When Jay Dobyns took over the downtrodden Tanque Verde High School football program on Dec. 2, 2019, he heard the doubts and concerns about what he was getting into.
He was told it was a dead-end job and he would run his coaching career into the ground.
The former Sahuaro and Arizona standout receiver, who coached under Dennis Bene at powerhouse Salpointe for nearly a decade, was going to a program that never won more than three games in a season since it started in 2007 playing eight-man football without a field.
Games were organized on a grassy area on campus and parents sat nearby on folding chairs.
Dobyns became undaunted to the task with the same sense of determination when he took on serious challenges as a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agent three years after his playing career at Arizona concluded in 1984.
“It was much more than the X’s and O’s of football, and it was much more than the techniques of playing a position,” Dobyns said about becoming Tanque Verde’s coach when interviewed in the latest All Sports Tucson Talk podcast (player above).
“It was a complete re-wiring of the mindset of the players. They had been programmed to fail. They had been programmed to lose. You’re trying to take young people and completely flip the switch on that and convince them, ‘You’re good football players and you will win football games if you do what we ask you to do.’ That’s what I love about the Tanque Verde kids is that everything I’ve asked them to do has been done without question and without complaint.”
The Hawks started 0-4 this season which included forfeiting a 49-0 win over Valley Lutheran on Sept. 2 because of a clerical error involving information of one of the players.
Dobyns’ team is 5-0 since (including a win by forfeit over Santa Rita, which canceled its season last month).
In the four wins on the field in that span against North Pointe Prep, Catalina, Bisbee and Tombstone, Tanque Verde’s defense — led by coordinator John Williams (a former teammate of Dobyns at Sahuaro) — pitched shutouts.
The Hawks outscored those opponents 239-0 heading into their biggest game in program history Friday when they host No. 7 Willcox (7-2, 4-0) for the 2A San Pedro title and the automatic bid to the state playoffs.
Tanque Verde (5-4, 4-0) has a power rating of No. 15 heading into the game. A victory gets the Hawks into the postseason for the first time in school history no matter what with a region title. A loss puts them on the fence similar to last year when they didn’t make the 16-team field despite finishing 7-3.
“We’re in a position and we have everything that we deserve, which is nothing more than a chance,” Dobyns said. “That’s all that we deserve. … It’s huge for us to be able to say that we did something that’s never been done before that most people thought was impossible or at least not possible in this amount of time.
“I told our kids tonight after practice: ‘There’s pressure associated with this game and pressure can be your best friend or your worst enemy. It depends on how you handle it. There’s going to be pressure and high stakes in other elements of your life down the road. … How you step up to pressure and how you meet pressure ultimately dictates the path of your future. This is not only a football game but this is just a little life test for these kids. Yeah, there’s a lot of pressure on us. There’s eyes on us. How are we going to handle it?'”
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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.