Yuma Catholic wasn’t in bad shape when home-grown Rhett Stallworth took over the football program in 2007.
It went a combined 21-9 in three seasons before Stallworth arrived.
But since he took over, the Shamrocks have had double-digit wins in each of his first six seasons, capturing the Division V state championship in 2011, a year after finishing runner-up.
This year’s team is 7-1. It will play only nine regular-season games, mainly because it has become increasingly difficult to schedule games, even with bigger schools Yuma, Kofa and Gila Ridge nearby.
“It’s hard to say,” said Stallworth, also the athletic director, on why it’s tough to get teams in Yuma to play him. “Maybe they risk enrollment if they lose to us. They might feel they’re losing kids to our school. Money depends on enrollments.”
Yuma Catholic is the only school in the city to capture a state football championship outright.
In 1959, the first year the Arizona Interscholastic Association went with a playoff format, Yuma Union tied Phoenix South Mountain 7-7 in the big-school state final.
Yuma Union had great teams in 1960 and ’65, finishing state runner-up to Mesa (in ’60) and Tucson (in ’65).
Stallworth is the pride of the city, having grown up there, gone to school at Yuma, making all-state in football. He even coached at Yuma High for three years before coming over to Yuma Catholic.
Originally, Yuma Catholic wanted to be like Phoenix St. Mary’s in its heyday.
But it took on a University of Notre Dame look with gold helmets and pants.
Part of the tradition is wearing green jerseys for the playoffs.
Under Stallworth’s watch, Yuma Catholic has gone 84-11.
“Our school recognizes the importance of athletics and how it ties everything together,” Stallworth said. “It completes the educational process.”
Yuma Catholic arrives to its Valley games and for state playoff games in a plush bus.
It has as good a support staff for a small school as can be found in Arizona.
“We have a good fan base,” Stallworth said. “We get a lot of people to follow us, even from other schools. Fans from other schools will come out and see us in the playoffs.”
But it’s constant work.
The foundation was laid when Stallworth got there. But every year, most of the freshmen come in having never played football before, Stallworth said.
He starts with teaching them how to put on a uniform.
Yuma Catholic also doesn’t shy away from the competition. Every year, Yuma Catholic takes on the top Division V teams during the regular season. Next week, the Shamrocks travel to play defending Division V state champion Phoenix Northwest Christian for the regular-season finale.
“We do it because we have to, Number 1,” Stallworth said. “We believe the best competition is in the Valley and that is where we want to play. You can’t talk about how to set the bar higher. We have to go out and play these games and do it.”