When Jim Jones arrived as the new football coach at Mesquite in February, he saw a talented group of kids but a fractured program.
Different personnel groups answered to different coaches, and there lacked a clear leader at the top. For better or worse, Jones has always been the guy to take control. When the group huddles together, he is the one who talks. When a decision needs to be made, he makes it.
Maybe in some places, it wouldn't work. But for Mesquite, that was the exact type of leadership needed.
The Wildcats have steadily improved under Jones this season and picked up one of their biggest wins of the year on Friday night, defeating Glendale Cactus, 49-35, to improve to 6-1.
"The talent was here," Jones said. "They were going in different directions the past couple of years. We needed to get them in one vehicle and go down the road together. We had some ups and downs, don’t get me wrong, but they were winning and they saw that product. It’s gotten a lot easier in the last two or three weeks."
The victory moved the Wildcats to No. 7 in the latest Division II rankings and the team now has more wins this season (6) than it did in the past two combined (5).
Jones said he never worried about how he would be perceived when he took over after Matt Gracey's two-year stint at Mesquite. He's a coaching veteran and wasn't going to change his old-school, tough-minded approach.
"I really wasn't concerned with (perception)," Jones said. "That's just my nature. It's just the way I am. If you don't like it, nice knowing you. But these kids here that we're working with, they're unbelievable. Their attitude, it's like night and day."
Mesquite started slowly, pulling out a close contest in the season opener against Gilbert before losing to Williams Field in Week 2. Since then, the team is 5-0 and has outscored its opponents 177-62.
Running back Paul Perry has been an important piece. He missed the beginning of the season with a knee injury but has consistently rushed for more than 100 yards per game during the winning streak.
Jones had an idea the defense would be good, and now that the offense has started to click, the team has become formidable.
Mesquite has a tough finish to the season with games against Poston Butte, Marcos de Niza and Campo Verde, but is clearly in the playoff picture after missing out the past two years.
"I'm really happy with where we're at," Jones said. "We still have some things we need to get done but the (players) have really responded."