The last many of Southern Arizonans heard of defensive back C.J. Flores was when Cienega’s talent-laden team in 2020 had 14 players who went on to college, but before that, had their aspirations of a state championship cut short by COVID-19.
The Bobcats, playing under coach Pat Nugent for the last time, won their only two games in the abbreviated season cut short by the pandemic.
Nugent, left to fellow Vail school Mica Mountain the following season to lead that fledgling program.
Flores, who also wrestled at Cienega, went to NAU as a preferred walk-on. He returned to Tucson following the 2021 fall semester at NAU and enrolled in classes at Arizona last spring with the desire to play football for the Wildcats.
“I though that (play for NAU) would be a good experience, but honestly, I’ve always wanted to play here (at Arizona) and play in front of my hometown,” said Flores, who is 5-foot-11 and 190 pounds. “After I left NAU and entered the (transfer) portal, I just decided that this was the only place where I wanted to play football.
“So, obviously, I’m just blessed with the opportunity to do. I’ve worked out probably like every day, just hitting the field, hitting the weight room. It all paid off and I got the opportunity to play here.”
Flores was a two-year starter and one-year captain for Nugent and the Bobcats. He finished his career with 47 tackles, four for loss and two passes defended.
During Flores’ junior season, Cienega finished the regular season 8-2 and reached the 5A quarterfinals.
Flores joins a list of local hopefuls trying to land a scholarship with the football program.
Former CDO lineman Chase Randall, who played at Valparaiso last season, accepted a preferred walk-on offer by Arizona.
Pusch Ridge linebacker Tyler Mustain, one of the top tacklers in the state the last two years, will attend Arizona as a preferred walk-on.
Arizona has gone to the outlying areas of Thatcher and Sierra Vista to land preferred walk-on linemen Jacob Rasmussen of Thatcher and Toafia Fruean of Buena.
Salpointe graduate Cruz Rushing, a preferred walk-on as a defensive back at Florida last season, also transferred to Arizona and is on scholarship.,
Being a preferred walk-on means that they will be on Arizona’s roster but won’t receive financial assistance at least for their first year in the program. They can earn a scholarship going into their second season but nothing is guaranteed.
While preferred walk-ons do not receive athletic scholarship funding, they do receive other amenities that scholarship players have — use of the training facility, athletic gear and meals, etc.
Former Rincon/University standout Beyah Rasool, an assistant defensive backs coach, has been instrumental landing most of the preferred walk-ons with the hope they can establish themselves from this year to next.
Flores said he was in contact throughout the process with defensive backs coach Chuck Cecil, who advocated for the Cienega alum to join the program.
“Coach Cecil is just an amazing guy,” Flores said. “He brought me on and fought really hard for me. I really appreciate that. The past three weeks (of workouts) have been really awesome getting to know the coaches and experience what it’s like to be there.
“Everyone’s awesome. Everyone’s there for the team. It’s just honestly a really good experience.”
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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.