Yuma Catholic has won 10 or more games every year since Rhett Stallworth took over as coach in 2007.
It’s an impressive feat of consistency, and one that has made Yuma Catholic a model program in Division V — along with Phoenix Northwest Christian, which like Yuma Catholic has won two state championships and reached the title game three times in the last four seasons.
How does a team maintain that level of success, year after year? For Stallworth it comes down to two things: preparation and focus.
“We talk about a sense of urgency with everything we do,” he said. “No matter who we’re playing, we treat them like they’re the Number 1 team in the state. And if it turns out by halftime that that’s not the case and we have a commanding lead, then that’s one thing.
“The last seven years, any time we’ve lost a game, it’s been to the Number 1 or Number 2 team in the state. We don’t have letdowns against teams that we’re supposed to beat. And I think that’s because of the sense of urgency. We treat all opponents the same.”
That steadiness is part of what makes Yuma Catholic azcentral sports’ No. 1-ranked team in Division V for 2014.
Last year Yuma Catholic tore up the division, scoring 43 points per game. Spurred by a loss to Northwest Christian to end the regular season, the team took its offense up another notch in the playoffs, averaging 58.5 points in four victories — none of which came by fewer than 28 points as Yuma Catholic rolled to the Division V championship.
Incredibly, Yuma Catholic’s attack may be even more high-powered in 2014.
Quarterback Jagan Cleary returns for his senior season after throwing for 3,567 yards and 35 touchdowns a year ago, and the offense also brings back two of its top three producers in both rushing and receiving.
“Our skill kids are as good as anybody else’s skill kids,” Stallworth said. “Maybe even (as good as) a lot of the bigger schools.”
The offensive line suffered some injuries during fall practice, and there are a few issues to be sorted out on defense, but overall Yuma Catholic looks ready to challenge for another title — thanks to its preparation, focus, and maybe a dose of selflessness as well.
“It’s amazing what can get accomplished when nobody cares who’s getting the credit,” Stallworth said. “All we care about is getting a state championship ring to everybody at the end of the season.”
Preseason Arizona high school football rankings: Divisions I-VI
azcentral sports’ Richard Obert ranks the Top 10 teams in each division before the start of the 2014 season. He begins with Division I and works his way through Division VI. Is defending champion Mountain Pointe the team to beat in Division I?
Division V rankings
No. 1 Yuma Catholic: Most dynamic offense at this level with their top play-makers, including running back Carter Rodriguez, back to defend the title.
No. 2 Phoenix Northwest Christian: They should be back knocking on a championship door with most of last year’s young team back, led by junior QB Drew Inness.
No. 3 Phoenix Arizona Lutheran: Very explosive, well-rounded team that will try to get the ball in the hands of big receiver Brady Cook as much as possible.
No. 4 Tucson Pusch Ridge Christian: RB Taylor Fitzgerald returns after rushing for 1,334 yards and 18 TDs and catching 14 passes for 277 yards and three more scores.
No. 5 Eagar Round Valley: After feeling the sting of a 63-35 loss to Yuma Catholic in the state final, the Elks will group with a heavy emphasis on defense.
No. 6 Glendale Joy Christian: They scored more than 600 points in their first season in 11-man football and return 1,000-yard rusher Tonka Watson, along with some playmaking receivers.
No. 7 St. Johns: Coach Mike Morgan is four wins away from 300 in his illustrious career, which could happen by midseason with another seasoned, hard-nosed group.
No. 8 Tempe Prep: One of the best senior classes with 18 quality players returning, along with five juniors who will start both ways. This will be a fast team.
No. 9 Morenci: After beating Thatcher in the regular-season finale, their season ended in the first round against Thatcher. That was motivation to put in the off-season work to replicate that 2012 magical final run.
No. 10 Thatcher: QB/S Heath Motes is back after ruining a lot of teams’ Friday nights with his ability to run and pass and break up passes.
— Richard Obert
Preseason All-Arizona selections: