Under the newly installed lights of Ed Doherty Stadium, the Salpointe Catholic Lancers are looking forward to showing off all of their hard work they’ve poured in during the offseason. As one of only two schools in Southern Arizona lucky enough to participate in a full football season last year, the Lancers are looking forward to getting back to some friendly competition with the other local programs.
“We get to play our home opener here and we’re hoping to have a sold out crowd. We’re gonna pack this place, we’re gonna to have a big ol’ tailgate before the game, so we’re hoping to get things back as normal as they can,” coach Eric Rogers said excitedly about the first game of the 2021 season against Canyon del Oro.
Going into this season, the Lancers know they’ll have a bit of an advantage in relation to the other local teams. Playing in six regular season games last year and making it to the Open Division playoffs, Salpointe’s varsity players will arguably be the most experienced in all of Southern AZ.
“Obviously when you look at Tucson as a whole, yeah we have a huge advantage in the fact that we played football last year. There’s no secret to that. So we’ve got to take advantage of that. It’s our responsibility to make sure we go out and we execute and play at a high level,” Rogers said.
Despite their advantage on the playing field last year will help them, the Lancers are still working to overcome some adversity of their own. Treyson Bourguet, one of the top-rated quarterback prospects, is the lone returning offensive starter. Rogers says while this is going to be a bit of an adjustment, he’s confident they’ll get things smoothed out with time.
“Obviously this is going to be a big year for me as my senior season. Sophomore season I only got to play half a season because of the transfer rule, and then junior year got cut short because of Covid, so this is my year. I get to take the reins full time and I’m just gonna let loose, play my game, play as a team, execute. Each week it’s going to be a different game plan, but we’ve got to make sure we’re locked in on one big goal instead of individual goals and everything will play out,” Bourguet said.
“We still have a lot of work to do from the x’s and o’s, from a football stand point. I mean, it’s no secret, we lost pretty much all of our offensive production other than Treyson, but again, it’s like that often at Salpointe. You play your senior year, it’s time to step up, and we’ve got a whole group of them ready to play. They want their chance to show what they can do, so I’m excited to let it rip,” Rogers said.
Many of the players who have been patiently waiting and grinding for their opportunity to play will get the chance to see the field this season. While Rogers says that it may be their first time starting for the Lancers, a number of them got worked in at some games last year and they’re ready for the task at hand and mentioned a few offensive names to look out for this season.
“Receiver wise, Michael Aguirre, he’s a senior that’s ready for his time to shine. Bryce Robinson has been busting his butt everyday, working his tail off. Antonio Martinez is going to be a two-way starter, he’s gonna play offense and defense for us, so I think right there you’ve got some guys that can produce and put some numbers up for us,” Rogers said.
I think we’ve got a great running back in Anthony Wilhite that has waited his turn to run the football. He sat behind Bijan (Robinson), he sat behind David Cordero. Anthony has waited for this moment, he’s ready to go.”
Their main strength will lie in their defensive abilities on the field. Led by senior linebacker Joey Sumlin, youngest son of former Arizona coach Kevin Sumlin, Rogers expects the defensive production to continue to climb, and says Sumlin (6-foot and 225 pounds) has really stepped up and owned the leadership role going into the season.
“He’s had an unbelievable off-season, really he has matured and grown. From last year to this year it’s a completely different kid and I’m so excited,” Rogers said.
Sumlin put in a ton of work over the summer and has really grown physically and has started to mature as an athlete. Rogers says he’s anticipating a strong senior year from Sumlin as he really takes control of the defense.
“He doesn’t even know how strong he is. He’s got this natural brute strength, and he seems like he’s having more fun this year than he’s ever had. I just can’t wait for him to bring the hammer a little bit, and he’ll set that tone for us every day,” Rogers said.
Along with Sumlin, Rogers feels there’s a number of other players who have the potential to step up and have an incredible year.
“We’ve got Jace Springer who will start at the d-line for us and also start on the offensive line. Great senior leadership from Jace. Obviously we’ve got Elijah Rushing having a year under his belt now, being a sophomore he’s still young, but the potential. Everybody sees it, and he can really, really help us,” Rogers said.
Playing among the best forces you to be the best and compete, which is why many of these young men have had to sit behind countless other strong players in years past and wait their turn to start. Earning the honor of a starting role is not something to be taken lightly, especially at a program with a pedigree such as Salpointe’s. For many of these younger players, having the opportunity to see the field at all is an opportunity that’s rarely given and must be earned, which is why Rogers expects big things out of a number of his players in the class of 2024 this year.
