Jay Dobyns: Who is Tanque Verde Football?

EDITOR NOTE: Sahuaro and Arizona legendary wide receiver Jay Dobyns wrote the following about his first head coaching venture at Tanque Verde High School. The Hawks, who are a Class 2A school, open their season at home Friday night against Class 5A program Rincon/University.


We have an amazing group of players.  Over a short period of time together, I have grown to love all of them.  Our seniors are special.     

They are 5-25 in their Tanque Verde careers, 0-10 last year.  There was no reason for them to stick around after the high school football experience they’d had.  They are well aware of what others say and think about them.  They know how they are viewed.  They’ve heard all the mocking and the jokes.  They bought in to our restoration plan because they no longer were willing to be viewed as victims or Tucson’s doormat.  They want to do something about that.  Build something.  Start something.  They know respect must be earned.  I tell them, “The laughing won’t end until we win.”  Humiliation is a great motivator.

The 2019 season finished with 18 players on the squad.  Pre-Covid and online-only academics, we had 55.  Both have cut us down to 40.   

Jay Dobyns is a first-year head coach at Tanque Verde (Tanque Verde photo)

They flocked out this winter and started to grind.  We were at ground zero, myself included — this is new to me too.  Actually, less than zero because in addition to lacking fundamentals and technique, not one player or staff member was familiar with my terminology.  Everything I intended to do was brand new.  We had to learn not only what to practice, but more importantly how to practice.  Pace.  Intensity.  Focus.  Organization.  Effort.  Energy.  Attitude.  Those all had to be trained into the players at a rapid pace.  Their learning curve was steep, but they have been up to the challenge.  

When the virus hit, the cancellation of spring football and summer programs hit teams with new staffs harder than the rest.  Still, my boys organized their own team workouts at various parks and fields around town and replicated what we had started.  Some nights there were 30-40 players working out together.

We were allowed to get them back late-summer with covid checks, masks, distancing, sanitizing.  Our practices looked more like a massive CrossFit class than a team football workout.

I have not been easy on them.  I push them.  I challenge them.  I am demanding.  My expectations of them are very high.  I don’t think they were ready for me.  I am rough around the edges at times.  There are days when they don’t like me very much.  But, every day I tell them, “To get something you’ve never had, you have to do things you’ve never done.”

I don’t run a football program.  I run a leadership program whose lessons are taught through football.  We have one over-arching and all-encompassing goal:  To make our players’ lives better for having been in our program.  If we do that, success will take care of itself.

Jay Dobyns (right) was an assistant at perennially strong Salpointe program before taking over struggling Tanque Verde this season (Andy Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

I am a very ordinary coach.  There is nothing special about me.  But, I was smart enough to surround myself with an extraordinary staff.  They are all better coaches than me.  I am elevated because of them.  They are all volunteers.

My Ride or Die.

John Williams is our associate head coach, defensive coordinator and defensive line coach.  He has been by my side since we were kids and he’s never left.  We played together at Sahuaro.  He defines loyalty.  He was the very first person I asked to join me.  He coached defense at Salpointe for the last 10 years and, years before that at Rincon and in the Falcons youth football program.  His love of kids and coaching is unmatched.

The Youth Brigade.

Matt Vinson is our quarterback coach and strength and conditioning coach.  He was a starting quarterback at Chadron (Neb.) State and one year at West Virginia Wesleyan.  He has done an amazing job with our quarterbacks from mechanics to the mental and emotional aspects of the position.  I call him the ‘QB Whisperer’.  He holds every fitness certification imaginable and has brought to us innovative training techniques.

Jay Williams, John’s son, is our defensive backs coach.  He was a tremendous player at Salpointe, captain of Salpointe’s 2013 state championship team, and was a starting strong safety at Brown University.  He blends the intensity of high-level football with Ivy League intelligence.

Jack Dobyns is our receivers coach.  He is my all-time favorite player in the history of helmets and shoulder pads.  Jack played at Salpointe and was a starting tight end at Chadron State.  He has great understanding of the position having had it beat into him with a 100,000 reps in his youth and playing days.

