After a three-year run of playoff appearances, the Marana football team fell back to Earth this year with a resounding thud.
The Tigers finished last season with a 7-4 record, falling to Cienega in the first round of last year’s playoffs. This year, Marana limped to a 1-9 regular season, wrapping things with their lone victory, against Nogales last Friday, 29-24.
The tough season was a result of many factors according to head coach Louie Ramirez, including 23 players who missed time to injuries. Those injuries have ranged from blown out knees to concussions and even a broken collarbone.
Despite the injuries and the record, Ramirez said he’s still proud of how his players keep their heads high each and every day in practice and on game nights.
“Everything is a learning process,” he said. “We’re continuing to build a culture and continuing to instill values of what this game of football is. Everybody talks about wins and losses. But at the end of the day, we’re trying to build good people and the wins will come.”
Over the course of the season, attrition due to injury has allowed underclassmen like freshman quarterback Samuel Brown to see outsized playing time for a freshman.
The freshman responded relatively well to the pressure, leading the team in passing yards (654) while taking the on-field lumps that can be expected for a player his age.
Brown has kept his head up through the losses thanks to the friendships he’s built with the team’s elder players.
“These relationships that we build are going to last a lifetime, and that we’ve learned to overcome a lot,” Brown said.
According to Ramirez, those bonds of friendship tested through adversity, and the experiences the Lions shared this year, are going to prepare them for life.
“They will remember this year more than our seniors last year, more than going 7-4, more than going 9-3 in their sophomore year,” he said. “They’re going to remember this season, not because we almost lost all 10 games, but because of the camaraderie that we had on our team.”
Even though they couldn’t find a win, the Lions did pick up some new equipment this year in the form of Guardian Caps, shock-absorbing lids that go on the players’ helmets.
The equipment is used during team practices, and is meant to reduce the risk of head injury during the week—lessoning the chance of suffering a traumatic brain injury in a game.
Ramirez thinks the investment from the Marana Unified School District allows the Tigers to prevent the influx of concussions they suffered this fall.
“We’re taking the right steps to be sure our players are safe,” Ramirez said.
Players like senior lineman Tanner Wengert are buying in to Ramirez’s program, and said the team has no intention of walking away from Ramirez or his staff.
“I guess one of my favorite things about these coaches is that they really care about us as people, as players,” he said. “They’ve been through this journey with us, so they’ve been able to overcome these hardships, too. And they’re learning from it. So, I think that’ll really give them the edge over in the future.”
Ramirez said this season’s on-field futility has actually increased his love for the game of football. The team’s lack of success has showed the coach how hard winning on Friday nights can be and has inspired him to go back to the drawing board so the Tigers can fly high next fall.
“I don’t care if we go 1-9,” he said. “I don’t care. I love football. I don’t do it for money. I don’t do it for fame, or whatever. I love teaching these kids the game of football. Teaching the game of life and how much it translates to the game. There’s nothing better.”