Southern Arizona High School Football All-Star Showcase “filled heart” of participants

Recently graduated Walden Grove placekicker/punter Adrian Alvarado embodied the spirit of what the Southern Arizona High School Football All-Star Showcase was all about on Friday night at Tucson High School.

His season was cut short to only three games because of COVID-19, a horrendous disease that unfortunately claimed the life of his father Raul in December.

Talk about having to persevere through a difficult time in a young person’s life.

Adrian Alvarado in prayer after Friday night’s game (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

The nearly 80 players who participated in the game each faced their own tribulations during the pandemic, some with their entire season canceled. Many of the players were denied the experience of completing their careers appropriately.

Local businesses and the Arizona Bowl made it possible for them to have that one last chance on a high school football field with positive lasting memories.

“Even though it’s tough, I still went through it and I did it for him,” Alvarado said of his dad, a monitor at Walden Grove who was highly popular at the school over the last decade.

“I’m not going to back down from any challenge.”

Alvarado’s 42-yard field goal and his four punts that averaged 43 yards, including a 63-yarder that pinned the Blue team at its 1-yard line, were significant in the Red team (coached by Salpointe legend Dennis Bene) prevailing 10-5 in front of close to 2,000 fans at Gridley Stadium.

The score was an afterthought.

Watching players from both sides standing together, lofting their helmets in the air after the game and saying, “We did it!” is a vision that will carry on.

“I just went back to the message earlier in the week, ‘Just be a team, play for each other and have some fun,'” Bene said. “At the end of the night, it was a really exciting game and I am just super happy for our kids.”

Nemer Hassey, who built Cienega’s program into a power and is now the principal at Mica Mountain High School, returned to the field for the first time in seven years to coach a game. He coached the Blue team with the likes of Pat Nugent of Mica Mountain, Dustin Peace of CDO, Matt Johnson of Mountain View, Justin Argraves of Cienega and Louie Ramirez formerly of Marana and now a Scottsdale Saguaro assistant,

“The kids were classy and to practice with them for only four days and play that well? … to give that effort? It filled my heart today,” Hassey said.

Included in the emotional evening was the parents of Julian Barcelo, a former Tucson High lineman who recently passed in his sleep, giving the Teammate of the Game Award to a player from each team and one of the cheerleaders who participated.

Teammate of the Game honorees Mandy Shaffer of Catalina Foothills, Phillip Raica of Pusch Ridge and Chase Randall of CDO (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

CDO lineman Chase Randall of the Blue, Pusch Rudge running back Phillip Raica of the Red and Catalina Foothills cheerleader Mandy Shaffer displayed admirable teammate qualities throughout the week as selected by coaches of each unit.

The Most Valuable Player award, as selected by coaches, was presented to former Pusch Ridge running back Evan Lovett, son of Lamar Lovett, a receiver during the early Dick Tomey years at Arizona.

Lovett, one of the more physical players on the field Friday at 6-foot-1 and 210 pounds, gained 55 yards on seven carries, including a 24-yard gain that moved the Red out from deep in their territory in the fourth quarter.

“I’d like to thank the coaches, like Coach Zach (Nevleff, Salpointe running back coach), he has more knowledge than I do at running back, that’s for sure,” said Lovett, who is bound for Minot (S.D.) State. “And all glory to God also because that was just a beautiful experience.”

The defense on both sides controlled the flow of the game.

Lovett’s 24-yard run was the longest offensive play of the game. The longest pass was 22 yards from the Blue’s Kai Wilkinson of Mesa Heritage Academy connecting with Isaiah Roebuck of Marana.

Roebuck, the best athlete on the field who on Tuesday played in the 4A-6A Southern Arizona Baseball All-Star Game at Kino Stadium, had seven rushes for 46 yards, four receptions for 51 yards and a 24-yard punt return.

He is headed to Jamestown (N.D.) University to play football and baseball for that NAIA school.

Roebuck’s teammate on the Blue team — Santa Cruz running back Hunter Ogle, an Ed Doherty Award finalist — led all rushers with 58 yards on 11 carries.

