Rishard Davis Brings State Championship Tradition Back to Eloy Santa Cruz

SCOTTSDALE — Lonnie Foster coached the heralded Malone brothers — Art and Benny — and Eloy Santa Cruz Valley to three state titles in the 1960’s when it was one of the most dominant programs in the state.

Foster, 87 and retired in Lakeside, is now joined by the young Rishard Davis, only 36, as being a state champion coach of the Dust Devils’ program.

“Coach Foster sends me a postcard every year saying, ‘I’m proud of you and congratulations,'” Davis said. “I get a lot of love from the coaches who have won state titles. Even when we lost, they were the first ones to offer support and say, ‘Keep at it. We’re proud of you.'”

Santa Cruz’s 42-7 win over Benson in the 2A state title game on Saturday afternoon at Scottsdale Coronado High School is the school’s eighth state championship, the first since 1990. That’s when Jay Denton returned to the program and coached the Dust Devils to a 13-0 record. Denton earlier left Santa Cruz for 10 years after winning a title in 1978.

Foster coached the Dust Devils to state championships in 1965, 1966 and 1969.

Santa Cruz also won three consecutive titles from 1978 to 1980 under three different head coaches — Denton, Eddie Jones (1979) and Jim Ewan (1980).

“Hopefully this championship brings Santa Cruz back to those times,” Davis said of the Dust Devils’ storied history. “Hopefully, this will motivate more guys to come out and play football, keep that competitive spirit going and represent Santa Cruz.”

Whereas Foster had the Malone brothers and Denton, Jones and Ewan featured the famed Cade brothers — Mike and Mossy — Davis has also coached one of the best players in the state.

Hunter Ogle, 5-10, 180, rushed for 244 yards and three touchdowns on 22 carries against Benson. He finished the 10-game COVID-19-shortened season with an incredible 2,096 yards on 195 carries and 25 touchdown.

His four-year career totals: 4,656 yards on 534 carries with 53 touchdowns. He also had more than 240 tackles in his career as a linebacker.

Tucsonans can compare Ogle’s development as a small-school star to former Arizona linebacker Marcus Bell, whose greatness led him to an NFL roster coming out of St. Johns High School.

“Hunter is one of those rare guys, someone you can coach every five to six years,” Davis said. “What else can you say? He’s a good kid. He believes in himself and that’s the most important part about him.”

When Ogle was a freshman in 2017, Santa Cruz lost in the state championship game against Thatcher. That was Davis’ fourth year as a head coach. He was hired in 2014 unexpectedly after previous coach Ernie Montijo resigned following a 1-9 season.

Davis was working on his masters in education at Arizona and was expecting to be only a math teacher at Santa Cruz in the 2014-15 school year after serving three years as an assistant coach at Flowing Wells and one season at Pusch Ridge.

“He’s always here for us if we’re having a bad day,” Ogle said of Davis. “He’s going to pick us up even though we are having bad practices. He knows how to pick us up and we work through it.”

Davis is from Maplesville, Ala., the deep South, where people live and breath football.

He talked of the whole community going to Maplesville High School games on Friday nights, much the same way as the small town of less than 20,000 in Eloy gets behind the Dust Devils.

The winning product he has built at Santa Cruz after the Dust Devils were 6-34 in the four years before his hire is one of the most fascinating coaching performances in the state’s history.

Santa Cruz celebrates its first state title in 30 years (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

“When you’re not winning it’s hard to bring people out,” said Davis, who has coached the Dust Devils to the state playoffs in four of his seven years at the school. “I think the tradition has always been there. Since I got there, people have always told me about Eloy and how it used to be there.

“It’s been there. They just haven’t seen it. Seeing is believing.”

Davis has turned an adverse situation into a tremendous personal achievement before.

As a defensive lineman, he left Maplesville to Tucson on a whim in 2004 to walk-on to the Arizona football team. He progressed through spring practice in Mike Stoops’ first year quite well, or so he thought. Toward the end of spring practice, Stoops cut all of the walk-ons.

Rishard Davis has coached Santa Cruz to its eighth state title in school history (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

“I was disappointed but I was not going to let it keep me down,” Davis said.

He went back to Alabama and produced a Hall of Fame career at NCAA Division III school Huntingdon College in Montgomery. After finishing there in 2009, Davis returned to Tucson because of the love he developed for the city and to be reacquainted with friends he made here.

After his time at Flowing Wells and Pusch Ridge, “I just wanted to get my degree and try to make some more money,” he said. “I didn’t think I would coach. I got the job and it worked out.

“I guess it’s a good thing I took that teaching job at Santa Cruz.”

He laughed and turned to an AIA representative who handed him the 2A state championship trophy.

The drive to his Oro Valley residence was ahead.

“It will be a good drive. It feels good to see all the hard work of these kids pay off,” he said. “This is their work. It’s a great thing to see.”


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.

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