It is not easy for a high school football team to respond when they find out that their head coach is no longer with the program just weeks before the start of fall camp.
Going into the 2015 season, that is exactly what the Saint Mary’s Knights were faced with as it was announced that Todd Williamson had left the program in the middle of July.
To start the 2015 campaign, you’d be hard pressed to see a difference in the demeanor and effort put forth by the Knights despite the adversity they have had to face. They started 2-0 to begin the season, their best start since 2006, and continued to fight last week against Corona del Sol after a slow start.
“We knew that we were still the St. Mary’s Knights,” said junior linebacker Abel Navarrette. “Even though Coach Williamson left, we knew we had something great within the locker room. So we’ve just kept putting it together, putting our heads down and just stayed with the flow.”
A former St. Mary’s player turned Coach and teacher Marcel Lopez was named the interim head coach on short notice to keep up the momentum for a Knights team that made the playoffs in division II last season. Lopez mentioned that it was because of players like Navarrette that these speed bumps have been handled with grace.
“We lean on our leaders,” explained Lopez. “Abel is one of our leaders and we can’t just talk. We have guys that have to lead by example and he’s one of those guys that does that. We have a lot of really good seniors this year that put in the work and lead the way for these younger guys.”
Navarrette broke out last season as a sophomore with an impressive 105 tackles that led his team. He has become a presence on both sides of the football and a relatively unknown gem when looking at Arizona recruiting. For his junior year, he is looking to take it personally in building on what he accomplished last season.
“With the success of my sophomore season I knew if I didn’t come back and back it up with a great season then it would have been a fluke,” explained Navarrette. “I didn’t want that for the team or for the school. So I did everything I can to step it up in the weight room and class room to get here.”
“He’s a football player,” mentioned Lopez. “He’s the tough kid that doesn’t want to be denied. When he’s on defense, he’s looking to back you up and hit you pretty good. When he’s on offense, he thinks nobody can tackle him. He’s a special kid, he’s got a really bright future and if he keeps working the way he is, that recruiting stuff will take care of itself.”
St. Mary’s playoff appearance last year was nice and the solid 2-1 start to the 2015 season despite the shakeup within their program is applauded. However, if you ask Navarrette and company, they want more than the traditional gold pants that they have sported when they make the playoffs since legendary head coach Pat Farrell led the program.
“I’d really like to play in the state championship,” stated Navarrette. “That’s what we are trying to do. Gold Pants isn’t just the minimum now, we’ve got to build on that.”