AllSportsTucson Phoenix Correspondent Brittany Bowyer
Brittany Bowyer is a freelance journalist who started her career as an intern for a small sports website back in 2015. Since then, she’s obtained her master’s degree in Sports Journalism from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at ASU and is in her fourth year of covering various levels of sports across a broad range of platforms in Arizona. You can follow her on twitter @bbowyer07
Cienega football is looking to showcase a plethora of talent when the Bobcats start playing on Friday nights. After a tumultuous 2020 only allowed for the team to suit up for two games total last year, The Boys of Vail are ready to show Southern Arizona why they’re frequently in contention with the best.
“You could see it from our very first day of spring ball when they came out here. A lot of high energy, a lot of “want to” right here. They know, especially after last year, not to take anything for granted,” first-year Head Coach Justin Argraves said.
Showing glimpses of potential to thrive, this year’s squad is ready to make a name for not only themselves, but for the seniors last year who didn’t have the opportunity.
“As long as we work, there’s no one stopping us but us. We control our own destiny,” senior Cole McFarland said.
McFarland is among one of the four senior leaders on the team this year with a hunger for success. They know when they step out under the lights this season, each and every play is not only for them, but for those who didn’t get to have a senior season last year. Among other seniors whom Argraves expects to have a large leadership position on the team are Garrett Montgomery, Brody Kallman and Ritchie McCormack.
“We just have to realize that we can hit as hard if not harder than them, because we don’t get that much popularity like Phoenix does,” Kallman said.
Argraves says these four have done a phenomenal job of bringing the younger and more inexperienced players under their wings and helping them make the transition to the varsity level and prepare them for battle to help keep Cienega ranked among the top Southern AZ teams.
“Those guys with the varsity experience, even though it was limited last year coming into this year, are big senior contributors that we’re really looking forward to this year,” Argraves said.
Long known as a historically strong program, the last year and a half has been anything but a breeze for the Bobcats. After falling to Notre Dame Prep in the 2019 Quarterfinals 45-6 on the road, Cienega players already had a chip on their shoulder due to the way the previous season ended and were anxious to get another shot at proving what they’re capable of doing.
Unfortunately for the Bobcats, that opportunity was slowly but surely stripped away with time as the virus ravished its way through not only Pima County, but the entire state. Initially, the entire 2020 football season was up in the air for everyone, as officials worked to determine if and when it would be safe for athletes to return to activity. The future became much more bleak, and clear, when district officials all across Tucson announced they’d be forgoing any athletic practices and games until health officials determined it would be safe to resume the activities, and they would not be starting football with nearly all other schools in the AIA on Oct. 2.
This alone already placed most Tucson schools like Cienega at a disadvantage in a number of ways, as they’d have fewer games in their season than the majority of the athletes up in the Valley. The final, and perhaps most devastating blow of all was handed down on Nov. 24, just days after the season finally got underway. Following a memorandum submitted by Pima County administrator C.H. Huckelberry to Pima County School Superintendent Dustin Williams, public school superintendents across the board cancelled the remaining football season.
“We actually played a Saturday game and it was terrible,” Montgomery said, reflecting back on the two games they were able to play last season.
Although the squad was victorious in both, defeating Canyon del Oro 28-14 and Ironwood Ridge 36-22, it was far from the season they had been longing for.
Bitter about the way the season ended and already facing a ton of adversity on how to move forward, the players started off the new year with more disappointing news; Coach Pat Nugent would be leaving Cienega to build the new Mica Mountain football program from the ground up. It was a move that had been rumored for weeks before it was finally confirmed, leaving the returning group with a lot to digest, take away and try to grow from as they looked forward to the future.
A month later, the Bobcats announced the hiring of coach Argraves of Tucson High’s program, to take over the helm at Cienega. Argraves had spent the previous ten seasons as the head coach of the Badgers, accumulating an overall record of 53-43 and leading Tucson to six winning seasons.
Argraves says he’s excited for his new role, especially after all of the stress and struggles following last year. He knows there’s going to be adversity to overcome in his first year with the program, but he’s confident that with his motivated group led by talented and experienced seniors guiding those beneath them, the sky’s the limit.
“I’ve really enjoyed how these seniors have responded. It’s not easy to go through a coaching change, and it’s sure as heck not easy to go through a coaching change after a COVID year,but the response has been awesome and the buy-in has been great,” Argraves said.
“I feel like we are just now starting to come together as a team because at first, we were all separated about the new coaching staff… We had some bumps in the road, but now we are just smoothing it out,” Kallman said.
Looking to leave the struggles of last year behind, each and every practice brings mounting excitement as the season inches it’s way closer.
“We’re all out here working for the same goal in the end, so no matter what challenges they throw at us like a coaching change, we’re all out here. The coaches want to win a championship, and we want to win a championship,” McCormack said.
“They were a senior heavy team last year, so a lot of these current seniors were kind of riding back up behind them. They’re excited to get on here, we’re excited as a staff, it’s a good time to take over a program like Cienega High School,” Argraves said.
“We’ve been faced with adversities, but we’re rolling with it. I think we can come back stronger from this. Yeah, there’s new plays and new changes to coaching, but our coaching staff here is great and they’ve done nothing but support us so far and I believe they can lead us to a championship, because they’re those kind of guys,” Kallman said.
Cienega boasts a strong schedule this year, opening up the season against the 2020 5A State Champions of Sunrise Mountain on the road up in Peoria on Sept. 3 at 7pm. It’s a game that a number of the players are looking forward to playing in as they take another step towards returning to normal.
“We’ll compete, show them we can play with the best, because we all believe in ourselves. You know you always hear with Tucson and Phoenix, Phoenix is the bigger brother to us, but we’re gonna show them that we can play,” Montgomery said.
“We just have to realize we can hit as hard, if not harder, because we don’t get that popularity like Phoenix does… You define yourself as a player, you’re not going to go by those stereotypes. If you want it, you can go get it,” McCormack said.
“That’s going to be a good litmus test for us,” Argraves said.
Full Cienega Bobcats Football Schedule:
Sept. 3 – @ Sunrise Mountain
Sept. 10 – @ Buena
Sept. 16 (THURSDAY) – vs. Salpointe Catholic
Sept. 24 – BYE
Oct. 1 – vs. Campo Verde
Oct. 8 – @ Mountain View – Marana
Oct. 15 – vs. Ironwood Ridge
Oct. 22 – vs. Nogales
Oct. 29 – vs. Sunnyside
Nov. 5 – @ Marana
Nov 12 – vs. Rincon