Coach Jose Lucero

Coach Jose Lucero calls a play at a Desert Edge football practice. (West Valley View photo by Eric Newman)

Desert Edge football’s 2017 7-4 finish could be seen as a successful campaign, but the Scorpions want more this year.

Coach Jose Lucero remembers nearly every play against Notre Dame Prep, who knocked the Scorpions out of the playoffs 49-7, in what would be the Goodyear team’s last game in 5A. Reclassifications throughout the state manifested in the Scorpions moving down to 4A, essentially robbing the group’s chances to exact revenge in a game that still looms heavy. It does give them an opportunity to play against several tough opponents.

“It’s always nice to get to replay a team you lose against, but we can’t really control that,” Lucero said. “We’re still excited about our schedule, and we have some match-ups against really strong teams. I don’t think the number by itself matters, 4A versus 5A, to these kids. They just want to go out there and play as hard as they can, and it’s going to challenge them to keep playing hard and getting better.”

Instead of looking at the move to 4A as a demotion, seniors like defensive lineman Nassir Sims are excited to play against a new set of teams.

“It’s really cool to be able to play against teams that we didn’t play before,” he said. “We get to play Salpointe (in Tucson) and Saguaro, who are both good teams with a lot of guys being recruited. So, it’s definitely a new challenge that we’re looking forward to.”

In fact, senior running back and linebacker Milton Rodgers, who led the team in total tackles as a junior in 2017, said winning the team’s first game, a road contest at Prescott on August 17, would set the Scorpions on a track to proving themselves as a dominant team in the new conference.

“We want to be a big powerhouse in this new 4A, and winning the first game will absolutely do that for us,” he said. “And then we want to just win each week after that.”

A small senior class, including Sims and Rodgers, is the last vestige of the 2015 Scorpions who took home a state championship under former coach Rich Wellbrock. Sims admitted it was great grabbing an addition for the school’s trophy case. However, it is not enough for this group to go out riding the laurels of previous players.

“We saw what it was like when we were freshmen to see the team win the championship,” he said. “I didn’t buy a ring that year because I didn’t do anything for it. I want to contribute and be part of the reason we have that success, and be able to grow as a football player.”

Lucero said he is pressured to coach a winning team, but understands they want to win, regardless of class or division. In fact, Desert Edge’s failure to reach the postseason would be the first since 2009.

“They’ve built a really good program here, and it’s been a lot of years in a row of being a good team. So, we want to be the next group to honor that legacy,” he said.

Having graduated several of last season’s key contributors, Desert Edge will rely on many young, inexperienced players. Lucero said his team needs to work on consistency because they are prone to mistakes. The boys recently returned from Winslow, where they showed marked improvement. They took the time to understand the playbook, which increased Lucero’s confidence.

Rodgers said the team also bonded off the field. One night, they created skits to “make fun” of their coaches. The increased chemistry spills over into competitive practices.

“At practice, iron sharpens iron, so we’ll have the offensive starters go up against the defensive starters and we really push each other,” Rodgers said.

“It’s competitive and gets heated, but we love it because we’re all getting better that way.”

Lucero said his team is emotionally close and he is interested in watching the players grow as young men and create memories.

“For a lot of these kids, they have the four years of high school football, and they may never play again, even though we definitely have some who are being recruited,” he said. “We want to make the experience as fun for them as possible. This is such a great group.”

Coach Jose Lucero calls a play at a Desert Edge football practice. (West Valley View photo by Eric Newman)