Outlook: It took a couple years for Matt Lewis to put his coaching imprint on the McClintock football program. He admits he had to be tougher in his first year to get the right kids in the program and get the wrong ones out. Since then, he’s slowly lightened up, ready to now enjoy the process with the players who have gone through the transition with him. The No. 1 sign it’s working? Despite a 2-8 season in 2012, the participation numbers at the school are improving.
“I’m really excited about the kids we have,” he said. “You had to weed things out. We got smaller to get bigger. With the kind of kids we had, from a relationship standpoint we had to go all-in. It now makes this more enjoyable.”
And now, in addition to the behind-the-scenes strides, the schedule seems to allow for some on-field gains. McClintock dropped down to Division III this season and has a much easier schedule than in previous years. With games against Carl Hayden, Phoenix Christian, Cortez, South Mountain and Apache Junction on the docket, there is room for marked improvement.
Much depends, though, on an offense which has many new faces. Quarterback Xavier Gomez and leading rusher Sammy Jones graduated, while top wide receiver Dominic Orona has switched to QB. Lewis likes his wide receivers and has a key running back addition from Texas, but it’s a group which is light on experience.
The defense may have to do the heavy lifting in the earlygoing. All four members of the secondary return, and Lewis said their mental strides are becoming evident in practice as they catch on quickly to coaching advice.
“It’s neat watching their eyes light up” when something clicks,” Lewis said.
Linebacker Killian Tank was the team’s third-leading tackler in 2012 and he is also back. The Chargers know they aren’t title contenders, but taking another step forward in Lewis’ third year at the helm seems like a reasonable goal, especially now in Division III.
“We just want to be in a place where we’re competitive,” Lewis said. “Hopefully we can do that.”
Division III, Section III
Coach: Matt Lewis
Last year’s record: 2-8, missed the Division II postseason
Returning Starters: 8 on offense/7 on defense
Top returners: QB Dominic Orona (17 rec., 124 yards as WR); Killian Tank (38 tackles); Christopher Rivera (32 tackles, INT); Braden Kartchner (31 tackles, INT); Spencer Richard (31 tackles, INT).
Aug. 30 at Carl Hayden; Sept. 6 vs. Phoenix Christian; Sept. 13 at Tempe; Sept. 20 vs. Queen Creek; Sept. 27 at Saguaro; Oct. 4 vs. Williams Field; Oct. 11 at Cortez; Oct. 18 at Higley; Oct. 25 vs. South Mountain; Nov. 1 at Apache Junction
Aug. 30 at Carl Hayden: The season opener looks to be an easy one, and it will be good for the McClintock players to get some success under their belt. It will be the first start at quarterback for Dominic Orona and he must grow into the role quickly because the schedule ramps up beginning in Week 3.
Sept. 13 at Tempe: The annual rivalry game was very entertaining last season, and the Buffaloes captured the see-saw affair. Tempe should be quite a bit better this year with the return of quarterback Emanuel Gant and the transfer addition of running back/defensive back Kamron Johnson. McClintock will need to play a very clean game to have a shot.
Oct. 18 at Higley: McClintock has an easier schedule this year, so an improvement in win-loss record is expected. If the Chargers can win this game or beat Tempe, it would even be a bigger step forward and possibly put them in playoff contention.