The Tucson High School football players gathered late one afternoon after practice to hear coach Justin Argraves’ final on-field speech before facing unbeaten and formidable Salpointe Catholic a couple of years ago.
Out from this lean and young-looking coach, all of 35 years old at the time, came a booming, deep and sincere voice that could probably be heard at old Roskruge Elementary across the busy traffic on Sixth Street.
“We know who we are!”
Argraves embodied a vision of strength for his players the same way he has since he helped coach his alma mater, Santa Rita, right after he graduated from there in 2001 and was attending the University of Arizona.
He has no choice but to be a coach the Badgers can look to for strength and reassurance, no matter if he blends in with their youthfulness.
Argraves’ job is heavy with responsibility. Tucson is similar to a college operation being a high-profile school in town, the oldest of its kind with a broad alumni base that wants to win now.
Argraves literally has no time to rest, starting his mornings during the season with a yoga class with his players at 6:30 a.m. on campus.
Argraves is grounded because he was raised that way by his parents. His dad is legendary Mike Argraves, who coached softball, volleyball, track and basketball for 32 years at Tucson, Cholla and Santa Rita, before passing away in December 2016.
Justin often reflects on his father’s teaching and talks about spiritually calling on his dad during his time of need, such as now with the weight of the Badger program on his young shoulders.
With all that’s going on during the season, the younger Argraves can understandably gets lost in it all. That’s when his dad, although not here physically, still speaks volumes from what Justin learned from him.
“He loved what he did and he was probably the most competitive man I know,” Justin said of his dad. “But his one thing that he always pushed was it’s more about trying to make a positive impact on these kids, long term, than the actual winning games.
“You start to get wrapped up in the winning and beating yourself up when something doesn’t go right and that would be the one good thing I could call him and he would calm me down a little bit. He would say, ‘Are the kids learning? Are they headed in the right direction? Are they going to be successful once they leave the program? That’s what matters.”
Argraves pondered a little when asked what his dad would tell him about games of high magnitude. The young coach’s voice somewhat coarse from barking out the post-practice speech to his players became soft yet still as strong as ever with its conviction.
“He would be pretty pumped. He loved Tucson High football,” Justin said with a smile. “He never missed a game except for when he was in the hospital that one year. That’s the hard thing. I would talk to him every Thursday night, every Friday. Not having him on the sidelines or not having him be a phone call away, that’s been tough.”
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.