“Sophomore-wise for us this year, we’ve got Max Flores, he’s gonna be something else to watch playing a little bit of linebacker and he can carry the ball for us. We also have, everyone always forgets because they started last year, Luis Cordova and Elijah Rushing, who are still just sophomores but with a whole year of starting as freshmen for us,” Rogers said.
“The underclassmen, we have Elijah (Rushing), Luis Cordova, a bunch of guys who are looking to contribute at a young age,” Bourguet said.
Historically dominant, it’s been years and years of work poured into climbing and remaining towards the top. One of the biggest assets of the team, and one that’s the least frequently spoken of, is strength and conditioning coach Carla Garrett.
“You know the MasterCard commercial; Priceless. What Coach Garrett brings to the table is priceless. It’s the experience, the tenacity. The kids don’t want to let her down,” Rogers said when speaking of Garrett’s impact on the team
Garrett began working with the Lancers football program back in 2006 and throughout her time there, she’s helped numerous athletes achieve success.
“She loves football as much as any human being I’ve ever been around. She loves this sport, and she just loves the Friday nights, she loves the fans, the lights, the action. You name it, she’s so passionate about this, and passionate about the kids and getting the most out of them. You can’t take that for granted. It’s very rare,” Rogers said.
With a resume that speaks volumes of its own, one of her most valuable traits is being able to connect with the kids. A former Olympic athlete herself, she’s been around high-level, intense athletic training for years and knows what it takes to make it to the NCAA and beyond.
“I think the one thing that every kid takes from me is that I give a damn. I think they really understand that I care about them number one, as people. I want them to be very successful as human beings. So in that, I’m a huge disciplinarian, and I don’t mess around with these dudes,” Garrett said.
“Coach Garrett is an amazing lifting coach, and one thing I love about Coach Garrett is that she’s really big on making sure that we’re doing the right thing. I think that’s very big, because if she’s making sure we’re doing the right thing, that means she cares for us. A lot of us already know when she raises her voice, and gets on us, it’s only to make us better. It’s only because she truly cares,” senior Davian Miranda Carrasco said.
Over the summer, Lancer football only took one week off total from getting after things in the weight room, as they wanted to make sure they were as on top of things as possible going into the season. Getting all of the players to buy in wasn’t easy, but it’s something that the staff knows will help them separate themselves from the rest.
“I’m looking forward to Friday nights and of course my hard work and their hard work all come to fruition. I like to see them compete, because to me it shows a lot of your character when you compete,” Garrett said.
“It’s been night and day difference as far as getting to have that summer. Getting in the weight room, Coach Garrett’s done a phenomenal job. We’ve worked hard. We took one week off the whole summer, so we were grinding. It was a lot of work, but it’s made a huge difference in the kids,” Rogers said.
The Lancers kick off their season on Sept. 3 at home against Canyon del Oro in their quest to return to the Open Division playoffs once again. Two games across the state that will likely draw the most eyes will take place on back to back weeks in the middle of the season against teams from the Valley.
“We have sort of a leg up on these Tucson teams because we went out in the Open Division and we did what we did. For me, I’m going into this season with full confidence because I know I put in the work, and I’ve seen all the Phoenix teams I’ve needed to see. Our team, we can execute, we can go toe to toe with anyone,” Rushing said.
“I think this year being able to play Scottsdale Saguaro and Pinnacle in the regular season is huge for us, because those are the types of teams you play in the open eight, there’s no doubt about it. It gives us a chance to know what we’ve got to work on, know what we need to continue to improve on and get ready for the playoffs,” Rogers said.
“For me, I personally haven’t been able to play Saguaro. I know Salpointe and Saguaro have had this ongoing rivalry for the past couple years and sadly Saguaro is on top right now, but I’m looking to change the culture,” Bourguet said.
Salpointe Catholic Full Schedule:
Sept. 3 vs. Canyon del Oro
Sept. 10 – BYE
Sept. 16 (Thursday) @ Cienega
Sept. 24 vs. Ironwood Ridge
Oct. 1 @ Saguaro
Oct. 8 vs. Pinnacle
Oct. 15 @ Desert View
Oct. 22 @ Cholla
Oct. 29 vs. Buena
(Brittany Bowyer Photos)
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