro will also face 5A Desert Edge, which figures to play for a spot in the Open this year. But it all starts with Bergen Catholic in a battle of two national powers.
“Personally, I love competition,” Dampier said. “I think it makes me a better player and I think it makes everyone on the team better players. We have a bond that is going to keep us going. I think we are going to be prepared every week.”