Pride in Heber Mogollon football begins long before players step on the field as freshman.
It begins in a tight-knit community nestled 140 miles northeast of Phoenix.
It begins with a coach whose first stint at the school was before many of his players were born.
Most importantly, it begins with players whose struggles in 11-man football in junior high make them hungry for success with Mogollon’s storied eight-man high school program.
“The success we build carries and trickles down to those junior high kids,” coach Tim Slade said. “They can’t wait to get to high school so they can play and have more success because of the (eight-man) even playing field.”
Slade, whose first stint at Mogollon began in 1992, said deep playoff runs aren’t a rarity at the school, but a requirement.
“It’s kind of a mind-set,” Slade said. “We tell our kids this is a program where we’re expected to do well and make the playoffs.”
So far, Slade’s 2012 squad is matching expectations.
They are 4-0, have recorded two shutouts and are holding opponents to an average of less than nine points per game in a type of football usually defined by the pinball numbers of Arena-style offenses.
Slade said there isn’t much of a secret to the success so far, just solid game planning and point goals on offense and defense.
“Our goal is to score 32, and our goal is to hold opponents under 18 (points),” Slade said.
The defense is built around the senior trio of Lane Bentley, Macky Slade and Hayden Honsinger. Bentley leads the team in tackles with 47, Slade has eight sacks and Honsinger has three interceptions, while each also contributes at receiver on offense.
Slade said it’s players like them that hold expectations for shutouts every week and uphold the excellence that has made Mogollon a perennial powerhouse.
“That’s a pride thing, and they want to do well,” Slade said.
Mogollon has to travel to Scottsdale Prep and Mesa Prep in the next few weeks, matchups Slade said the team is already planning for.
Despite these two difficult away games, he said his team has a legitimate chance to “win it all.”
“I think we have a really good shot at finishing the regular season undefeated,” Slade said.
So far Mogollon is well on its way, building success on a sense of defensive pride and a legacy decades in the making.