First-year Pima Community College head coach Pat Nugent has a message for local football fans who might be pondering whether to attend an Aztec game this year.
"Our big thing is: this is Tucson football," said Nugent. "These are Tucson kids — 70 percent of our roster is from Tucson, people have already read about them in the paper.
"I tell the out-of-town players that now you have a chance to prove yourself at the collegiate level representing Tucson, " the former Canyon Del Oro coach added.
Proving themselves will require a departure from PCC's recent on-field showing (1-39 over the past four years), but according to Nugent, the Aztecs have been making strides in summer passing leagues and the weight room over the last nine weeks.
"I've got to be pretty happy with what's going on so far," said Nugent. "There's a lot of effort and a 65 percent turnout – they've never worked out here in the summer before.
"It's a hard thing for a lot of the out-of-towners, though, since they can't make it here," he added.
Luckily for those hailing from outlying locales, they won't have to wait long to get an indoctrination to the new regime and/or a chance at a first-string roster slot – PCC starts 10 days of two-a-day practices on Aug. 5 at Kino Sports Complex, 2500 E. Ajo Way.
"No starting jobs will be given out until the second week of the season," said Nugent. "It's just hard to say until we put on those uniforms and get on the field."
While every player is still equal on the depth chart for a while longer, some former Northwest-siders have drawn attention to themselves this summer.
"Scott Campbell (ex-Ironwood Ridge wide receiver) is an amazing football player and Daniel Nicholas (ex-CDO quarterback) has put on 20 pounds of muscle, so he's looking good for us," said Nugent.
These, and other homegrown prospects, have created a buzz among players and coaches alike, according to Nugent.
"I think the kids that were here already were searching for somebody, and everyone is just really excited, I mean, it's basically the first summer of a new football program," he said.
A lot of things have been new this season, and not just for the players – their coach has had to deal with an "interesting and a little scary" transition from a successful high school coaching career to a to-be-determined spot on the collegiate level.
The great majority of the changes have been positive, said Nugent.
"It's a lot deeper at every position," the coach said of the talent. "There's a lot of speed, and everyone can do the things that before only four or five kids might have been able to do. " he added. "It's nice to see all the talent in one place."
Some of the changes, however, sound a lot like college.
"It's tough when you talk about a lot of freshmen," said Nugent with a laugh. "I mean, the last thing you want to do when you get out of high school is work out. You want to be out there partying."
While curbing that desire is just one of the new challenges for Nugent (others have included dealing with living arrangement issues), nothing, not even a daunting early schedule which has PCC at home only once in the first month of play and taking on some of the best teams in the Western States Football League, has dimmed the new coach's outlook on the season.
"We want to build a quality football team on the field, we want to be competitive and want our kids to be well-coached, which I think they will be," said Nugent. "But I'm not going to lie, we also want to win football games."
PCC's first home game is scheduled for 7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 5 against Eastern Arizona College at Tucson High School.