Change, especially in high school sports, is inevitable. Players are always graduating and moving on, as are coaches. Mike Hudnutt is in his first year as head coach at Cactus Shadows High School. Hudnutt built the Willow Canyon program from the ground up, and jumped at the opportunity to coach the Falcons when Greg Davis moved on to Paradise Valley High School. When he was hired, Hudnutt revealed Cactus Shadows was one of the few places he had always kept his eye on.
“As a coach, you have things in mind if it were to happen to open up down the road,” Hudnutt said. “I knew it was a good school with good athletes and good kids. I felt like it would be a good place to be for me in the future if it ever opened up.”
Hudnutt was pleased with his decision right off the bat.
“The first thing I saw was the culture here was different,” Hudnutt said. “I think the kids took a great transition to the new coaching staff and the ideals that we had in mind and we’re going to bring them to the field every week.”
Part of that transition involved Hudnutt installing a run-heavy offensive system. With dynamic playmakers in the backfield, the running backs were overjoyed with the decision to put an emphasis on the run game.
“(Coach Hudnutt) loves to run. It’s a lot of hard hitting and pounding it up the middle,” junior running back Antonio Marchica said. “It’s going to be a great year for running.”
In the transition, Hudnutt also moved his dynamic receiver in senior Braxton Gallion to tight end. Initially, the 6’4” playmaker had his doubts about changing positions.
“I wasn’t too excited about it, but then we start getting through spring ball and I started working with the (offensive) line, and started to get the scheme of things,” Gallion said. “Tight end is a great position. I love it. “
Cactus Shadows made big strides after winning just three games in 2012. They doubled their win total last year, and with a new coaching regime in place, they are looking to add to the win count in 2014.
“Coach Hudnutt has a lot of experience so he knows what he is doing. Seeing as we went 6-4 last year, we are expected to do as well if not better so we’re really trying to get at it,” Marchica said.
Hudnutt and his staff have laid down the groundwork in their first year, and the players have taken notice. In his short time with the Falcons, he has already been able to make connections with his players.
“He’s just a great guy. He has an awesome personality. He just understands where we are coming from with a lot of things. He is more about building a friendship than a ‘coaching-ship’. That’s what we’ve really liked is just having more of a relationship with Coach,” Gallion said.
Cactus Shadows start their new era of football against Kellis High School on Friday night.