Being the coach who replaced the popular Brandon Sanders is a daunting task for Jake Allen, especially with how Sanders, a former Desert Swarm defender at Arizona, built the Warriors into consistent winners.
Sanders did not suffer a losing season in his six years at Pueblo after the Warriors experienced 10 straight records below .500 before his hire in 2014.
He was 41-22. That’s more wins than the Warriors achieved in the 13 seasons leading up to his tenure. They were 40-94 from 2001 to 2013.
Sanders left after last season to become an assistant coach with the Arena Football League’s Tucson Sugar Skulls.
Allen, an 11-year assistant under Matt Johnson at Ironwood Ridge and Mountain View, said he appreciates taking over a program that has a strong sense of pride developed from the Sanders years.
“I tell this to everybody that I have talked to that’s not familiar with Pueblo football: the community feeling is so strong here,” Allen said. “They have welcomed me with such open arms. I have this overwhelming sense of pride in this program already.”
Allen, a former Ironwood Ridge standout, will coach in his first game as Pueblo’s coach Friday when the Warriors host Palo Verde.
Pueblo was originally scheduled to host Empire but the Ravens were forced to cancel the game because of a COVID-19 positive test. Palo Verde became a willing opponent after Catalina canceled its game with the Titans because it requires another week to prepare for the season.
“Coach Johnson really helped get me prepared for this opportunity,” Allen said of his mentor, who has a 119-66 record in 16 years of coaching with a state title in 2012 at Ironwood Ridge.
“I feel ready to go. I could not be happier to be at Pueblo. The kids have really bought into what we’re trying to do. There’s a lot of obstacles with proceeding with COVID. I am just trying to focus on the positives. I’m ecstatic for our players that we’re getting to play games.”
Allen has kept a positive outlook despite heavy losses from graduation.
Top rusher Julian Lopez (1,283 yards on 142 carries last year) exhausted his eligibility. The Warriors’ 10 leading tacklers last year were seniors.
The delay of the season due to COVID-19 has overshadowed everything.
According to Allen, the biggest concern is simply being able to play whether he has a young team or not.
“I’ve been jokingly but half seriously telling people that this year it’s almost a blessing because every year after this will seem easy,” Allen said. “We’re getting all the crazy variables and changes day to day. It’s going to be a good experience for the future.
“Things will not feel chaotic after this year. We’ve made it through it fine. … We can get better as a team every day. We do have control over that. Our mantra every day is focusing on what we do have control over like being a family.”
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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.