On the brick wall behind Scottsdale Saguaro’s football stadium are the names of their high school All-Americans. On the press box, above the cool Sabercat caricature painted on the concrete slabs are the state championship seasons.
There are a dozen, dating to 1995. The last six have come under Jason Mohns’ watch.
This dynasty didn’t just happen when Mohns showed up as John Sanders’ offensive coordinator in 2011, D.J. Foster’s last season, a state-record breaking season for the running back who went on to do big things at Arizona State, before landing in the NFL, currently with the Cardinals.
It began to happen 1995, when Tim Beck, now the offensive coordinator at the University of Texas, was head coach. That was the beginning, Saguaro’s first state title, led by Mike Brown, who went on to big things at Nebraska and in the NFL as a defensive back.
That was the first building block. Brown was the greatest player at the time to ever play for Saguaro.
But it wasn’t until more than 10 years later that the Sabercats returned to the championship game. Mike Reardon coached the Cats to the 2006 title, before handing the reigns over to his defensive coordinator, Sanders, who continued the winning trend with back-to-back undefeated seasons, then another title the following season. After a blip year, Saguaro was back on top in Sanders’ last two seasons in 2010 and ’11.
Then it was Mohns’ turn.
In his second year leading the program, Saguaro won the 4A title. It hasn’t stopped winning titles since. The Sabercats have a state-record six consecutive championships going.
And, before a major university snags him, Mohns can lead Saguaro to its biggest championship ever — the first-ever Open Division, where it faces No. 1 and three-time defending 6A champion Chandler.
Saguaro, which began the season in the Top 25 and got bounced after a loss to San Diego Cathedral Catholic the second game of the season, worked its way back into the national rankings at No. 25 by USA Today after beating maybe the hottest team in the Open, Chandler Hamilton, in the semifinals.
Chandler is ranked No. 10 by USA Today.
They meet Saturday at 4 p.m., at Arizona State’s Sun Devil Stadium in the final high school football game of the season.
A win over Chandler would cement Saguaro’s legacy this season as the best high school football team in Arizona. Period. End of story. No debate.
In years past, when Saguaro would boat-race the 4A competition, not a lot of people put enough stock into it to anoint Saguaro as the state’s best team. There are 27 seniors on this team, many of whom are headed to Division I colleges to continue playing.
“It’s a special group,” Mohns said. “We had a greater challenge to get to this point than any other Saguaro team before them. It means a lot.”
People on the outside sees a Saguaro football team built with transfers. Yes, five-star cornerback Kelee Ringo moved in from Washington state two years ago. Four-star outside linebacker Damian Sellers transferred from Hamilton after his freshman year. Four-star defensive back Jacobe Covington started out at Chandler.
But they’ve been in the program long enough, learning that Saguaro isn’t a place just to achieve individual goals.
“People think it’s a bunch of hired guns,” Mohns said. “That’s not what this is. These are kids who really care and grind year-round. They know the amount of work it takes. They’re asked for the same kind of commitment. They buy in and embrace it. That’s why we’re so successful. You mix hard work in with talent.”
Tradition is found on Thanksgiving Day, a practice even during the bye week, which brings out more than 100 alumni. It’s found in the team bowling nights. It’s found in the pre-state championship game lunchefor the team captains.
“We want to have our senior class going out on top, just like the senior class before us,” said senior captain Will Shaffer, who plays linebacker, H-back, running back, runs through walls, anything to keep the Saguaro football machine rolling. “We want to keep that legacy going.”
These seniors, perhaps the most talented collective group in school history, don’t want to become the first to lose to an Arizona team since 2015, when that Saguaro team had only seven seniors.
The 2015 team lost in back-to-back weeks to Peoria Centennial and Phoenix Pinnacle in the first month of the season, before going on a 56-game winning streak against Arizona teams. A streak that remains in tact with only the state’s other dynasty, 6A Chandler, in the way of ending it.
“We’ve had a lot of proud players,” Mohns said. “Keys to success are the culture and the tradition of the program they learn abound. They grow up within, the guys before them. They want to carry the tradition.
“They come here seeking individual goals, but they find out what the program is all about and what it means to people getting to the point where they want to be a part of it it and leave a legacy.
“We build strong relationships. We have a phenomenal coaching staff. Almost eight years we’ve been together. You see how there are coaching changes every year, hiring and firing all around us. We remain. That staff has remained intact since I took over.”
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