The Arizona Republic and azcentral present a documentary series following the South Mountain football team as it builds a culture that is returning pride to the community.
Sean Logan, The Republic | azcentral.com
The Mountain means a lot of things to a lot of people in the south Phoenix community.
Beauty. Resiliency. Toughness. Solidarity. Unmovable.
“It’s always been The Mountain,” Athletic Director Brian Fair said while at the South Mountain High School campus which sits about two miles north of the mountain range known as South Mountain.
“The Mountain against everybody else,” Fair adds.
This high school football season, The Republic will be following South Mountain’s football team in a documentary series, called “Beyond The Gridiron: The Mountain.”
We will dig deep into the community, going behind the scenes and seeing how the dynamic duo of twin co-head coaches Mark and Marcus Carter have been changing the culture.
Since they arrived four years ago, the Carters have dug deep into The Mountain, improving from 1-10 in their first season to 5-5 in 2017 and finally 6-4 in 2018. They’ve ramped up the Junior Jags program to the point this summer where the equipment manager was fearful he’d run out of football helmets for freshmen.
Last year was the school’s first winning season since 2008.
Before 2017, the Jaguars had gone 10-71, including three winless seasons and two one-win seasons, in eight years.
“It takes a lot of trust,” Mark Carter said. “What’s better than being able to work with your twin, at school, on the field, every single day. There is nothing better as far as I’m concerned.”
Fair came from The Mountain in the early 1990s, a quarterback and safety in football who became the state’s Player of the Year before graduating 1991 after leading the basketball team to 32-0 big-school state championship season.
It was 60 years ago that South Mountain played for the state football championship, the first year the Arizona Interscholastic Association went to a playoff bracket. Then called the Rebels, South Mountain tied Yuma 7-7 with Earl Clupper as head coach.
South Mountain has reached the state final only two others times since, losing to Scottsdale Coronado (1976) and to Mesa Mountain View (1993).
Many of the state’s all-time greatest athletes found home and solace and domination at The Mountain.
Steve Jordan (Class of 1980) went on to become an NFL Pro Bowl tight end for the Minnesota Vikings.
Linebacker Byron Evans (1982) was part of the Philadelphia Eagles’ feared Gang Green defenses in the early 1990s.
Running back/cornerback Terry Fair and wide receiver Kenny Cheatham (both 1994) led South Mountain’s last team that reached the state final, before finding success in college (Fair at Tennessee and Cheatham at Nebraska).
Dwayne Evans, who now coaches the track teams at South Mountain, didn’t play football but he was the kid who ran circles around the football field on the dirt track, before winning an Olympic bronze medal in the 200 meters in Montreal the same year in graduated from high school in 1976.
“It was really the neighborhood school,” Evans said. “East and North were around, but you didn’t branch out that much. The mystique of the athletes before us made it a great place to be. There was great camaraderie. Everyone that went there, we knew. It was just home, a nice place.”
When the Carters got to South Mountain, they looked around and asked about the athletes, “Where are they going?”
Buses from other school districts would roll in to pick up kids from the neighborhood to take them to schools outside the Phoenix Union High School District. It still happens. But the Carters are getting more to stay home.
The Mountain shirt is big in the program. Players and coaches wear them with pride.
“You can’t just jump up the mountain; you have to climb it,” Mark Carter said. “There are people dying trying to get to the top of Mount Everest.
“So the Mountain to me means something resilient, something tough. But it also looks good. I know on game nights, I get a little jealous of my brother because he’s up in the crow’s nest and he’s on my headset. In the middle of the season, when the sun is setting kind of early, we’ve got the best view in the state. You’ve got the city lights to the left and the mountain to the right. And the sun is glazing on top of it. It’s still pretty and tough at the same time.”
Now as the brothers travel through the neighborhood, they see good, prideful people who want to see the return of the glory days.
“Wearing the South gear, it is powerful,” Mark Carter said. “Truth be told, we were told we weren’t going to be successful here. I said, ‘OK, we’ll see.’ We tell the kids we love them a lot. We hug them all the time. Having that and telling their parents, they know it’s more than just football. They share that. Kids started coming. We’re working on progress.
“It’s only a matter of time.”
Support local journalism: Subscribe to azcentral.com today.