SIERRA VISTA — Football returns Friday for Bisbee and Tombstone high schools. While many familiar faces will return to the field each team will have new people with them.
Both the Pumas and Yellow Jackets open their season on their home fields as Bisbee welcomes Douglas for the Pick Game, and Tombstone hosts San Carlos.
Most of Tombstone’s roster are returning from last year, however, the coaching staff is new or are returning to the program after time away. There is only one coach on the staff who was with the team last season.
Jerry Rhoades took over as head coach in June and has since spent time getting to know his players and working on improving his squad. Rhoades is a defensive-minded coach, which will work in Tombstone’s favor as their defense has multiple returning players and was strength for the Yellow Jackets last season. Tombstone scrimmaged Valley Union and St. David a few weeks ago and their defense was strong in preventing the run and making timely tackles.
Rhoades knew going into the season that the Yellow Jackets would have to be a strong defensive team because they are going to be searching for an offensive identity this year after their star running back, Tyler Wilridge, graduated in May. Wilridge had well over 2,000 rushing yards and more than 20 touchdowns during his time with the Yellow Jackets.
Senior quarterback Gustavo Morales has experience on his side, as he has played for Tombstone for multiple years. He will just have to find a new favorite target to help his team get through tough games against Pima, Benson, Bisbee and Willcox this season.
Staying healthy will also be key for the Yellow Jackets to have success this season as the enter Week One with just 24 players, which is fewer than they had last year to start. Tombstone finished last season with under 20 players due to injuries and academic eligibility.
Tombstone finished the 2018 season with a 5-5 record, just one year after having a winless season, which earned then the No. 22 spot in the final 2A Conference rankings.
Their opponent enters Friday’s game off a 1-9 2018 campaign, which includes a 46-30 loss to Tombstone.
Warren Ballpark is the place to be Friday night to witness the 75th anniversary of “The Pick” game between Bisbee and Douglas.
The more than a century-long rivalry will take place Friday at 7 p.m. with the winner taking the copper pick trophy and bragging rights until next year. Bisbee enters the game with “The Pick” but feel like they need to earn it this year — despite Bisbee losing the game Douglas was forced to forfeit several games for AIA violations.
“Every year (the game) seems to be bigger,” said Bisbee senior Dano Lopez. “Last year we lost and got the Pick back, so it doesn’t feel right.”
For Douglas this is the biggest game of their season since they are not eligible for the postseason due to last year’s infractions.
“We can’t make the playoffs so this is kinda like our Super Bowl,” said Douglas senior Christian Estrella.
Bisbee knows they have something to prove, not only against Douglas, but all season long. The Pumas were 5-5 last season and ranked as the No. 21 team in the 2A Conference. This year, the Pumas are more experienced and have nearly doubled their roster numbers.
Head coach Brian Vertrees credits the growth to “recruiting his hallways” and getting more kids who live in the Naco area and attend Bisbee to play. When asked what improvement this pack of Pumas have over last year, seniors CJ Sherman, RJ Right and Lopez all agreed it’s the team’s chemistry and camaraderie with one another.
Sherman said this group of guys have been playing together since they were younger so they all get along and play well with each other.
Vertrees says the leadership within this group is also stronger than last year, which has caused the atmosphere to be better, which is also having a positive effect on their play in practice.
“Last year was rough,” Wright said. “This year is a brand new team and we are better than last year.”
Kickoff for both games is at 7 p.m.