The defensive standouts for the Red included five different players who had either an interception or fumble recovery.

Sunnyside linebacker Andrew Gonzalez set the tone with the first fumble recovery at the Blue 17-yard line.

Trevion Watkins of Sahuaro ran the ball for 16 yards and then punched it into the end zone on a 1-yard run to open the scoring with 2:46 left in the first quarter.

Empire’s Dayawn Brown had an interception at the Red’s 3-yard line, thwarting the Blue’s attempt to score before the half.

In the possession before Brown’s interception, Cholla’s Christian Gutierrez kicked a 36-yard field goal for the Blue’s lone offensive score of the game, with 3:44 left in the second quarter.

The Red led 7-3 at the break.

After Alvarado made his 42-yarder that increased the lead to 10-3 with 2:02 left in the third quarter, the storyline of the fourth quarter was the Red turning back Blue possessions deep in their territory with two interceptions and a fumble recovery.

With about 4 minutes remaining, Tanque Verde lineman Ryan Oppel recovered a fumble after the Blue had a first-and-goal at the 4. Oppel, who in the fall will play for the Sonoran Sidewinders, a local team comprised of junior college players, also had a sack in the game.

Rio Rico’s Edryann Rodriguez intercepted a pass at the Red’s 25-yard line with 2:30 left and Sunnyside’s Ikaika Piña finished off Blue’s last gasp with an interception at his team’s 25 with 26 seconds remaining.

The score became 10-5 when a snap on a punt attempt by the Red went out of the end zone with 57.7 seconds remaining.

“Our defense just played lights out tonight; it was big play after big play,” said Bene, who resigned from Salpointe after the 2019 season and was courted by Cienega for its job opening this year but turned it down. “Nemer’s team kept the pressure on, for sure, but I thought our defense — especially in the back end — was tremendous and we were getting pressure up front.”

Bene’s staff included Tanque Verde’s Jay Dobyns and three members of his staff, Cholla’s Virgil Henderson, Empire’s George Kelly, Desert View’s Robert Bonillas and Tucson Sugar Skulls offensive line coach Al Alexander. Standing on the sideline near them part of the game was legendary Cleo Robinson, a former Marana track star and longtime football referee with the Pac-12 who is the grandfather of Salpointe and Texas star Bijan Robinson.

“(The game) brought back a lot of good memories. It’s stressful. You want to win and pull it out for your kids and your coaches. I’m happy with the result,” Bene said. “I was telling Cleo on the sidelines I am going to have fun being a fan next year and let these other guys coach. It’s definitely stressful.”

He said that with a smile. The event was an overall success.

Here are more sights and sounds of Friday’s game:

Senior cheerleaders from area high schools also took part in activities all week at Tucson High (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)
The local referees volunteered their time to officiate the game. Jim Fogeltance – Referee, Kirby Bollnow – Back Judge, Tucker Johnson – Short Wing, Dale Whitmore – Deep Wing, Pat Quigley – Short Wing, Cameron Dozier – Umpire, Josh Waits – Referee, Brian Canaday – Deep Wing, Ken Adams – Umpire, BJ Fogeltance – Back Judge (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)
Red coach Dennis Bene offers Adrian Alvarado of Walden Grove some encouragement (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)
The captains of the Blue team: Parker Pelletier of Salpointe, Josh Hendrickson of Marana, Hunter Ogle of Santa Cruz and Isaiah Roebuck of Marana (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)
The captains of the Red team: Walden Grove’s Sebastian Adamski, Cienega’s Caleb Kidney, Sahuaro’s Trevion Watkins and Sabino’s Jacob Farnham (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)
In this photo are Mica Mountain principal Nemer Hassey, Micah Mountain coach Pat Nugent and assistant Brett Darling, Cienega coach Justin Argraves, CDO coach Dustin Peace and Sahuaro coach Scott McKee (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)
The Red team included coaches such as Desert View’s Robert Bonillas, Tanque Verde’s Jay Dobyns, Salpointe running backs coach Zach Nevleff and Tucson Sugar Skulls offensive line coach Al Alexander (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)


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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