A cacophony of whistles screech across the turf football field at Marana High School last Tuesday afternoon as a horde of teenagers’ sprint through drills.
The young athletes are the backbone of the Marana football team, which is coming off its second straight 9-3 season in 2017.
The Tigers, under the watchful eye of coaching wunderkind Louie Ramirez—a 25-year-old football savant that replaced longtime Coach Andy Litten this offseason—are primed for a breakthrough fall.
A big reason for that breakthrough rests on the tactical right arm of incoming senior quarterback Trenton Bourguet, who has thrown for 5,152 yards and 64 touchdowns in three years at Marana.
Bourguet, in combination with an uber-talented receiver core that includes 6-foot-4-inch dynamo Tariq Jordan, have the Tigers in excellent shape heading into summer camp.
The key for Ramirez is honing the team’s execution and physical acumen in spring and summer camp—seeking to keep up the team’s breakneck offense, which scored 47.2 points per game a year ago.
“These guys are really flying around right now,” Ramirez said. “Right now, it’s about really trying to set the tempo and creating an identity of just playing fast, getting lined up as quickly as we can, and just creating a culture and attitude of playing hard every snap. Not only on the field, but in the classroom. I’ve been preaching academics since I got here and that’s going to be something that we stick to.”
An aspect of the Tigers’ game that Ramirez hopes to fix is on the defensive side of the ball, which was a relative weakness for the team a year ago.
The Tigers surrendered 21.9 points per game in 2017, which Bourguet attributed to a team-wide apathy towards doing the little things to prepare.
Bourguet said the team is excited to play for new defensive coordinator Vince Amey, who previously served as Rich Rodriguez’s defensive line coach at the University of Arizona.
“I’d say the biggest difference that we need to make is with our defense,” Bourguet said. “We just have to make that a part of our identity. They’re making defense fun, people want to play it. I think this year, defense is going to be excited to play, we’re going to be going both ways, and hopefully we can make it farther than we have the last few years.”
Putting Marana on the map
One of the biggest perks of having a coaching staff with college coaching experience is the exposure players receive.
Ramirez’s new team has witnessed that firsthand this spring, with coaches from Northern Arizona University, the University of Washington, Arizona, Southern California—to name a few—checking in on practice.
Jordan is thrilled to have the chance to perform in front of a star-studded cast of college coaches, knowing how badly he and his teammates want to play football at the next level.
“It’s very humbling, because it’s an opportunity for me to play at the next level and for my teammates to succeed and get exposure out here,” Jordan said. “So, the more schools that come and the bigger the schools are the better, because that’s what we all want, and it’s finally time for us to show what we can do.”
Ramirez is humbled to see his former college colleagues at practice, knowing how important connections can be in getting an overlooked prospect the attention they deserve.
“To be honest, I think a lot of it is relationships,” Ramirez said. “A lot of the coaches that have been coming through are friends of mine, and they just wanted to come say congratulations. And one coach might come for one player and not know about two other players that we have.”
The Tigers’ face a gauntlet of a schedule this fall, with non-conference games against Scottsdale’s Horizon, Laveen’s Fairfax, Catalina Foothills and Gilbert’s Williams Field high schools.
They also face the challenge of playing in a reinvigorated Division 5A Southern region, squaring off against the likes of Buena, Cienega, Ironwood Ridge, Nogales and Sunnyside.
Bourguet knows how tough this year’s slate will be but says he’s excited to face off against the best competition in the state.
“We’ve got Catalina Foothills, Horizon and Williams Field this year, so it’s going to be tough,” Bourguet said. “But I’m excited to have a tough schedule and to see what we can do with it.”
Ramirez hopes the team’s daunting schedule can serve as an extra shot of motivation during the grueling heat of summer practice.
The young coach believes the grind will help his players come out hungry when the Tigers face Horizon on Aug. 17 in the season opener.
The key for the fledgling coach is to instill a set of values, centered on camaraderie, respect and effort, so his players will succeed on the field and in the classroom.
Instilling those values and a love of football in the 50-plus players on the Tigers roster is crucial to the program’s success.
Ramirez believes he has a captive cadre of players, and that their willingness to do the little things in spring and summer workouts will help them go deeper in the state playoffs this fall.
“If you love football and you have a passion for it and you’re ready to come to work every single day, have that lunch pail mentality that you’re not going to let anything get in your way, I think you’re in a good spot, and that’s what these kids have,” Ramirez said. “They have that hunger, they have that mentality, I’m just trying to get them over that hump.”
Bourguet hopes to go out on a high note this fall, finishing his last year of high school football with a state championship.
He knows what his band of brothers is capable of and what they can achieve if practice and play to their upmost potential.
“The last three years, I’ve been taking it for granted,” Bourguet said. “And this is my last year, so I’m really trying to take it day-by-day and just live it to the fullest. Have fun, put in good effort and try to be better every single day, and I just want to make sure that the future of this program is bright.”