The Tolleson Union High School Wolverines football team will have a new look in 2019, having hired experienced coach Roy Lopez to head the program.
Lopez, who coached for a decade at Tempe Marcos de Niza High School and recently three years at Sunnyside High School in Tucson, is a two-time Arizona Football Coaches Association Coach of the Year.
He said the Tolleson campus reminded him a great deal of the students he coached in Tempe years back.
“You can kind of see it right away, the real diversity on the campus of the kids, and a bunch of kids who are really hungry to succeed,” Lopez said.
After his time in Tucson ended, Lopez was considering his next move. He had never played against Tolleson in his many years of coaching, but could see right away they had a passion for football that inspired him.
After watching the Wolverines' film, he was excited by the energy the team played with, the defensive intensity and their obvious desire to not be okay with mediocrity.
“I love the fight you can see hopping right off the screen, and how angry they were when things didn’t go their way. If they’re upset about not being successful, that’s what you want. The kids who shrug their shoulders and move on are not the ones that have put the real effort in,” Lopez said.
During the process of accepting a job, Lopez talked with a few veteran players on the Tolleson roster. One was running back Arnell Christen Jr., who will be a senior on next season’s team.
Christen was initially impressed by Lopez’s leadership, experience and willingness to help the Wolverines create much self-discipline.
“Coach was very direct and real with us. That stood out as something I think all of us wanted,” Christen said.
Tolleson went 6-4 in 2018 and was mere spots out of the 16-team 6A playoffs. Lopez does not have a particular number of wins in mind for his first season, but he is more interested in creating a positive culture that can succeed for years to come.
It appears initially that the players have bought in, too.
“More than results, he just wants us to become good men. That’s what he said he cares about,” Christen said.
At 49, Lopez said Tolleson will likely be his last coaching spot, but is excited for the future of the Wolverine football program.
“I see the light at the end of the tunnel, I think this is my last chapter as a coach,” Lopez said. “But who knows? I could be full of it and be here another ten years and be perfectly happy.”