Campo Verde football

Campo Verde coach Ryan Freeman said, despite its success on a yearly basis, his team is often overlooked by opponents and enters every new season as the underdog. But that’s a role its players and coaches have come to embrace.

Campo Verde’s run to the 2019 5A football state championship game caught most of the state off guard.

The Coyotes knocked off Higley, who had beaten them in the regular season, then a Notre Dame Prep team most thought would return for its third straight title appearance. Even in the championship, Campo Verde was picked to be blown out by Williams Field. While the Blackhawks did win, it wasn’t easy as the Coyote defense limited their high-powered offense.

Last year, in a season ravaged by the pandemic, Campo Verde made a run to the semifinals. Many think the success in the two-year stretch for a program in the middle of several other schools – Higley, Williams Field, Perry, Highland and Basha – was yet another fluke.

However, Campo Verde is right where it should be in terms of success. Whether those outside the program believe it or not.

“I talk to the boys in our program about being humble all the time,” Campo Verde coach Ryan Freeman said. “It’s ok to be under the radar. It’s ok if people overlook us. We are going to come out every Friday night and play hard, play disciplined and we aren’t going to quit.

“I’m OK with the underdog role. I embrace it.”

Freeman, who took over as head coach ahead of the 2020 season after serving as the team’s defensive coordinator since its first season in 2009, views Campo Verde’s past success as exactly that: in the past. Max Ragsdale, Campo Verde’s first-ever coach who is now the athletic director at the school, set the tone for the program in terms of culture and best practices.

Some of those are still used to this day, including the program’s “Faith, Family, Football” mantra that can be seen on the spartan shield carried this year by senior captain Noah Borchard, who was nominated by his teammates. The Lambda decal that has been on Campo Verde’s helmets since its first season will also remain.

But there are some things Freeman has done to finally make the team his own. One of the biggest changes is the color of the helmet. The Coyotes will no longer sport the classic copper helmet. A new matte green color has been introduced to the program. White number decals will be placed on one side of the helmet with Coyote pride stickers on the other, which players will earn after their first win of the season and for a variety of acts both on and off the field.

“If I get an email from a teacher saying some of my players stood up for a kid who was getting bullied, they’ll get stickers,” Freeman said. “If they have good a good GPA, if they represent themselves well off the field, they’ll get stickers.”

The helmet color and decals aren’t the only changes made to the program under Freeman. He has also instituted a designated time for reading for his entire team. He’s also allowed his senior captains to take more control over the program and schedule player-only meetings whenever they feel necessary.

Those changes, while somewhat subtle, have helped Campo Verde throughout the offseason become closer as a team and motivated to continue to succeed on the field. Especially after last offseason when there was a lull due to the pandemic.

“It’s been a lot different than last year, it’s a lot better,” senior offensive lineman Hunter Seelye said. “We didn’t have two months where we just couldn’t see each other. There’s been a lot of team bonding. I’ve enjoyed it a lot more than I did last season.”

Seelye is one of several returning starters on Campo Verde’s offense. He’s become a force up front protecting senior quarterback Reilly Garcia, who Freeman said has been impressive in leading the team both by example and vocally.

The two have been key to the new offense installed this offseason by the Coyote coaching staff, which has a new offensive coordinator – part of the other changes made this offseason by Freeman to point the program in a new direction.

On defense, Connor Calloway returns as the captain of a unit that also returns most of its starters. Especially from the linebacker position, Calloway has become the on-field director for a Coyote defense that has been the team’s strength on a yearly basis. It’s a role Calloway has come to embrace, especially when factoring in how overlooked they often are against some of the better competition in the 5A Conference.

“We expect it at this point, to be overlooked,” Calloway said. “It gives us a little boost to want it more. It’s a mentality thing for us. That’s what makes us different from a lot of schools.”

Calloway said the comradery among not only the team but the defensive players on a yearly basis has helped them become successful.

“We all trust each other to do our job,” Calloway said. “The reason this defense is so successful is because none of us are out there for our own glory. We are out there to win games and compete for championships.”

Campo Verde opened its season Friday against a Desert Edge team that made the Open Division playoffs last year and is expected to do the same in 2021. But that didn’t force the Coyotes to back down.

Win or lose they aimed to play the same brand of football they have since the school opened over 10 years ago. They plan to do the same throughout the rest of the season.

“I think we are going to have success and I think we can surprise people,” Freeman said. “I’m excited to just see our kids play. The growth they have had from last year, I can’t wait to see what they can do.”

Have an interesting story? Contact Zach Alvira at (480)898-5630 or zalvira@timespublications.com. Follow him on Twitter @ZachAlvira

 

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