La Joya High School’s second-year coach Josh Mitchell is hoping an old adage proves true — youth will be served.
The Lobos struggled through a 1-9 campaign in 2012, posting their lone win in the season finale, 22-13 over Tolleson.
That was with a senior-laden team. This year, the situation is just the opposite.
“We are very young,” Mitchell said. “We lost 23 seniors to graduation, so we need to develop some leadership.”
La Joya returns only one starter on defense and two on defense.
The rebuilding process is under way and the Lobos have had some success during summer passing competitions.
La Joya played more than a dozen games during a two-week stretch at Estrella Foothills.
“We did OK,” Mitchell said.
The high-water mark of the offseason came at the High School Player Development competition on the grounds at University of Phoenix Stadium.
The Lobos won three of four games to finish fifth out of 15 schools.
“We beat [Phoenix] Goldwater, [Tucson] Amphitheater and Lee Williams, the new high school in Kingman,” Mitchell said. “Unfortunately, we didn’t make the playoffs because only the top-four teams advanced.”
The Lobos closed out their summer of seven-on-seven competition June 22 at the Arizona Football Coaches Association Passing and Big-Man Competition in Surprise.
The Lobos had some difficulty in a pool that included Surprise Willow Canyon, Phoenix Pinnacle, Yuma Gila Ridge and Show Low, the eventual runner-up to Chandler Hamilton.
Although the Lobos took their lumps at Surprise, facing high-level competition was a great learning experience for his young squad, Mitchell said.
“I'm very pleased with the progress we have made,” Mitchell said. “With youth, it’s trying to get them to believe in themselves.”
Big shoes to fill
The summer competition has given Mitchell the opportunity to evaluate talent and find replacements for all of the departed starters.
“Quarterback is an open competition,” Mitchell said.
The two leading contenders to replace the graduated Joe Gonzales as the starting signal-caller are sophomore Hector Rodriguez and junior Danielle Archie, who backed up Deryn McGee at tailback last season. He rushed for 58 yards on 10 carries and scored once.
An even bigger void exists at tailback, where McGee rushed for 1,448 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Several candidates are in the running for that spot.
In addition to filling key offensive slots, the Lobos are working hard to grasp a new defensive concept,
“We are a heavy-pressure defense now,” Mitchell said. “They have to learn new assignments and terminology. A lot of our pressure is from run blitzes. Our emphasis is to stop the run.”
Two players who have distinguished themselves during the summer activities are Adrien Freitas and Marc Loborin.
Freitas started at wide receiver last season and saw limited duty as a defensive back. He caught two passes for 69 yards and made three tackles from the secondary.
“He has really come along,” Mitchell said. “Defensively, he is ready to step up as a cornerback.”
Loborin saw some time in the offensive backfield in 2012, rushing for 47 yards on seven attempts, and he caught a pass for 4 yards.
“He has really stepped up this summer,” Mitchell said. “He has a good chance to be our starting middle linebacker.”
The Lobos will take a bit of a break from football activities before reporting to camp July 22-25 at Seligman High School.
“[Phoenix] Central and [Phoenix] Carl Hayden will be at [nearby] Ash Fork High School at the same time and we’ll meet them for some seven-one-seven competition one night,” Mitchell said.
The Lobos open the 2013 season Aug. 30 at Mesa Westwood.
Mike Russo can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.