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2022 Southern Arizona high school football preview: Sahuaro Cougars


4A Gila

2021 record: 1-8 overall, 1-3 4A Kino (fourth)

Head coach: Al Alexander, first season as a head coach and overall. Longtime Salpointe assistant coach who in the previous two years served on Pat Nugent’s staffs at Cienega and Mica Mountain. Alexander filled the vacancy created when 13-year coach Scott McKee and Sahuaro parted ways last December. Alexander was also the offensive line coach with the Tucson Sugar Skulls professional indoor team the last two seasons under Dixie Wooten. He was an assistant and associate head coach on Dennis Bene’s staff at Salpointe from 2004 to 2019 when the Lancers annually competed for region and state titles. The Lancers won the state title in 2013.

Longtime assistant Al Alexander finally coaching his program at Sahuaro (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

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Key returners:

  • QB Angel Hightower, 5-11, 150, Sr.
  • LB/RB Neo Watson, 6-2, 210, Sr.
  • DB/WR Jaylen Grigsby, 5-10, 155, Jr.
  • LB/FB Izaiah Perez, 5-9, 190, Jr.
  • DE/TE Antonio Arellano, 6-1, 210, Sr.
  • DT/OT Vince Manata, 6-1, 265, Sr.
  • DT/OT Andrew Goerke, 5-10, 255, Jr.
  • CB/WR Dylan Thomas, 6-0, 160, Sr.

“One thing we do is study hall every day. We stay proactive. That’s huge for us because it’s education first. We’re trying to instill that in them. That’s the start from Day One when I got on campus. Our goal is to lose no one from grades. It’s a hard thing to do but that’s our main focus, that part of it.”– Alexander on trying to keep players eligible through the course of the season.

“You can expect really good things, way better than last year (0-9 record). That’s for sure. We have no cov id cases. That was probably the big thing last year. We’ve had no cases yet and hope to keep it that way. Offense is coming along well. Defense is coming along well. … All of the guys are positive, expecting a good season as well.” – Manata

Angel Hightower is preparing for his senior season at Sahuaro (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

“They’re more of a new-school coaching. We went from old-school running the ball to more passing and all of that. I like the change. They’re cool. They understand us and everything.” – Hightower on the coaching change with Alexander coming on board.

Coaching staff:

  • Head coach: Al Alexander
  • Defensive coordinator: Mark Teixiera
  • Assistant: Lucious Miller
  • Wide receivers/defensive backs: Cam Denson
  • Offensive line: Dave Ivey
Former Salpointe and Arizona player Cam Denson is coaching the Sahuaro receivers and defensive backs (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

Notes: Bene is a regular visitor at Sahuaro’s practices. “Sahuaro hit an absolute home run (hiring Alexander),” Bene told AllSportsTucson.com. “He knows football as well as anybody in town. He has worked so hard for many years and nobody is more qualified for this opportunity. He knows what it takes and he knows what it looks like. I know he will embrace the process of building his own program at a school steeped in tradition. Just a fantastic hire for Sahuaro, their student athletes and Southern Arizona football.” … Sahuaro is staying in Southern Arizona with its 2022 schedule with the farthest trip to Rio Rico to face Jeff Scurran’s team in the regular-season finale. … Realignment took away annual anticipated matchups between Sahuaro and Salpointe (now in 6A) and CDO (remained in 4A Kino). The Cougars shifted to the 4A Gila, which also means they do not play Pueblo. Walden Grove also moved from the 4A Kino to the 4A Gila. Other teams in the new region include Amphi, Sahuarita, Catalina Foothills and Rio Rico. … Sahuaro is coming off a 1-8 season affected by many COVID-19 cases and academic ineligibilities. The Cougars were affected greatly by the pandemic after Scott McKee coached the program to a 9-3 record and state quarterfinal appearance in 2019. Sahuaro has lost 12 of its last 13 games.

Keep an eye out for: CB/WR Dylan Thomas, a 6-foot and 160-pound senior. With the Cougars going to more of a passing-oriented offense, expect Thomas’ production to increase. Recruited by various small colleges and was active this summer in 7-on-7 participation and football camps.

Sahuaro’s line play is expected to improve this season with Al Alexander’s background coaching those positions (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

SAHUARO (2-1, 0-0)

Cougars compete in the 4A Gila. *Region game. Games at 7 p.m.
DateOpponentW/LOvrReg
9/2Seton CatholicW, 41-241-00-0
9/9@ SabinoL, 41-201-10-0
9/23NogalesW, 21-72-10-0
9/30Thatcher
10/7@ Buena
10/14@ Walden Grove*
10/21@Amphi*
10/28Sahuarita*
11/4Catalina Foothills*
11/10@ Rio Rico*

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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. He became an educator five years ago and is presently a special education teacher at Gallego Fine Arts Intermediate in the Sunnyside Unified School District

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