Heritage Laveen’s historic football season shocks the state
They don’t have a home football stadium. No locker room. A closet to store equipment. And now they’re the talk of the campus of Heritage Academy Laveen.
The football team is 8-2, the No. 10 seed in the 2A playoffs which begin on Friday, and has a chance to win its first-ever playoff game when it visits No. 7 Tonopah Valley. .
It has already been a season of firsts in the Arizona Interscholastic Association for the small school on Baseline Road and 43rd Avenue, between two large schools in the Phoenix Union High School District, Cesar Chavez and Fairfax in Laveen.
It’s the first time the Heroes have won more than two games since splitting from the Canyon Athletic Association, which oversees competition in the state’s smaller high schools, and joining the Arizona Interscholastic Association more than a year ago. six years old.
It’s the first time they’ve made the playoffs. The first AIA season where fellow students stopped asking players, “Are you going to score points this week?”
Sporting director Andrew Saathoff was part of Heritage Laveen’s first AIA football coaching staff six years ago when the team went 0-11.
“It was tough,” Saathoff said. “We come from CAA where the competition was not at all what it was (in AIA).”
They went 0-10 in their second season in the AIA. That was followed by 2-8, then 0-8 in the COVID-hit 2020, and, in Anthony Johns’ first year as head coach last year, 2- 8.
And now this historic season.
“That’s the talk of the school right now,” Saathoff said. “It wasn’t always like this. I remember when I was in the team, people were joking with, ‘Are you going to win this week? Are you going to score points this week? Bad are you going to win them? to beat?’ “
When Johns arrived at public charter school last year, he started talking to kids, encouraging them to play football.
Most students come to Heritage for academics. Of the three seniors Johns had on his team last year, two earned their associate of arts degrees from their college. Students take college courses at school.
“I used to come here for colleges,” lead receiver/linebacker Nathan Delgado said. “I decided to play sports. I’m glad I came here.”
Heritage’s success begins at quarterback with slightly built sophomore Kaleb “Bubba” Burras, who moved here with his family from Louisiana before starting seventh grade. He remembers watching practices when he was in primary school, wondering why the players were running around so much.
“With this team, we go straight to the game,” Burras said.
Burras, 5-foot-9, 155 pounds, has completed 60% of his passes, throwing for over 1,000 yards with 11 touchdowns and three interceptions, and rushed for 512 yards and eight touchdowns.
“I feel like if I had gone to Fairfax or Chavez, I wouldn’t have had a lot of playing time in first and second year,” he said. “So I came here.”
Burras started as a freshman when he threw for 1,145 yards and 11 touchdowns but was intercepted eight times. That experience continued this year, after ending last season with a 71-0 loss to Phoenix Arizona Lutheran, the eventual 2A champion.
Arizona Lutheran, whose Heritage field primarily uses for home games, was elevated to 3A by the AIA this year.
Heritage couldn’t go lower than 2A, the smallest 11-man competition, but the Heroes, all 39 strong, took their summer training to another level, where players were more expected to be there.
They double their small weight room as a locker room. This is a few meters from the field on which they practice on campus, where there are no stands or lights.
“We don’t worry about amenities,” Johns said. “We’re going to work hard with what we have. We’re going to make it work.”
They earned their first signing two weeks ago, when they stunned undefeated Camp Verde 47-35, as Burras passed for 195 yards and a touchdown and lead running back Jonathan Rojo carried the ball 33 times for 179 yards and four touchdowns.
“It was a lot of hard work and dedication,” Rojo said. “We do what we can to work in the weight room and on the pitch.”
It’s a comeback story not only for the team but also for Jacob Marquez, a receiver/defensive back/senior kicker who has overcome two ACL tears since 2017, including one last year.
“After everything we did last year and all the work we did over the summer, I had a feeling it was going to be great,” Marquez said.
Johns said it was satisfying to have the school’s first winning season and first playoff appearance, but he thinks there can be so much more to it.
The unflappable second-year quarterback agrees.
“We didn’t put all that work in after the first round,” Burras said. “I think we can go deep.”
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