High School Football

In preparation for the upcoming football season, Canyon Del Oro High School players practice a few plays.

Randy Metcalf/Tucson Local Media

Every now and then, someone comes along and breaks the mold. 

It’s a familiar pattern on the Canyon Del Oro football program history – the likes of which has produced University of Arizona standouts like Ka’Deem Carey and Jared Tevis, as well as a slew of others who have found football success beyond the high school level.

But there are two players on the 2014-15 roster that have now accomplished something that even the NFL-bound Carey did not.

Seniors Tommy Sawyer and Jared McElmell have been varsity starters since freshman year.

“Their story is really special. I’ve never seen a kid do that in the 13 years I’ve been here,” said head coach Dustin Peace, adding, “Usually freshman are a little bit squirrelly.”

Squirrelly wasn’t the case with Sawyer and McElmell who knew exactly what they wanted by the time the first football practice rolled around their freshman year, and they had the maturity and drive to see that they got it.

“I saw them practicing, and I wanted to be a Dorado more than anything,” said McElmell. “I went up to Peace three practices into freshman year, and I said, ‘I feel like I’m better than a lot of the kids out there starting.’”

Peace gave the hopeful a chance, and it only took two games before McElmell proved his worth and found his starting spot, one which the 6’4” 274-pounder offensive/defensive lineman never relinquished.

Likewise, Sawyer, who started on special teams as a freshman, found himself tossed into the starting offensive lineup as a receiver after injuries sidelined two veteran players. 

“I started out working hard, and I had some seniors take me under their wing. I went in, I knew my stuff, and from then on I was starting,” said Sawyer, who also spends time at the safety and cornerback positions.

Like McElmell, Sawyer’s size and athleticism played a part in landing a spot early on. He currently stands at 6’3” and weighs in at about 200 pounds. 

McElmell and Sawyer are in excellent company this year. Unlike the 2013-14 season when the Dorados’ roster tallied just 13 seniors – a record low under Peace’s long coaching career – there are 29 seniors on the squad this go-around. 

Even still, the young Dorados team topped a 4-6 record in 2012-13 with a 10-2 record last season. It’s a trend the Dorado leadership wants to keep going.

“The losing season was tough, but it made everyone on the team that much more determined to bring the program back up to where it used to be,” said Sawyer. 

Peace says despite the team’s senior-heavy lineup, much of the responsibility will still fall on the team’s two most seasoned veterans in McElmell and Sawyer.

“Tommy’s going to get the ball more than he ever has,” said Peace. “He’s going to be our big playmaker. Jared’s going to get more time on the defensive end. They’ll both be leaders out there. When I’ve got something to tell our boys, I tell Tommy and Jared to tell them.”

The duo has readily accepted the additional responsibility. 

“I want my teammates to look up to me and approach me,” said Sawyer. “I hope they see that I am trying to help. I want them to succeed.”

McElmell and Sawyer are each hoping to play at the collegiate level. McElmell is undecided on where he’ll end up. Sawyer is looking to play at either the Navy or Air Force Academy. As they plan their future, they will take with them an abundance of knowledge and experience from their time on the field.

“Life lessons are a key part of football,” said McElmell. “The time you spend on the field is limited, so cherish every step you take. I’ve learned that a brotherhood and determination can take you further than any weight room or practice. As long as you’re a unit, you’re going to stay a unit until the end.”

But before that end comes, there is business to be conducted this season against those who stand in their way.

“I expect a whole lot of pancakes,” said McElmell. “I hope they’re serving breakfast.”

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