Jay Dobyns with his son Jack after a Chadron (Neb.) State College football game four years ago. Jack is now part of Jay’s staff at Tanque Verde. (Dobyns family photo)

The Legends.

Van Brandon is a defensive specialist.  He was a 3-year starting safety at Arizona and a player I looked up to as a teammate.  Van is the epitome of toughness.  Practicing against him on Arizona’s scout team was a life-and-death experience.

David Adams coaches our running backs.  Not much can be said about David that isn’t already known.  Sunnyside legend.  All-Pac 10 player at Arizona.  1,000-yard rusher.  Touchdown machine.  NFL and CFL career.  David is Tucson royalty.

Jeff Kiewel coaches our offensive line.  An All-Star at Sabino.  All-Pac 10 player at Arizona.  An ‘enforcer’ on our offense at the U of A.  NFL starter with the Atlanta Falcons and in the USFL.  Jeff is a brilliant coach.  When he speaks, all of us listen.

My Wisdom Counsel.

Bob Vielledent is my old-soul guru.  He was my coach at Sahuaro, then later served as the head coach at Santa Rita.  He has been my friend for more than 40 years.  He coached some of the greatest football players Tucson has ever known – John Mistler, Rodney Peete, Rock Roggeman, Eric Drage, Anthony Sanders – all Parade All-Americans.  There is nothing that I can or will experience that Coach V has not seen, done and taken notes on.  He offers me valuable guidance and counseling every day.

Van and David encountered health issues after we started.  Van must have a broken neck (from a big hit at Oregon in 1979 where he was removed from the field on a stretcher) surgically repaired.  David suffered a stroke and is rehabilitating.  In spite of their pain and discomfort, their presence is a daily inspiration to all of us.

I am blessed to be able to coach alongside people I consider to be some of my very best friends.  If I do my job well, the storyline for Tanque Verde football will flip from the staff to the players.  The coaches have all had our “15 minutes” of notoriety.  The players’ turn is coming.

Jay Dobyns (83) was a standout at Sahuaro before attending Arkansas and then transferring from there to hometown Arizona (Dobyns photo)
  1. LAST.  ME.

When I interviewed for the job, the competition was not difficult. … there was none.  Had there been, I likely would have been passed over for many valid reasons.  No one wanted this team.  Before I accepted the offer, I spoke with a coach I highly respect.  His comment was powerful, “Tanque Verde is where your dreams will go to die.”  He was trying to discourage me from accepting the job.  Instead it inspired me. 

In my past lives and adventures, I was never the best at anything.  I wasn’t the best player, or even the best receiver, on any team I was a member of.  I wasn’t the best undercover agent.  I can name dozens who I consider better.  I was never the best coach.  But, I was always willing.  I was willing to do things other people were not.  In football, I was willing to give up the glamour role and go over the middle to catch passes.  As an agent, I raised my hand for assignments others declined because they were considered too dangerous or impossible.  I never could guarantee success, but what I could guarantee, is that no one would outwork me.  My dilemma and my guarantee have not changed with Tanque Verde football.

While deciding to commit to the coaching offer, I was struggling with whether I was right person for the job.  Whether I was qualified and capable.  I did not want to embarrass the school, or myself.  I am a member at Pantano Christian Church.  During my process the pastor, Glen Elliot, gave a sermon about self-sacrifice.  He spoke that life’s purpose in serving God should be to lift up others, help others, and place others before ourselves; even if it is done at a risk to safety or reputation.  Before Glen’s message had ended, I leaned into my wife and told her I was going to take the job.

If we are able to find success at Tanque Verde, it will be due to God’s grace in my life, our players, and my staff.  They have done every single thing I have asked of them.  If we fail, that burden rests entirely on me.  Either way, I will have done my best.  Hopefully Tanque Verde will be a place where your dreams go to thrive.  Go Hawks!

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