The “gentle giant” hovers above everyone on the Paradise Valley FieldTurf, but that’s an everyday occurrence in Steve Campbell’s world.
He’s 6-foot-6, and, with a couple weeks of wind sprints for conditioning, still looks like he could be Arizona State’s quarterback. A baker’s dozen years since he led ASU to the Sun Bowl, the Sun Devils could still use him, but Williams Field has him now.
The question for later is, “For how long?” A school like Corona del Sol or even Mountain View would be foolish not to at least gauge his interest.
He’s won at McClintock as offensive coordinator and had winning seasons in four years as head coach before neighborhoods’ stability and an awful daily commute to Tempe swayed him to the new Gilbert school in 2008.
On Friday, he had everyone’s attention. Not 10 minutes after the best game of 2010 concluded, 60 kids’ eyes were glued to him in the end zone. He’s talking about the accomplishment of this 49-48 victory, a feat both Campbell and Notre Dame coach Scot Bemis acknowledged as one of the best games each has been a part of.
His talk turned to character, about tunnel vision toward next week’s 4A-II championship game against Phoenix Thunderbird and of Sun Devil Stadium being the destination of a journey which, like every other week in the season, begins with Monday’s practice, followed by Tuesday’s practice, Wednesday’s practice and Thursday’s practice.
It’s cliche a million times over, but it’s worked.
“We’ve never said it was a championship or bust,” he said while flanked by his wife and two children. “Every week is about moving forward a little, and in the end, you’ll get there. Attitude and work ethic are the only two things that can be controlled.”
Coaching is an integral part of the Black Hawks sprinting rise to success. From a 9-0 start to the inaugural varsity season of 2009, to playoff heartbreak of their own in a first-round loss to Tucson Amphitheater, to an undefeated 2010 season and, now, one win from a state championship,
“It was never hush-hush,” he said.
But it was never written in print or openly discussed as a team, either. Only the progressions: Alex Howard’s ascension as the starting running back after playing part-time last year. The improvement in quarterback Tom Ross between his junior year (.532 completion percentage, 17 touchdowns, 8 interceptions) and senior season (.665 completion percentage, 20 TD, 3 INT) includes Campbell’s fingerprints.
So does the way Williams Field maintained its composure Friday afternoon when Notre Dame erased a 21-7 deficit and took a 42-35 lead late in the third quarter.
McClintock’s program has deteriorated since Campbell left, but that goes beyond current coach Mike Gibbons.
Williams Field hired Campbell because the school saw his success at a place with vastly different neighborhood and family dynamics that Gibbons has understandably struggled with when it comes to his players and parents.
In addition to the daily commute, Campbell left for Williams Field because those dynamics became a sort of dead-end, and McClintock was no longer a premier Tempe program it once was.
Instead, he’s made Williams Field into the program that a couple McClintock teams used to be.
“We had to start at ground zero every year,” Campbell said. “They were great kids, but it was a chance to have a bigger focus on building a program, where we could start (a new season) at Step 5.
“...I’m still the same crappy coach. Players make coaches look good. I haven’t heard of too many teams that won without players.”
After a week to allow the Class 4A, 3A and 2A football games time to shine, the Class 5A boys resume Friday night with its semifinals. Hamilton and Mountain Pointe got chippy during summer passing leagues, and they’ll clash for real at Chandler High, while Desert Ridge and Desert Vista slug it out on the grounds of Mesquite H.S.
Chaparral continues its rampage through 5A-II but gets perhaps its toughest test of speed in Avondale Westview at North Canyon H.S.
That winner goes to the 5A-II championship against next Friday’s Peoria Centennial-Tucson Ironwood Ridge winner played on Glendale Sandra Day O’Connor’s field.
Get some sleep, because it’s Championship Saturday for the 4A schools with Williams Field meeting Cinderella-story Phoenix Thunderbird for the 4A-II title at 11 a.m. at Sun Devil Stadium. The Chiefs (11-4) rolled against Peoria Liberty, then won thrillers against Higley, and Goodyear Desert Edge in double overtime.
After dispatching Queen Creek in the semifinals Friday night, Saguaro will go for its fourth state title in five years in 4A-I, and to do so it’ll have to beat its modern-day menace in Tucson Canyon del Oro.
The Sabercats beat CDO in 2007 to win the championship, but CDO hammered Saguaro last year to end the Sabercats’ 37-game winning streak in 2009. CDO won, 33-25, to begin October, but the Sabercats are healthier now and have played better defense of late.
Will it matter against CDO phenom (and slightly gimpy) Ka’Deem Carey after his effort of 18 carries for 274 yards and two touchdowns in the schools’ last meeting?
Scot Bemis: First, the Notre Dame coach made one gutsy call to go for the 2-point conversion rather than force overtime with a PAT, and even though it didn’t work, it’s still hard to fault that decision given the way Williams Field was moving the ball and the Saints lost three defenders to injury. Second, he calmly fielded every question about it from a throng of media types five minutes later while his internal organs raged from losing this epic game.
Saguaro defense: The offensive wizardry of Teddy Ruben and D.J. Foster masked Saguaro’s defensive deficiencies for a majority of the season (although coach John Sanders knew it), but Saguaro is as healthy as its been all season, even with Brock Haman playing defense on basically one arm. Queen Creek losing Chim Nga to a second-half injury was a huge blow, but Saguaro forced three turnovers and is better equipped to handle Ka’Deem Carey now than two months ago. That’s good because the ‘D’ needs to have its game of the season on Saturday against CDO in the 4A-I title game.
A team having to lose the WF-ND game: Corny? Absolutely, but it was hard seeing Notre Dame players all over the Paradise Valley field dealing with their emotions after that heartbreaker. Quarterback Jordan Gehrke was inconsolable while walking off the field after he threw for 343 yards and two touchdowns, and magnificently helped the Saints march to a potential game-tying (or game-winning) drive in the final three minutes. He had two receivers open on the 2-point conversion, but couldn’t pull the trigger and tried to run instead. It’s a guarantee nobody feels worse than him, even though he did everything right for 48 minutes.
Notre Dame special teams: Hard to nitpick here given the Saints got a 93-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Brian Canavan and a 32-yard punt return. Yes, Williams Field had seven returns for touchdowns going into Friday’s semifinal, so Notre Dame’s onside kick attempts made some sense. But they didn’t work, and all it did was give a potent Williams Field offense the ball on or near midfield most of the game. Sure enough, Williams Field returned a kick 99 yards for a score, so squib or pooch kick it. Do something to make the Black Hawks a return to midfield.