Two significant Tucson sports figures have come full circle with high school football being their starting point as rivals to now as coaches together at Tanque Verde.
When the Hawks won their season opener against Rincon/University on Nov. 6, it was the first time head coach Jay Dobyns and offensive line coach Jeff Kiewel were competitors on a high school football field together since Oct. 28, 1977, when Kiewel and Sabino lost 13-12 to Dobyns and rival Sahuaro. Kiewel was a senior and Dobyns was a sophomore.
They became teammates at Arizona in 1981 when Dobyns transferred into Larry Smith’s program after spending his freshman year at Arkansas. Dobyns was not eligible until 1982 — Kiewel’s senior season when Kiewel was an All-Pac-10 guard — because of the NCAA’s transfer rule.
Their previous game together before the 49-10 victory over Rincon/University was the upset win over No. 6 ASU at Arizona Stadium on Nov. 27, 1982 — a triumph that prevented the Sun Devils from advancing to their first Rose Bowl.
Much like Smith made Arizona relevant nationally in the early 1980s with upsets like that against the Sun Devils, Dobyns, Kiewel and former Arizona standouts Van Brandon and David Adams are doing the same thing as coaches with Tanque Verde’s once-moribund program.
“It’s nice to have everybody together, plus to see these kids have success, after what they experienced last year (with an 0-10 record), even if it is for one game, it’s pretty exhilarating,” Kiewel said.
“We just try and teach them how to play football the right way and help them realize what they’re capable of. To see them realize it themselves is a lot of fun, frankly. It’s a blast.”
The Hawks traveled to Rio Rico last week and scored another dominant victory, 48-13, to improve to 2-0 for only the second time in the program’s 14-year history.
Brandon, a safety at Arizona from 1978-81, is the defensive backs coach. Adams, who developed into an All-Pac-10 running back with the Wildcats from 1983-86, is the Hawks’ running backs coach.
Dobyns, who has a background as a federal agent, describes Kiewel as the “enforcer” on the staff.
“When he speaks, all of us listen,” Dobyns mentioned.
Offensive line coaches with Arizona and NFL backgrounds — Kiewel was with the Atlanta Falcons from 1985 to 1987 — have made their mark at the high school level locally in recent years.
Glenn Parker and John Fina, formerly of the Buffalo Bills, have coached at Catalina Foothills and Salpointe, respectively, in recent years while their sons played.
Kiewel’s ability to be part of Tanque Verde’s coaching staff this season was based on Dobyns scheduling practice late enough in the day. Kiewel can make it in time after his job is done as general manager at Goodmans Interior Structures, a local commercial furniture dealer since 1973.
“I’ve coached some youth football and officiated for a year, so I have kind of been around the game,” Kiewel said. “Most schools practice right after school. Jay has our workouts in the evening. I can’t be out here right after school. It was that way forever. I just couldn’t figure it out.
“Jay organized it in a way that gave me an opportunity to find out what coaching high school football is all about and I’m so thankful for that because I’ve enjoyed it.”
Kiewel is in his sixth year with Goodmans after working as an executive around the game of golf from 2001 to 2014, marketing carts and being a business development director for course irrigation and maintenance.
His zest for returning to football is making an impact on Tanque Verde’s line, which is creating playmaking opportunities for quarterback Corbin Austin, running back Dillon Simmers and wideout Carson Jones — all seniors who experienced only four wins in the previous three seasons.
The play of sophomores Race Erickson, Dylan Petrick and Aidan Vimmerstedt, juniors Terrance Oathout and Ian Bearden and senior Isaac Moran on the line has enabled Austin to pass for 375 yards, Simmers to rush for 245 yards and Jones to make receptions totaling 223 yards.
“Jeff is the straw that stirs our drink on offense,” Dobyns said. “His front five are the key and the start to every good thing that happens for us on offense.
“He has turned five pennies into a nickel; they don’t play as individuals, they play as a unit that has collective pride in our success. They are our unsung MVPs.”
Kiewel calls coaching a “super rewarding” experience, a revelation happening after he recently celebrated his 60th birthday.
“I’ve got guys who have never played at all until they came out this fall and then I’ve got guys who’ve been playing since they were 10,” he said. “It’s kind of interesting to have that whole group together at this age. The great news is they’re good kids. They work hard and try to do what we ask them to do. I don’t have any regrets. It’s been worth the trouble for me.
“I get more out of it than they do. I’m happy to have me around.”
Brandon, Kiewel, Dobyns and Adams each have the lessons learned from Smith and his staffs to bolster how they coach now.
Although they last played for the late Smith four decades ago, their time with the Wildcats is proving valuable to this day as they pass on to the Hawks what made them winners against the likes of ASU, USC, Notre Dame and UCLA.
“Larry ran a really tight ship,” Kiewel said. “Another thing Larry instilled is we were blue-collar teams. There was a lot of hard work.
“There wasn’t so-and-so who was going to carry us. We had a Tom Tunnicliffe, not a Tom Brady. We all worked hard and I bring that here, too. We were all tough and were willing to do what it takes to be successful.”
Kiewel was asked to imagine if Smith was still around and able to watch four of his former players coach a high school team together.
“It would be great to have him out here, actually,” Kiewel said. “I would love to have him watch us and see what his thoughts are.”
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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.