Who said George De La Torre, still raring to coach 40 teenagers every day at age 60, isn’t with the times?
The newest coach in charge of restoring Dobson football’s pride and tradition sent what’s believed to be the first text message of his life last Sunday.
Naturally, the message was imploring his son, Poston Butte coach Mike De La Torre, to actually answer his phone when dad calls.
“I don’t know if he could see the text messages,” the younger De La Torre said with a laugh while recalling the days he played for his father. “I don’t think he can read them.”
George has, however, been known to at least (mostly) successfully send an email. But he didn’t apply at Dobson — nor was he hired — to be a technology teacher.
He’s back in the East Valley, back in his old stomping grounds inside the Mesa school district, because he fixes big problems. It’s been nearly 25 years (1988) since Dobson won eight games in a season, and the schedule isn’t likely to afford that opportunity this fall either.
“If anyone can turn that program around, George can do it,” said former Red Mountain coach Jim Jones, who coached with De La Torre both there and Westwood.
Winning games is the eventual by-product of George’s “master plan,” and while attitude and commitment are Nos. 1 and 2 on his checklist — he often prefers working with third- or fourth-string kids at practices — his track record strongly suggests his style isn’t always popular or easy, yet still impacts schools and kids today.
In 2005 De La Torre arrived at Phoenix South Mountain’s football team, an afterthought on and off campus around a not-so-rosy school inside some depressing parts of the city’s ring.
In 2008 the Jaguars won 10 games and went to the playoffs.
“I already thought I was doing OK as a coach having done it for so long, but if I could reach those kids I knew I was doing something right,” De La Torre said in May.
In 2009, Florence — a small-town, rural way of life and the antithesis of South Mountain — won one game in De La Torre’s first year. In 2011, the Gophers were 12-2 and played in the Division IV state semifinals.
Dobson is next. His long history of coaching around Mesa (mostly as an assistant at Westwood, Red Mountain and Skyline), desire to be closer to home and his background at least offers the probability he’ll relate to struggling families and kids, economically, socially and otherwise.
Luis De La Torre worked the mines up in Miami for 42 years, where life was about doing your job and not expecting anything from anyone else beyond the opportunity. The De La Torres had a shop in the back, and it’s been an evolution of starting and stopping projects. George likes to joke he’s in the process of writing “another” book or two, even though he hasn’t written one yet.
In other words, he doesn’t sit still after success. The journey trumps the destination.
“George likes that,” Jones said of his friend’s propensity to migrate. “He really does. He’s all about the kids. He’s a football man and he’s not tired of (coaching) yet. He’ll tell kids and parents what it’s going to be like and buy in, and it’s ‘Yes, sir,’ tucked-in shirts and being good people, and then worry about winning.”
Given the rise of powerhouse programs in the East Valley — especially in Division I and in close proximity to Dobson, Westwood, Mesa, Gilbert, et al, wins shouldn’t be a real worry at this stage of the school’s latest effort at “rebuilding” its football team.
But since Tom DeMassa ran the Mustangs nearly a decade ago, wins have existed to the tune of seven total in the past three seasons.
“His players are going to out-play people,” Jones said. “Winning is extremely important to him but the kids are more important.”
This time, the Mustangs think they’ve found the guy who will do both, and it’s not because he’s an Xs-and-Os wizard, a sultan of schemes or he connects with the masses through Twitter, Facebook or texts.
It’s because his teams beat people with what’s on the inside.
“He loves the challenge of working with things that aren’t a good situation or lack of skill,” Mike De La Torre said. “He loves that challenge and working with those kids, ones who others look at and say. ‘They can’t play for us,’ or, ‘They’re not good enough.’ He really gets quite a bit out of kids.”
Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune sports editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (480) 898-6576.