Off-season individual improvement precludes the 2022 gridiron campaign

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Dillon Aker stretches out for a pass during a previous 7-on-7 session in Graham County. The Morenci senior is one of 31 Wildcats taking advantage of the individual improvement opportunities. A third session will be held on Pima’s Edd Hubbard Field on Tuesday, June. 21.

By Raymundo Frasquillo

GRAHAM COUNTY – It has been said a team’s success or failure depends on how much “you” improve during the off-season. Success and failure both have “u” in them.

Individual football skills and techniques are currently being honed for the betterment of each team’s success in the upcoming season. The immediate future kicks off in mid-August, less than two months away. The heat warnings and high-temperature alerts have not been a detriment.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Fourth-year Morenci head coach Joseph Garcia shows the play and routes for each possible receiver.

Two 7-on-7 passing sessions, as well as big man challenge sessions, have been held in Graham County, on the Eastern Arizona College football facilities on June 7 and on Safford’s Herman BB Andrews Track and Field on June 14. A third session will be held on Pima’s Edd Hubbard Field Tuesday, June 21.

Eight area teams are among the ones working toward individual off-season improvements, hitting the weight rooms and competing against one another in 7-on-7 passing sessions as well as big man challenges. Each of them has the goal of being the state’s best team at the season’s end in November, after Thanksgiving Day.

Seven teams, including Globe, Miami, Morenci, Pima, Safford, Thatcher, and New Mexico Silver High squared off against one another in the passing sessions while six of the teams also fielded enough linemen for the big man challenges on June 1. Silver did not have enough linemen to participate in the session.

Participants numbered 53 for Thatcher, 28 for both Morenci and Silver, 25 for Safford, 22 for Globe, 16 for Miami, and 14 for Pima.

Thatcher finished first overall, posting the fastest combined time in the Weight Carry Relay and the Figure Eight Relay, along with the Medicine Ball toss, Weight Flip, and the Tug-of-War. Morenci was second and Pima third.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Left, Tug-of-War Wildcats were pulled across the midway mark. Morenci twice finished second in the Big Man Challenge. The five Wildcats were Jaylen Kitcheyan, Jarel Diaz, Josh Smith, Andrew Chavez, and Austyn Nelson. Right, the Thatcher Eagles won the Tug-of-War event as well as the overall Big Man Challenge twice. Members of the Eagle quintet were Jacob Rasmussen, Derek Cameron, Bingham Rasmussen, Connor Woods, and Jackson Conrad.

The Eagles used seniors Derek Cameron, Jackson Conrad, and Jacob Rasmussen, junior Connor Woods, and sophomore Brigham Rasmussen. The Wildcats relied on seniors Jarel Diaz and Jalen Kitcheyan, plus juniors Andrew Chavez, Austyn Nelson, and Josh Smith while Pima had seniors Chris Serna and Colten Sherwood, juniors Brock Bryce and Pepper Hughes, and sophomore Brock Haws.

Six teams, Globe, Morenci, Pima, Safford, Thatcher, and New Mexico Lordsburg were in Safford for the second session. Excluding Lordsburg, the other five teams also took part in the big man challenge, with Thatcher repeating first.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Morenci senior defender Daylen Johnson successfully deflects a pass intended for Thatcher junior Brett Jones.

Thatcher numbered 46 student-athletes, Safford 38, Morenci 31, Pima 28, Globe 20, and Lordsburg nine.

Safford and Thatcher will be competing in the state’s 3A South Region along with Tucson schools Palo Verde Magnet, Pusch Ridge Christian, Sabino, and Benson; Globe, Miami, Morenci, and Pima as well as Gilbert San Tan Charter and San Carlos in the 2A Salt Region. Next door in The Land of Enchantment, Silver is in 4A District 3/5 and Lordsburg in 2A District 3.

Last season, Morenci and Pima along with Benson, Bisbee, Tombstone, and Willcox were in the 2A San Pedro Region. Globe, Miami, San Carlos, and San Tan Charter along with Gilbert Christian and Gilbert Arete Prep were in the 2A Salt Region.

Thatcher blanked Pima 14-0 (Sept. 10) and Safford 55-0 (Oct. 29), Morenci downed Globe 55-0 (Sept. 10) and Pima 33-19 (Oct. 29), Safford defeated Pima 23-6 (), and Pima topped Miami 56-14 (Aug. 27) during the 2021 campaign.

GLOBE (Home: Harbison Field)

Globe welcomes Queen Creek American Leadership – Ironwood (Sept. 2), Whiteriver Alchesay (Sept. 16), Pima (Oct. 7), San Carlos (Oct. 14), and Miami (Oct. 28). The Tigers visit Tucson Santa Rita (Aug. 26), Tombstone (Sept. 9), Tucson Catalina (Sept. 23), Morenci (Sept. 30), and Gilbert San Tan Charter (Oct. 21).

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Globe senior Andrew Gonzalez looks the ball into his hands as Morenci senior Dillon Aker reaches to down him.

Last season, the Tigers finished 1-8 overall, 5th (1-4) in the region, averaging a 10-40 (90-425) score per game or a 30-point deficit. The No. 35 Tigers did not qualify for the 2021 post-season. The previous state meet appearance was as the 2002 3A state champion as No. 3.

Talmage Hansen is in his second season as the head coach.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Thatcher senior Jacob Rasmussen heaves a medicine ball to an event-winning distance on June 7.

MIAMI (Home: Nick Ragus Stadium)

Miami hosts San Tan Charter (Aug. 19), Chandler Prep (Aug. 26), Payson (Sept. 2), Saint Johns (Sept. 23), and Morenci (Oct. 14). The Vandals are at Arete Prep (Sept. 9), at Scottsdale Coronado (Sept. 16), at San Carlos (Oct. 7), at Pima (Oct. 21), and at Globe (Oct. 28).

