Thousands of teenagers are flocking to dew-stained practice fields this month in preparation for the 10-week-long gamut that is the high school football season.
These players will expend great amounts of energy over the coming weeks, knocking out two-a-day practices and embracing the arduous workload that creates championship-caliber teams.
Tucson Local Media will be running a series of previews, going over the preseason expectations and musings of coaches from schools across the northern Tucson region, before the season kicks off this Friday, exposing readers to the plethora of pigskin talent in Southern Arizona.
Marana ready to impress through the gridiron grind
The blurry red numbering on the entrance of Marana High School encroached 110 degrees on a recent Monday afternoon.
Not a soul could be found on the barren earth surrounding the school grounds, for even the hardiest of desert dweller had packed it in for the afternoon.
The silence of Sonoran summer was shattered by another group of hardy residents, however, as four dozen or so high school players buzzed around the school’s dark green turf field, readying themselves for another arduous football season.
The athletes, armed with only the pads on their backs and a row of water jugs to quench their thirst, were challenged by sixth-year Coach Andy Litten to fight fatigue and frustration and embrace the grind.
Litten, a jovial face that has guided the Tigers to 27 wins in his first five years (including nine a year ago) knows the early-August practices can be the difference between triumph and tragedy.
The veteran coach is impressed by his team so far, including wins at the University of Arizona and Show Low High School 7-on-7, or ‘passing league’ tournaments this summer.
“Every year we’re looking to always take that next step,” Litten said. “Last year, we were region champions, we went 9-3, won our first round playoff game, so the bar’s set pretty high. And obviously we want to be a better football team this fall. We want to contend for a state championship.”
Litten’s roster is full of athletes with the potential to deliver on the coach’s lofty goals.
Leading the charge offensively for the Tigers is junior quarterback Trenton Bourguet, who threw for 1,397 yards and 15 touchdowns a year ago, with only five interceptions.
The gunslinger will have plenty of options, including 6’3” senior Tariq Jordan, who pulled in 593 receiving yards and four touchdowns last year.
Litten believes that both will have successful seasons, and believes that this year’s senior class of 20 players is as strong as any he has coached.
“It’s nice to have leadership and kids that have done it before,” Litten said. “So when we get ready for our next region championship, we’ll have lots of experience.”
The Tigers’ quest to repeat as region champs begins This Friday, Aug. 18, when they face off against Ironwood Ridge at 7 p.m. at home.
Litten’s squad will face a plethora of talented teams this season, including powerhouse Cienega High School of Vail in week two.
He believes the team’s loaded schedule will serve his players well down the road.
“Our schedule is definitely tough, especially with those two games,” Litten said. “But we look forward to those games. Last year I felt like we really learned a lot about ourselves early on, and that enabled us to get ready for the latter half of the year.”
Another key to this year’s squad is the depth at Litten’s disposal entering the year, with several talented players at each position.
That depth allows the Tigers’ to run a high-paced offense that spreads the ball out to receivers.
“We’re a fast, open field kind of team,” Litten said. “I compare us a lot to a basketball kind of mentality, where we want to get kids into space and move quickly.”
Ready to roll
Litten loves coaching in Northwest Pima County, in the shadows of Twin Peaks and the Tucson Mountains.
He loves how the glow of stadium lights is visible for miles in any direction around the school, and how the town has embraced his teams over the years.
He hopes that this season will feature more of the same, in terms of high-paced excitement, and ultimately bring that elusive state championship home to Marana.
“I love this community,” Litten said. “Honestly, I believe that it’s just a really great school. One of my favorite books that I’ve ever read is ‘Friday Night Lights.’ It has a lot of that mentality and feel here, because as you come out here it’s really the only thing that exists. It’s great.”