Phoenix St. Mary’s isn’t the football giant it once was, but a lot of greats went through the Catholic school with 10 high school All-American, seven of whom had their jersey numbers retired. It is hard to narrow a list to 10 at a school so steep in football tradition. There are so many things to factor in. The era. What that player meant at the time. The magnitude of his effort stacked against the competition. What they did after high school. Here are my choices for St. Mary’s greatest football players, in order:
No. 1 Ryan Kealy, QB, 1996: He was the last Knight named to a high school All-American team. Led them to their last of nine state championships in 1995, capping a brilliant career with a 33-7 victory over Phoenix Horizon. The Knights went 14-0 that season. In his three varsity seasons, Kealy led the Knights to the state semifinals, a state runner-up finish and a state championship. He was selected a Parade All-American his senior year. At the time, he set state records for touchdown passes in a season (41) and a career (83). He then went on to play at Arizona State.
No. 2 Tim Smith, RB, 1968: Smith still leads the Knights with 60 career rushing touchdowns. He was a 5-foot-10, 205-pound battering ram, leading the Knights to the 1967 state championship when Ed Doherty was the coach and started the gold playoff pants tradition. Smith was all grit and grind and he always found that extra gear to fend off tacklers and get into the end zone. Inside the 10-yard-line, there was never a doubt Doherty was going to hand the ball off to his workhorse. He carried the ball a school-record 331 times in ’67, rushing for 1,720 yards and 25 TDs. Smith, who went to Northern Arizona and later became a fireman, was the first Knight to have his jersey (40) retired.
No. 3 David Mitchell, RB, 1976: Part of the dynamic duo that battered defenses with a combination of thunder (Mitchell) and lightning (receiver Speedy Hart). Both Hart (82) and Mitchell (44) had their jerseys retired after incredible careers that ended at the same time. Mitchell had the size, strength, power and speed that set him apart. He had 35 career touchdowns. In his junior season in ’74, he ran for 1,974 yards, eclipsing Smith’s single-season school record.
No. 3 Speedy Hart, WR, 1976: He was a fast, acrobatic receiver who stood out in the mid-70s as a physical freak, who made tough catches look easy. He would take a simple out pass, break a couple of tackles and be gone. He moved on to Notre Dame, along with Mitchell. St. Mary’s didn’t win a state championship with this dynamic duo, but they came close, and they were two of the more respected players of that era. Hart had 27 career touchdown catches.
No. 5 Steve Belles, QB, 1985: Belles was the state’s Player of the Year in 1984, when he led the Knights to the first of back-to-back titles. Before he moved onto Notre Dame, Belles was part of one of the greatest high school upsets of the century, leading an underdog St. Mary’s team over the highly favored and loaded Tempe McClintock team in the semifinals. That McClintock team had a backfield of quarterback Kent Kiefer, Art Greathouse and Cleveland Colter Jr. Belles moved onto Notre Dame, where he played some quarterback but also a little tight end and H-back, helping Notre Dame win a national championship.
No. 6 Reggie McGill, RB, 1987: McGill was a part of the Knights’ back-to-back state championships in ’84 and ’85, then won Player of the Year honors in 1986 as an explosive tailback who bowled over and sped by defenders. He could cut on a dime and take it to the house at any time. McGill ran for 1,569 yards as a junior, following that up with 1,454 his last season. He was also clutch. He capped his career with a magnificent, game-winning run late to beat Glendale Apollo in the final. He set a career school record with 3,828, before moving on to Arizona.
No. 7 Jim Sanson, WR/DB/K, 1996: Sanson caught 111 passes for 1,547 yards from 1993-95, and finished his career with 50 catches, including a remarkable state championship performance with 10 grabs. He made all-state at defensive back. He holds the school record for longest field goal at 58. He scored 346 points in three varsity seasons, which was second at the time only to fullback Tim Smith in school history. Sanson kicked 22 field goals in his career, second in school history to All-American Mike Cortright (36, from ’83-85). Sanson connected on 12 field goals his junior season, including the 58-yarder against Mesa Westwood. He also had a 50-yarder and 48-yarder that season. He later had a solid kicking career at Notre Dame.
No. 8 Sam Salts, WR/DB/K, 1992: As a junior in 1990, Salts broke then coach Pat Farrell’s school record with 10 interceptions. He led the Knights to the 1991 big-school state championship, making plays every which way. He made nine field goals, including a 49-yarder that season. He shared Arizona Republic Player of the Year honors that season with Phoenix Brophy Prep running back Mike Mitchell.
No.9 Allen Thorn, C, 1962: It was 53 years ago when this 5-10, 218-pound center anchored the offensive line and became a high school All-American and went on to Nebraska. That was huge at the time. And he was a big reason why the Knights carved up opponents with a machine-like ground game and reached the big-school state final in Tucson, before falling to Pueblo.
No. 10 Roger Aguilar, St. Mary’s, WR, 1995: He broke Hart’s school record at the time with 22 career touchdown catches. He had 10 TD catches during the 1994 season. Aguilar dialed it from anywhere on the field, at any time. He was an electrifying punt returner. He returned a punt 88 yards for a touchdown against Tucson Amphitheater during the 1994 season. He scored 42 touchdowns in his three-year varsity career.
Who do you think is St. Mary’s High’s all-time greatest football player? Let us know in the comments.