Last season, the Vandals finished 5-4 overall, 2nd (4-1) in the region, averaging a 38-25 (375-252) score per game or a 13-point margin. The No. 19 Vandals did not qualify for the 2021 post-season, fell 42-60 to No. 8 Scottsdale as No. 9 during the 2-2- play-in round, and 30-62 to No. 1 Eagar Round Valley during the 2019 first round as No. 16.

Brandon Powell (12-9 overall, 7-3 region, 0-1 state) is in his third season as the head coach.

MORENCI (Home: Lawson Stadium)

Morenci has Scottsdale Christian (Aug. 19), Tucson Tanque Verde (Aug. 26), Willcox (Sept. 16), Globe (Sept. 30), and Pima (Oct. 28). The Wildcats visit Safford (Sept. 2), Tombstone (Sept. 23), San Tan Charter (Oct. 7), Miami (Oct. 14), and San Carlos (Oct. 21).

Last season, the Wildcats finished 11-3 overall, 2nd (4-1) in the region, averaging a 33-15 (467-214) score per game or an 18-point margin. The No. 4 Wildcats ended as state runners-up to the No.2 Phoenix Arizona Lutheran Coyotes with a 14-28 loss.

Joseph Garcia (22-12 overall, 9-5 region, 4-3 state) is in his fourth season as the head coach.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Pima senior Chris Serna covers the Weight Carry Relay course as fast as he can. The Roughriders’ big men finished third overall behind Thatcher and Morenci.

PIMA (Home: Edd Hubbard Field)

Pima hosts Safford (Aug. 26), Tanque Verde (Sept. 9), San Carlos (Sept. 30), San Tan Charter (Oct. 14), and Miami (Oct. 21). The Roughriders visit Thatcher (Sept. 2), Scottsdale Christian (Sept. 16), Willcox (Sept. 23), Globe (Oct. 7), and Morenci (Oct. 28).

Last season, the Roughriders finished 7-4 overall, 3rd (3-1) in the region, averaging a 34-14 (371-151) score per game or a 20-point margin. Arizona Lutheran ended the No. 7 Roughriders’ season with a 27-33 state meet quarterfinal loss.

Jim Hughes stepped down and the Blue and Gold will be guided by a first-year head coach.

SAFFORD (Home: Herman BB Andrews Track and Field)

Safford has Morenci (Sept. 2), Tucson Pueblo (Sept. 9), Thatcher (Sept. 16), Tucson Palo Verde Magnet (Oct. 7), and Payson (Oct. 14). The Bulldogs visit Phoenix Christian (Aug. 19), Pima (Aug. 26), Tucson Sabino (Sept. 23), Benson (Oct. 21), and Tucson Pusch Ridge Christian (Oct. 28).

Last season, the Bulldogs finished 6-5 overall, 1-3 in the region, averaging a 20-27 (215-292) score per game or a 7-point deficit. The No. 3 Chandler Valley Christian Eagles ended the No. 14 Bulldogs’ season with a 49-point state meet first-round shutout.

Robert Park is in his second season as the head coach.

THATCHER (Home: EAC’s Mickelson Stadium)

Thatcher has Mesa Eastmark (Aug. 26), Pima (Sept. 2), Pusch Ridge (Sept. 23), Benson (Oct. 7), and Sabino (Oct. 21). The Eagles visit Eagar Round Valley (Aug. 19), Safford (Sept. 16), Tucson Sahuaro (Sept. 30), Coolidge (Oct. 14), and Palo Verde Magnet (Oct. 28).

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Thatcher senior quarterback Brandon Napier spots an open receiver and sends the ball to him.

Last season, the Eagles finished 8-4 overall, 2nd (3-1) in the region, averaging a 33-21 (396-254) score per game or a 12-point margin. The No. 2 Snowflake Lobos ended the No. 10 Eagles’ season with a 13-44 state meet quarterfinal loss.

Daniel Jones (13-8 overall, 7-2 region, 2-2 state) is in his third season as the head coach.


Lordsburg has Tatum (Sept. 2) and is at Albuquerque Legacy (Sept. 9). The rest of the Mavericks’ schedule has not been released.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Lordsburg junior Ramon Ochoa, right, breaks up a pass meant for Globe senior Kaleb Derhammer. Globe sophomore Ryan Szpotowski, left, was also in the pattern.

Last season, Lordsburg finished 503 overall, 1-2 in the district, averaging a score of 32-20 (290-182) per game or a 12-point margin during its initial 8-man campaign. Tularosa handed the Mavericks an 8-28 state meet first-round loss.

Dale Hooper (17-22 overall, 8-4 district, 0-4 state) is in his sixth season as the Mavericks’ head coach.


Silver has Kirkland Central (Aug. 19), Gallup Miyamura (Aug. 26), Aztec (Sept. 17), Deming (Sept. 23), Bloomfield (Oct. 7), Grants (Oct. 14), and Albuquerque Saint Pius X (Oct. 21). The Fighting Colts visit Bayard Cobre (Sept. 2), Santa Fe (Sept. 9), and Los Lunas Valencia (Oct. 28).

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Silver quarterback Emiliano Jimenez does his best to connect with an open receiver.

Last season, Silver finished 7-5 overall and 1-2 in the district, averaging a score of 26-11 (316-133) per game or a 15-point margin. Kirkland Central ended the Fighting Colts’ season with a 7-14 state meet quarterfinal loss.

 Jerome Ortiz is in his second season as the Fighting Colts’ head coach.