Having a freshman varsity starter on a high school football team happens in Southern Arizona but not often.
Having three at one time is unheard of.
Add to that the three of them, at Tucson High, are on a winning team through the first three weeks of the season.
Making it even more special is the Badgers were 3-15 in a stretch dating to 2019 heading into this season.
Tucson (2-1) has a chance to match that win total playing at Catalina Foothills (1-2) on Friday night (kickoff is at 6 p.m.).
And most importantly, all three of them are 4.0 GPA students through the first grading cycles of the fall semester.
“First game, it was nervous, it was like … being in the stadium, big field, everybody is looking at me,” quarterback Derek Mesa (6-foot and 170 pounds) said of the opener against Mesa Dobson at Gridley Football Field. “Going into the game, you’re focusing on yourself. It’s nerve-wracking but once you get used to it, it’s cool. It’s fun.”
Mesa is only a removed from finishing his youth football career with the Southwest Rams and his fellow freshman-starting teammates Noah Chanez and Jonathan Diaz just completed their long-standing run with the Tucson Raiders.
A varsity spot was not guaranteed for Mesa, Chanez (a slotback, running back and returner) and Diaz (a wide receiver) especially with more than 130 players reporting to fall camp for the three levels of freshman team, junior varsity and varsity.
Jonathon Diaz, WR, Freshman Class of 2026 with a nice catch tonight! Tucson High 20 South Mountain 12 @_jonathondiaz @rubenpena_2 @PaulCicala @DavidKellyKVOA @coachBSanders18 @AlPopsFootball pic.twitter.com/Gw4VCAjpRz
— Bobby Jet Rodriguez (@bobbythejet) September 24, 2022
It was clear from the start to the coaching staff that Mesa, Chanez and Diaz could earn their place on varsity.
“I knew it I could do it. I didn’t know but I knew I could do it. I’ve always had confidence in myself that I could always make varsity,” said Chanez, who also has the background of playing for the highly successful Tucson Turf youth 7-on-7 team.
“My brother also plays varsity. I’ve always wanted to play with my brother (senior lineman Aidan Chanez). … It’s good playing with him. I like it. … A little family bonding.”
Family is a word that can describe the bond between Noah Chanez, Diaz and Mesa. Although Chanez and Diaz played youth football with the Raiders and Mesa with the Rams, they grew up on the football fields of Tucson together competing in tackle football and 7-on-7.
Made the varsity squad as a freshman, now battling for that starting position! Couple of clips from practice. @AlPopsFootball @AZSPORTSNETWORK @PrepRedzoneNext @5Sportstalk @JUSTCHILLY @AZPreps365Andy @N_Rock17 @TheVBreakdown pic.twitter.com/uSSN4wJIPH
— noah Chanez (@ChanezNoah) August 9, 2022
They have also trained regularly the last few years at Jet Sports Training, a facility owned and operated by former Sunnyside and Arizona football player Bobby Rodriguez.
NFL aspirant Jeff Cotton and athletes such as Roman Bravo-Young, Bijan Robinson and Arizona and Arizona State football players have trained at Jet Sports Training.
The Tucson High baseball team also works out at the southside facility near Ajo and Park.
“It’s helped me a lot,” Diaz said about training at Jet. “It’s made me a lot faster, stronger and just a better athlete overall.”
Some of the top players in Tucson High School history, including tackle Mike Dawson (a Badger from 1968 to 1971), running back/defensive back Joe Petrushus (1965-68) and linebacker Marvin Lewis (1968-71), did not play at the varsity level as freshmen because it was not allowed at the time.
Dawson and Petrushus were part of dominant freshmen teams at Tucson in the 1960s. They were called coach Ollie Mayfield’s “yearlings” by the local media.
Chanez, Diaz and Mesa have the opportunity to be four-year starters, a rare feat at the high school level.
“Being a freshman, starting at quarterback, it’s building my confidence,” Mesa said. “When I’m older, I feel like I can do better as myself. I’m building my confidence starting on varsity. It’s a blessing.”
FRESHMEN OF NOTE IN SOUTHERN ARIZONA
QB Derek Mesa, Tucson
WR/RB Noah Chanez, Tucson
WR Jonathon Diaz, Tucson
QB/CB Imanol Silva, Amphi
QB/LB Kameron Pippen, Palo Verde
WR/CB Sebastian Blakeman, Tanque Verde
TE/LB Fabian Hernandez, Bisbee
CB Nas Pedrego, Sahuarita
CB Jayden Thomas, Buena
WR Noah Segundo, Baboquivari
RB/LB Myles Richardson, Valley Union
RB/LB Chase Pacheco, St. David
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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.